The Yamim Ha'Nora'im, the Days of Awe, are upon us. It feels like we're straddling two worlds here in the synagogue office; on one hand, we have celebrated the beginning of 5779 in prayer, song, and togetherness. On the other hand, we still must reflect upon our deeds of the past year, atone for them, and pledge to do better over Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur, which seems especially daunting without the aid of coffee.
Nearly ten years ago I found myself in a unique situation during the High Holy Days. I had just finished college and had taken a position as a wildlife rehab intern in the Upper Valley of Vermont/New Hampshire. I couldn't make it back to Chicago for both of the Holy Days, so I found myself Googling the closest Reform synagogue to attend Rosh Hashanah services. Fortunately, it was only 11 miles away. I called the temple office, got the information I needed, and took a day off from wrangling owls and eagles to go to services.
Walking into a synagogue where I knew absolutely no one was the strangest, most disconcerting feeling I had experienced in a very long time. Growing up in Evanston and attending Schechter I had always known at least a friend and their family when attending services anywhere on the North Shore. I walked into the sanctuary of this new place, took a seat in the back corner, and tried to remain unobtrusive. I'm an introvert by nature (hard to believe, I know) and I couldn't imagine introducing myself to the people I sat next to. The services were beautiful and heartening; in the end, I was glad to have shared the communal experience of praying together. Even in a new synagogue, the flow of a service is fairly certain, and I knew I was in a good place.
I love taking calls from people who are new to Emanuel, and I'm so glad that my colleagues and I can offer everyone who reaches out to us a home for the Holy Days. When speaking with someone new, I try to channel Berenice, the temple secretary who took my mother's call to a congregation in Washington DC in the 1970s, when she reached out as a grad student who didn't have anywhere to go for Seder. Berenice said: "Oh, you'll come to my house!" So, my mother did. Fifty years later, my mom and Berenice still speak every year around Passover.
Emanuel welcomes guests and reciprocal visitors from URJ congregations from all over the country during the High Holy Days, and we accommodate many people from the surrounding Chicagoland area as well. I think one of our community's greatest strengths is the ability to open our arms and make just about anyone who comes through our doors feel comfortable and appreciated. I remember feeling that way the very first time I walked into the building- before I truly knew what it meant to be a part of Emanuel.
I wish you all an easy fast and g'mar chatimah tovah. If there is anything the administrative staff can do to make your Yom Kippur experience more comfortable, please don't hesitate to reach out.