Welcome to the 2018 High Holy Days at Kol Ami. This year’s holidays fall shortly after Labor Day when we begin a new school year and a return to regular post-summer life. And yet, this has been anything but a regular summer. From children separated at the U.S. border from their parents, to new Israeli laws discriminating against LGBT couples, from a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism, racism and hatred here and abroad, to the threat of a constitutional crisis in this country — our nerves are frayed and our hopefulness and confidence in our future are under attack. We no longer know how to explain the world to ourselves, let alone to our children.
Enter the High Holy Day season – just in time. During this six-week period, from the first of Elul (August 11) through almost the end of the holidays (Sept. 30), there is a long-standing custom to recite Psalm 27 each day. Psalm 27 is the “penitential psalm,” the song of one who longs to sit in the house of the Lord and experience a sense of serenity and security. I confess there is much in the psalm that does not quite resonate for me, but the last line gets me every time. There are many ways to translate these words, but here is my version: Aim your path toward God; be strong and take heart; and aim your path toward God.
However you understand these final words or the context of the psalm, the message is clear: our attitudes are crucial for a good outcome. We need to strengthen our hearts so we can resolutely meet the challenges ahead, whether in our personal and family lives or in our larger society. Aim your path toward God or godliness, and do not give into fear or despair. In the challenges ahead, our strength comes from ourselves.
One way to keep this in mind is to recite the psalm each day. I’ve included below a beautiful translation by Norman Fischer; there are many more online. Another way to take heart is to come together for High Holy Day services. I invite you to bring your song, your heart and soul, your worries and despair, your hopes and aspirations — and let us strengthen one another. We’re pretty friendly at Kol Ami, and as inclusive as we can make it. We do not own Judaism — we live it and partake of it. We do not have rules about who can do what and where. Come join us and partake of the richness of this ancient tradition, at a time when our souls need healing and hearts need strength.
Hazak v’yaametz libecha. Be strong and take heart.
Translated by Norman Fischer
You are my light and my help
Whom should I fear?
You are the fortress of my life
Whom should I dread?
When the narrow ones gather their strength to devour me
It is they who stumble and fall
Even if a royal army were camped outside my gate
My heart would not fear
And when they struck out with terrible weapons against me
Even then I’d trust
One thing I ask for, one thing I hope—
To live in your house
All the days of my life
To behold your loveliness
Every morning in the light of your temple dawn
Til on a doomful day
You secure me in your precincts
Conceal me within the folds of your covering tent
Place me high and safe upon a rock
My head lifted above the engulfing waves
With the joy of my heart
I will sacrifice
Within that billowing shelter
Singing and playing my abandonment to you
Hear my voice when I raise it up
Be gracious—answer me—
Speaking with your voice my heart sang.
Seek my presence.
Do not hide your glowing face from me
Do not reject me in anger because of my shortcomings
You have always been for me
Don’t cast me off now, don’t walk away
My helper, my friend
My mother and father forsake me
But you take me up
Show me the way!
Guide my steps on the clear path
Against the ever-present cliffs and thickets
Protect me from the noise of desire and hatefulness
From false words and shouted accusations
If I did not have faith in your rightness
That it would bloom in this living land—
It is unthinkable
I wait only for you
With strength and good courage—
I wait only for you