Category Archives: Religious Services

A Message from Rabbi Bass

Dear Etz Hayim family,

As we enter 2020, it is time for us to have a new vision. After much consideration and a process of discernment, it became clear to me that it is time for both Etz Hayim and for me to explore other paths. I will be leaving our congregation at the end of June.

It has been my honor and my pleasure to serve our congregation for almost 19 years. We accomplished a lot together! As we start a new decade, it is time for another rabbi with another vision to guide this congregation. The congregation has many opportunities, including the knowledge that Northern Virginia now has the largest Jewish population of the Washington DC Metropolitan area. There are many ways to take advantage of these opportunities, and the partnership between a new rabbi and the lay leadership will choose the new way for the congregation to go.

I am not clear yet on where the new decade’s road will take me personally. Yet reflecting on our time together, I am filled with gratitude, for me and for my family. You have welcomed Benjamin to this world, gave him support and a loving community, and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah with us. You celebrated my 10 years in the congregation with a beautiful quilt (that hangs in our Sanctuary), and you gave me a “Bat Mitzvah” celebration. Together we celebrated many wonderful occasions and helped each other through difficult times. I thank you for the opportunity of being your rabbi, and for the honor of serving you.

After I return from sabbatical on January 17, I will continue to work with the staff and lay leadership in all aspects of my position until the end of June.

May 2020 bring a new clarity of vision to all of us. I will be out of the office until January 17, and after that please don’t hesitate to reach out if you want or need anything.

B’virkat Shalom, Rabbi Lia Bass

Message from CEH President

Dear Etz Hayim Family: 

As you know, after nearly 19 years of service, Rabbi Lia Bass has communicated her intention to leave the congregation at the end of June 2020. We are deeply saddened to see her go. Over her nearly two decades as Congregation Etz Hayim’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Bass has accomplished much and forged deep bonds here. 

We will miss her very much and wish her all the best in her future endeavors. Rabbi Bass, her son Benjamin, and her mother Ides will always be a part of our CEH family. As June approaches, we will share information regarding farewell activities. 

Meanwhile, we appreciate that for these next six months, Rabbi Bass has committed to continue working closely with the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors and the staff to ensure that CEH maintains the level of attention to Shabbat, holidays, religious and adult education, b’nai mitzvah, and lifecycle events that congregants and school families expect. The Rabbi will be on a planned sabbatical through January 16 and available when she returns for anything you may need.  

Change is hard, but it is also an opportunity. As Rabbi Bass moves on, our congregation will seize this moment to assess our goals and strategies for the 2020s and beyond. Sitting just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C., we are remarkably positioned to attract clergy, staff, and members. In recent years, the most Jewish growth in the D.C. region has been in Northern Virginia, which now makes up more than 40 percent of the area’s Jewish community. As the literal center of Jewish life in Arlington, we must expand ways to engage active members and re-envision ways to engage others. At a time in this country when many synagogues face membership challenges and anti-Semitism is on the rise, we must prioritize relationships and develop new ways to connect authentically with each other. We must be in the community to meet people how and where they are. 

Yet as things change, they remain the same. Our CEH Religious School and Preschool, led by our talented directors Laura Naide and Alexis Joyce, will continue to teach and nurture our children. Our core vision to be a warm, inclusive, egalitarian Conservative congregation is unchanged. Our connection to the rich heritage of our Jewish tradition and teachings remains strong. Our commitment to respecting the diversity of individuals’ backgrounds and chosen paths in Judaism continues to mesh with our commitment to communal participation that fills our shul with shared energy and joy. Our presence as a community service partner, dedicated to tikkun olam, is unwavering. 

I welcome you to help define the vision of what comes next for Congregation Etz Hayim. On Sunday, January 12, we will hold a Town Hall Meeting from 12:00 – 1:00 pm (religious school children may stay for lunch and activities from 12:30 – 1:00) so that you may share your ideas and questions. You are also welcome to contact me or any member of the Board of Directors. No idea is too small or unwelcome; this is your home, and we need your input. 

We are forming a search committee now that will include CEH staff and members. More information about the search committee will be shared at the January 12Town Hall meeting. We plan to have a new rabbi on board by July 1. 

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns at I look forward to working with you all as we enter this next phase for our congregation, and I know you join me in wishing all the best to Rabbi Bass.

Scott Burka, President
On behalf of Congregation Etz Hayim Board of Directors

Thoughts on Inclusivity. By Leslee Friedman.

Before I joined CEH, in the months after I’d moved to Arlington, but was still shul shopping, something pretty terrifying—and fortuitous—happened. I was dropping into Friday night services semi-regularly. This was back when excerpts from Rabbi David Wolpe’s Floating on Faith were used as discussion starters for the “study break.”

The fourth, or maybe fifth, time I showed up, the congregant who assigned the discussion leader asked me to perform the role, and I agreed. It went well, and I ended up being asked again a few weeks later. It was perhaps my third month of coming to services here. In kickstarting the discussion that time, I made a point about living as a queer person. Honestly, I hadn’t meant to come out in the middle of a Shabbat service at a shul where I wasn’t even a member, it just happened. I had been out to my family and most anyone who knew me for over twenty years by that point, I wasn’t used to hiding. Even so, as confident as I was in my skin, that was a moment that punched the breath out of me. I went on, acted like I was totally fine, everyone else acted normal, all was well.

Afterward, at the oneg, Rabbi Bass came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you felt safe stating your truth.”

Honestly? It wasn’t that I necessarily hadn’t felt safe, but until that moment, I hadn’t felt comfortable, and those are two very different states of existence. I started advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights in my synagogue at twelve years old. I came out there at sixteen. I never felt unsafe. The people at my shul loved me, in spite of how I identified.

The difference at CEH is that from that moment on, I’ve often been made to feel loved because of who I am, and the fact that I am multi-faceted. When I applied for and received a spot in Keshet’s synagogue leadership program, Scott Burka and Harold Dorfman were both at my side as allies and supporters to attend the kick-off and contribute to making the shul a more LGBTQIA+ inclusive space. When I brought up the concept of a Coming Out Shabbat, the Rabbi, Laura Naide, and several board members asked what they could do to help. If you missed that weekend, not only did you miss the most amazing rainbow challah in the world, made by our own CJ Burka, you missed a genuinely moving and insightful study session by Rabbi Avi Strausberg of Hadar as to why we are all just as we are meant to be.

The shul has opened its doors to work with the non-profit Veterans Against Hate, screening a documentary on trans-persons in the military. It is called Transmilitary and available on Amazon Prime: if you have access, I highly recommend it. We have hosted a trans-rights speaker from Equality Virginia, and will be hosting another come January 26, 2020.

LGBTQIA+ Jews have often been taught that either Judaism does not want us, or that it is merely willing to tolerate us. CEH is capable of embracing us, which means more to me than I will ever have the ability to communicate, and I continue to hope that other queer Jews seeking a home come through our doors.

Library Shabbat Recap

On Friday, November 15, 2019, our congregation celebrated the re-dedication of the library. This event was well-timed to coincide with Jewish Book Month which takes place annually in November. To recognize these occasions, there was a special presentation during Shabbat services and our oneg was held upstairs in the library.

During services, Laura Naide and Marcia Zimmet spoke about the effort to refurbish the library and the importance of books to the Jewish people. Over the past three years, many volunteers transformed the CEH library. We removed over 2000 books and either donated, recycled, or buried them depending on their condition and contents. We logged the remaining 1000 or so books into an online database, adding bar codes and Dewey decimal classifications. Edgar Rendon did a beautiful job painting the room and we purchased a new rug and bookshelves. The Rosman family donated a couch and loveseat. The Cohen family donated a large screen tv so our students could watch movies. Marcia Zimmet donated many beautiful items of Jewish art. And our rabbi, Lia Bass, made a beautiful quilt to add warmth and color to the room.

Marcia Zimmet reminded congregants that Jews are known as the “People of the Book.” She shared many Jewish references to the holiness of books. For example, in 998 CE Rabbi Hai Gaon commented that “three possessions should you prize. a field, a friend and a book.” Rabbi Shamuel ha Nigid, a Talmudic scholar in the early 11th century wrote “the wise of heart will abandon ease and pleasure for in his library he will find treasures.” And Rabbi Yehuda ha Levi, a poet of the 12th century wrote of the importance of books by commenting: “my pen is my harp and lyre, my library is my garden and orchard.”

We hope that all congregants will make the trip upstairs to spend time in our library. Our online database can be accessed at Please use this resource to find books on whatever Jewish topics are of interest to you! If there are books you think should be in our collection, send your suggestions to Laura Naide at

Thank you to Laura Naide, Marcia Zimmet, Marcy Burka, Edgar Rendon!

Don’t forget to join us for Adult Education: What Five Books Should You Read to be An Educated Jew? On Sunday, February 2 at 10:15am.

B’nai Mitzvah Profile: Ian Alcorn

What is your full name?
Ian Robert Alcorn

Where were you born?
Arlington, VA

What is the date of your Bar Mitzvah?
November 23, 2019

How long have you been in our Religious School? What is your favorite subject?
Preschool to present. Favorite subject: Jewish History

What Haftarah will you be chanting?
Hayeii Sarah

Has anyone else in your family become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah here?
My sisters: Jenna and Dalia

What school do you attend? What is your favorite subject?
Kenmore Middle School

What are your hobbies or extra-curricular activities?
Drawing, soccer, martial arts (I am a black belt in mixed martial arts), dance

What accomplishments are you proud of?
Black belt in mixed martial arts!

Please write a thoughtful statement about what becoming a Bar Mitzvah means to you.
Becoming a Bat Mitzvah is an important coming of age event and is a way of maturing as a person

B’nai Mitzvah Profile: Matthew Herzfeld

What is your full name?
Matthew Fogarty Herzfeld

Where were you born?
Arlington, VA

What is the date of your Bar Mitzvah?
October 26, 2019

How long have you been in our Religious School? What is your favorite subject?
Etz Hayim preschool & religious school since Kindergarten. Favorite subject – history

What Haftarah will you be chanting?
Isaiah – Haftorah B’reisheet

Has anyone else in your family become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah here?

What school do you attend?
Williamsburg Middle School

What are your hobbies or extra-curricular activities?
Baseball, hockey, basketball, piano, ultimate frisbee

What accomplishments are you proud of? Preparing and getting through Bar Mitzvah. Making the Arlington Senators travel baseball team. Piano spring festivals.

Please write a thoughtful statement about what becoming a Bar Mitzvah means to you.
It means I will feel more like an adult. I will be viewed as an adult in the Jewish community and expect myself to act more like an adult.

Martyrology By Alan Savada

Each year the Rabbi comes to us asking what part of the service we are interested in pontificating on. At the start, I gracefully accepted my assignments, but as time wore on, I became brave enough to ask for specific ones. So after speaking on the Martyrology two years ago, I specifically begged to return to the same part of the service this Yom Kippur. There is a very good reason for this—this summer we spent a good deal of time in Greece visiting various places such as Corfu, Olympia, Crete, Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini, and of course, Athens, not to mention the neighboring port of Kusadasi, in Turkey, where one finds the monumental archeological site of Ephesus.

While these places are all different, the one thing many of them have in common is a past Jewish community. Jews came to Asia Minor and Greece as early as the 5th century BCE, after the destruction  of the First Temple, and we have written records of a community in Ephesus which had apparently existed for hundreds of years  by the early Common Era. The most famous site at Ephesus is the Celsus Library, whose floor contains a faint etching of a menorah! In addition, there are many stones bearing Jewish symbols that have been recycled over the centuries, which lead scholars to believe the community had a synagogue here.

Heading about 75 miles south, just off the coast we come to the ruins of Priene near Miletus, where a large stone was found with a menorah relief. The stone, now in a nearby museum, led to the 19th-century discovery of a similar synagogue dating to the 4th to 7th century CE, hundreds of years after nearby Ephesus. The designs are clear as we saw the tumbled stones of a small building, in ruins,  where once Jews worshipped for centuries. Sadly, these are the only remains of a once-thriving Jewish community. We will probably never know what happened to them.

Few tourists in Greece hit the port of Gythio or Gythion, the ancient seaport for Sparta, located on the southern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula. We stopped there in July and hired a brilliant guide to take us to the famous caves at Diros on the opposite side of the Mani Peninsula (the so called middle finger of the Peloponnese). Our guide Dmitris turned out to be an archeologist who knew much more than we could ever dream of, as he had worked on many excavations in the region over the years. There is a long tradition of a now long-gone “Romani” Jewish community in the Mani region, and nary any proof of their existence. Dmitris told us of an excavation he had worked on, under a new resort hotel that was going up several years earlier. On our return to DC, I received an email from him with yet-unpublished photos he had taken at this site, which is now closed to the public. The mosaics are clearly symbolic of a menorah and are faintly akin to many we see in similar sites in Israel today. Sadly the hotel is built, the mosaics are hidden to us, and we will probably never truly know the extent of this Jewish community, which has now been assimilated beyond recognition.

When we speak of the Jewish community in this ancient region, it is of millennia, as it is clearly the first place Jews ventured to the north and west of Israel. Of course, this does not include the Exodus trip to the south, nor the exile to Persia to the east after the destruction of the First Temple.

Our journeys also took us just to the east to Rhodes, a mere 400 miles from Israel, where Jews were inhabitants of the island for centuries. Today we find the remains of a Jewish quarter that flourished after the Inquisition due to the influx of Sephardi Jews from Spain and Italy. As late as the end of World War I, over 4000 Jews lived here, flourishing amongst the locals with four synagogues, a Jewish school, and a yeshiva. By the time of the Nazi occupation, one half the Jewish population was gone. The remaining 1,522 souls were deported to their deaths in what is called “the longest march,” a 9-day trip by cargo boat to Athens and then a 13-day cattle wagon train to Auschwitz. Our guide spoke about her grandmother who harbored a Jewish man during the war. He managed to survive, along with 150 other Jews. Today, one synagogue remains and still functions. Kahal Shalom was built in 1577 and is a true gem with mosaic floors and a history worthy of any museum. Before the war it housed an 800-year-old Torah, which was miraculously saved by a Turkish religious leader. Sadly, the people are gone now and the community members number only in the dozens. While there, we witnessed the end of a ceremony, overseen by local priests and the chief Rabbi from Athens, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust.

Corfu’s Jewish community is not as old (due to its location in the Ionian Sea on the west coast of Greece) but still can trace back to the 12th century, when the community started to grow and always lived in peace with the locals. Many came from Italy, just across the sea, especially during the Inquisition. By the end of the 19th century over 7,000 Jews lived on the small island. Jews, sadly, can not seem to be free of hatred from others, and in 1891 a blood libel ravaged the community. It was actually a Jewish girl, who had been falsely recorded as being a Christian girl, who was murdered. This led to insecurity and an exile of nearly 5,000 souls, mostly to Alexandria and Italian cities. The community was further reduced to about 2,000 people, yet the four synagogues on the island still flourished. On June 9, 1944 all these Jews were rounded up and 91% of them were taken, along with the 67,000 other Greek Jews, to the camps in central Europe. 1,700 were executed 20 days later. Of the 300 forced into hard labor by the Nazis, only 150 survived—a mere 7.5% of the entire community. Half of them emigrated to the US, Israel, and elsewhere, while about 75 returned to their homes. Only one synagogue, La Scuola Greca, which dates to 1650, remains in Corfu. The island’s Jewish population today is about 55. In 2011 an arson attack on the shul destroyed many siddurim—even today this small island community struggles to subscribe.

The last place I will speak of today is Chania, on the largest Greek island of Crete, under 500 miles from the Israeli coastline. Here the Jewish community began approximately 2,300 years ago; little is known of this community that existed for so long. The roughly 300 Jews that remained on the island at the beginning of World War II were herded onto a cargo ship headed for Auschwitz. In a twist of fate, the British torpedoed the ship and nobody survived. No Jews ever returned to settle on Chania.

The synagogue here remained in ruins over the postwar decades. It was used as a dump, urinal, and kennel. In 1996, one benevolent and kind gentleman, Nikos Stavroulakis, half Greek Orthodox and half Turkish Jew, decided Chania needed a synagogue. He made it his mission to reconstruct the completely desecrated building and its mikva. After three years of painstaking work, the small Romaniote Greek synagogue reopened. Today, the mikva functions, fed by a spring, and an etrog tree stands in the front courtyard, bearing the largest etrogim I have ever seen in my life! The rear courtyard holds the tombs of the rabbis, some hundreds of years old, and a memorial to those who perished in 1944. Services were held here for some time, basically run by a few locals who had tourists to help out, but two arson attacks occurred in 2010. Now, it takes a special event or occasion to bring worshippers; the synagogue is mostly a museum for tourists.  All that is left is for us to pray for the safety of those who are trying to revive our faith. Mr. Stavroulakis passed away two years ago at the age of 85 after reviving this amazing 1645 shul in a community that had existed for over two millennia, but did not have a single Jewish resident anymore. The name of that synagogue is Etz Hayyim.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

Yom Kippur Haftorah By Sue Hamm

Last year, when I was asked to do a speech-let for the High Holidays, for the first time, I demurred. In contrast to the previous three years, I felt I did not have anything to say. I was not overly proud of where I was: I wasn’t doing the kind of volunteer work that I wanted to be doing while watching my friends make the world a better place daily with their advocacy. I wasn’t challenging myself intellectually, I wasn’t helping my kids be better people, and, to be frank, I was eating too much chocolate. 

As I sat there last year at Yom Kippur, listening to Andy Lovinger read the Haftorah portion (as he will again this year), I read along in English. I was very struck by the language in the second part of this Haftorah; it spoke very clearly to me: 

Isiah asks, “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen…is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?” Yes, in fact, last year, that was exactly the fast I had chosen. I went without food and drink, and I came to shul, and I bowed my head.

He goes on to say “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice…to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?” He continues, “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness.”

So I sat there last year at Yom Kippur, thinking about what I wanted to be able to say in 12 months, the changes I needed to make so that I could stand here proudly, and say “Hineni—Here I am!” And I came up with a plan, and over the last year, I’ve executed it.

In the last year, I started working with HIAS in Silver Spring, and have helped them develop some programming for their asylum-seeker clients. I still cheer on family and friends when they are taking on big issues like child separation and common-sense gun laws, and I am now doing my part, too, in ways that make sense for me and fit into my schedule and constraints. It hasn’t always been convenient, but it has been worth it.  

I have donated both time and money to the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and I’ve brought my kids with me so they could learn what it means to “spend yourself in behalf of the hungry.” Far be it for me to nag other people, but…this is really easy, and really fun, and really worthwhile. So let me know if you want to join me and my family in the year to come. Or there are a million opportunities for similar activities through our Social Action Committee. 

The connection with my kids at home was important to me, and that had been lacking as well. It’s so easy for all of us to get caught up in making dinner, doing homework, diving into our devices. So I started making a conscious effort to get out more board games and pay attention to which ones caught my kids’ interest—now our go-to is to play a game when we’re just sitting around. Makes my board game geek heart go pitter-pat. Those are some of the best times with the family, especially when we find one my husband enjoys, too!

I also started learning to chant Torah. I feel like an infomercial, but in less than ten minutes a day over just a few months, I learned the trope and have become one of our regular Saturday morning readers. Each time I have a new parsha to learn, I have questions about the Hebrew or about the context or about the meaning; I ask questions of anyone I think will have answers (usually but not always Rabbi Bass), and I’m giving myself a mini-masters in Jewish education. In this way, I strengthen my bond with my religious community, meet a need we have in our kehillah (community), and I get to learn new things each time. Talk about win-win!

Isiah says that if you do these types of things, “You will be like a well-watered garden”. All in all, I’m glad to say I’m in a better place than I was at this time last year, and I have Isiah and his words to thank for it.

Before I conclude, the very attentive listener might ask: “But, Sue, what about the chocolate?” Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve made all that much progress on the chocolate front. Maybe next year.

G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

Introduction to the Yom Kippur Torah Reading By Nathan Ainspan

My first exposure to the events in this parsha was through the great Jewish scholar, Rabbi Steven Spielberg —specifically the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the lead Nazi dressed in the robes, breast plate, and head covering of the High Priest in order to open the Ark of the Covenant. The scene captured my imagination and sparked an interest in the events as they were described in the Torah. I even drew a picture of the High Priest’s clothing that hung in my childhood shul for years.

But from early on, I had issues with the ceremony described in today’s Torah portion, of the priest passing the people’s sins on to an innocent goat, whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And as a child I wondered if crime does pay, since the Azazel goat—the goat carrying our sins—gets to run around outside enjoying the wilderness after the ceremony, while his cousin gets sacrificed.

But seriously, the idea of being absolved of sins through ritual sacrifice seems contrary to Judaism to me. I learned as a child, and I see that we continue to teach in our junior congregation and our Hebrew school, that if I sin against God, I ask God’s forgiveness, but if I sin against a person, I must seek forgiveness from that person. Apologizing to God for a sin against man is insufficient. I understand that the passage is symbolic and that ritual does have a cathartic element to it — but it still seems to get us off the hook for our sins with little effort on our part.

In a similar way, I have issues with the idea that our fate is sealed when the Book of Life is closed, and that life and death are predetermined at the start of the year. I remember sitting at High Holiday services in 1997, the year my sister was killed in a sky diving accident, enraged at the thought that her fate with sealed at Yom Kippur in 1996 for some sin she had committed earlier.

And what about today, when we just learned that yet another synagogue, this time in Germany, again runs crimson with Jewish blood? Were the victims in Germany also sealed on the wrong side of the book at Yom Kippur last year?

As with the Azazel goat, I know from listening to the Rabbi and others that the concept of the Book of Life is metaphorical, but I continue to struggle with that part of the services. But as I was preparing this dvar torah, I realized that the haftorah to this parsha and other sources might help me resolve this dilemma.

The rabbis knew what they were doing when they paired the parsha describing in detail the procedure of the Yom Kippur sacrifice with the haftorah from Isiah. Taken together, they show us that we cannot be so easily absolved of our sins—and that the book will not be permanently closed tonight.

In fact, the haftorah tells us that God is offended and does not accept our supplications if we do not take action to address our sins and injustices. Superficially, it points out that fasting and going to services alone is not the fast that God desires on Yom Kippur:

No, this is the fast I desire:

To unlock the fetters of wickedness,

And untie the cords of the yoke

To let the oppressed go free;

To break off every yoke.

It is to share your bread with the hungry,

And to take the wretched poor into your home;

When you see the naked, to clothe him,

And not to ignore your own kin.

Then, when you call, God will answer;

When you cry, He will say: Here I am.

If you banish the yoke from your midst,

The menacing hand, and evil speech,

And you offer your compassion to the hungry

And satisfy the famished creature-

Then shall your light shine in darkness,

And your gloom shall be like noonday. 

Note that the word yoke appears three times—and brilliantly invokes the image of the goat wearing the yoke. And that the yoke is paired with the menacing hand, evil speech, and compassion to the hungry, suggesting that it will take actual action against our fellow humans to rid ourselves of the yoke.  

And note that the verbs are the present and future tense—share your bread, take the hungry into your home—suggesting that future actions will impact God’s view of the teshuvah, or repentance, being performed. Repentance is tied to tikkun olam – another concept I developed a more nuanced, adult understanding of as I prepared this dvar torah. For years I had believed that tikkun olam meant repairing a broken world, but I learned that it actually refers to the commandment to conduct ourselves properly, observe the mitzvot and the Commandments, and contribute to society and civilization, both by example and through practice and action.

I started this dvar torah with Rev Spielberg of Hollywood, so I will invoke him again. The end of Schindler’s List quotes the Talmud: “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” This quote becomes a touchstone for me in my work with suicide prevention in the military and with veterans. I may not control my fate or the fate of those I love, but if my actions can help one person, I can save the whole world.

So, there are no goats, no high priest to absolve you or the community of sin. And I don’t believe that there is a literal book being sealed, or gates that are closing tonight that will preordain our lives for the next year. Our absolution will have to be in ourselves. It is upon all of us to be our own High Priest and our own Azazel goat, to redress our sins, both personal and communal, to fix what we broke. While it may be impossible to repair or save the whole world, we can comport ourselves in a way that just might save a few of those individual worlds.I wish you a safe fast but I won’t wish you “G’mar Chatima Tovah,” since it means, “may you be inscribed for good [in the Book of Life].” Instead, I will use the Sephardic greeting “Tizku Leshanim Rabot, Ne’imot veTovot”—may your actions merit many pleasant and good years.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

On Kol Nidrei By Cheryl Whitehead

I want to be on time

For this service, Kol Nidrei,

On this night of all nights,

On this Sabbath of all Sabbaths.

Preparations for this night are intentional—

Dinner planned out ahead of time,

Leave work early, don’t rush,

Ease calmly into this night.

No daily uniform

Of suit and leather shoes.

No worldly luxuries

To comfort me tonight.

A white, linen kittel to wear,

Reminiscent of a burial shroud—

A reminder of my mortality

And need for teshuvah (repentence).

White cloth shoes, inexpensive and basic.

White—an emulation of angels.

Repentance shall make our sins

White as snow, Isaiah 1:18.

Ironically, I am more comfortable

Without worldly luxuries

To bind and constrain,

For that is the antithesis of Kol Nidrei.

With the sun near the horizon

We don our tallit

For this night of sincere repentance,

On this Sabbath of all Sabbaths.

Tonight, is a night of paradoxes,

We arrive alone but we stand together,

Righteous and unrighteous

Before the Heavenly and earthly courts.

To annul our vows and oaths

Not YET made—

But those TO BE MADE

In this new year.

Why Kol Nidrei?

Why do we do this?

Exempt from vows and oaths? If so,

For what purpose does Yom Kippur serve?

The words of Kol Nidrei

Offer no absolution

Of vows, oaths, and commitments

To one another.

We are accountable

And need to seek forgiveness

From each other

For missing the mark.

The words of Kol Nidrei

Address the vows and oaths

Not YET made

To ourselves and to God.

Free will to plan and promise,

We can feel powerful.

No way to predict the future,

We can feel helpless.

Kol Nidrei foresees

What we cannot—

Like the riptide current

That will drown our earnest attempts to fulfill promises.

Kol Nidrei absolves

What we cannot—

That which the riptide has made

Unhealthy and unwise to pursue.

We cannot be enslaved

By these pursuits.

If Yom Kippur allows us to start anew

With forgiveness for confessed misdeeds of the past;

Then the ritual of Kol Nidrei assures us

That mercy and forgiveness will be ours in the future.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.