This High Holiday season is a special time of year. It’s a time when we look back at the past and consider how we want to do things differently in the future. We make amends, we pray, we beat our chests, and we fast. We consider how we may have harmed others, ask their forgiveness, and commit to growing as individuals, whether as parents, children, siblings, friends or colleagues. It is a special time, indeed.
During Yom Kippur, I was reminded of my time as a Hillel Director in Los Angeles. I was introduced to a unique Yom Kippur program run by our Rabbinic Intern, Rabbi Lori Shapiro, who now runs the Open Temple in Venice. Rabbi Lori consistently and unrelentingly challenged me and our entire community to look at our Judaism not just as a religion, but as a reflection of who we are as human beings and as an expression of our neshamot (our souls/spirits).
After the Kol Nidre service, she organized what was called “The Labyrinth,” an activity in which students and community members were invited to travel through a large outdoor maze in silence. Participants were invited to perform what is called Heshbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the soul. We walked through the candle-lit maze carrying worksheets that listed human attributes, positive and negative, and were encouraged to think about what we wanted to bring with us into the new year and what we wanted to leave behind.
What made this activity so special was that literally anyone who wanted to participate could. And many did. Not only was this a relevant activity in terms of its substance, but Rabbi Lori modeled how everyone can access a powerful and spiritual message behind Yom Kippur – that we all can grow, do better, be more.
And so, as I reflected on that experience during Yom Kippur and thought about the exciting year ahead, I commit to being a better father, brother, son, cousin and friend. I also commit to being a positive, contributing member of this fabulous community. While I didn’t participate in “The Labyrinth” during this Yom Kippur, I was still able to go through my own Heshbon HaNefesh and begin this new year with a clean slate.
As I look forward to Sukkot beginning at sundown tonight, I can start with welcoming not only the traditional ushpizin (guests) – our ancestors – into the Sukkah, but also others, fulfilling the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (welcoming others). Here too, I find myself reflecting on how, just a short time ago, I was a stranger to this community and the warm welcome I have received. This is one among many reasons that as the new CEO of your Federation, I am so grateful to begin this journey with you. May we all continue to find meaning and discovery during this new year.