אחד המרבה ואחד הממעיטת רק שיכוון את לבו לשמים
It is all the same whether one extends, or abbreviates (eg. prayer),
As long as one directs ones heart toward heaven

תפסת מרובה לא תפסת
תפסת מאת תפסת
If you grab a large amount, you won’t hold onto anything;
If you grab a small amount; you’ll hold onto something.

Ever since becoming a rabbi, I can always remember the High Holy Days as time of deep anxiety, coupled with a certain feeling of anticipation, awe and excitement.

There’s the sheer volume of material: the unique prayers and ceremonies woven into the regular form of the prayers. They always require careful outlining; going through each one of the services in the Machzor with the Chazan; making sure we’re co-ordinated and making decisions what to include and what to leave out; what to do in English and what to chant in the Hebrew; recognizing that the familiar may be comfortable, but “same old, same old,” may feel repetitious; that while so many of us don’t understand the Hebrew, many of us find the “music” of the language holds a special charm that transcends its specific meaning. There’s also a significant population for whom the lack of understanding is a significant barrier. Still further, there is the underlying question of the unique Faith and Values that every individual holds on to. To what extent do those to play a vital part in engaging us in the moment of prayer? How do we even understand what it means to “pray?”

These are just a few of the issues that come to my mind in anticipation of welcoming what we hope will be a large number of people.

How to inspire?
I always enter this period hoping, somehow, that here and there, someone will discover what it is – beyond community – that fills a deep-seated yearning hiding within them; that this experience will unleash a desire for more: even to a point where they may be motivated to attend on Shabbat. Perhaps their curiosity will be aroused to learn more about what our Torah has to say about Life; how to deal with successes as well as failures and how to discover a genuine sense of the Divine and how our Tradition understands the human’s task to devote ones life to service of God, humanity and the rest of Creation.

And, as a believer: I ask myself, “How will Holy One view our/my efforts, as we enter these Days of Judgment?” Will my/our prayers and other attempts to fulfill God’s Commandments find favor? Am I using all my experience as a rabbi, a husband, a father/grandfather and member of the community in a way that demonstrates wisdom; a desire to aid the community perform the Divine Will?

Will we be judged favorably in the coming year?

We will greet a new Chazan this coming Holiday Season: Cory Winter. Besides a lovely voice, plus a wealth of experience, Cory brings a unique energy and joy to his work. We have spent hours going over all the services for Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. Cory has made many suggestions based on his wealth of experience of congregational work. I have tried to listen and implement most of the suggestions he made: from the time we will start services to what prayers to include or exclude as well the order in which some of the special services take place, to making a serious attempt to cut the length of services. There were times when I felt a need to insist on certain inclusions and Cory was generous in accepting my insistence.

My heart is filled with gratitude towards all the people who have given so generously of their time and talent to create our observance of these holidays at Beth Ami:
Barb McGee, our synagogue president, who has the awesome task that the position implies. She oversees the overall running of our operation and is tasked with making sure that communication takes place, managing the overall safety of our synagogue community and, of course, all the other details involved.
Lisa Iskin has been a wonderful partner in developing her unique Sing In Shabbat on Friday evenings. As a result, we can routinely count on anywhere upward of at least twelve “regulars.” Lisa also provides substantial aid in leading our daily afternoon/evening minyan
Lee Feinstein and Betty Boyd have worked tirelessly to create the forms that outline the service and contact the many people who, we hope, will take part to ensure a lovely experience. (Lee also routinely covers for me when I’m unable to attend morning minyan.
There’s Leanne Schy who not only takes care of so much of our publicity, but also works to coordinate our Torah and Haftarah readers for the High Holidays and Shabbat.
There’s Patty Bernstein who has worked so hard to see if we could put together a choir. As if that weren’t enough, she also oversees the important project of maintaining our Yizkor Book, so that we can record the names of those family members and friends who have entered Eternity.
To all the members of our Religious Practices (Lee Feinstein, chair), and Kitchen (Myra Thomas, chair) Committees as well as the specially constituted Reopening committee to address the many safety concerns (Carolyn Metz, Barb McGee, chairs respecitively) and the committee chaired by Myrna Morse who used their expertise to start the process of reopening back when we were just starting to come out of the original Covid siege.
Richard Kahn has worked tirelessly to help synchronize our in-person with our Zoom services. (In this regard, my thanks to Jerry Newman for securing the purchase of the large TV and helping connect it to our computers so that we can see the Zoom participants.
Carolyn Metz has reached out to Lauren Kalmenson who, aided by Liz Moore Cooper will conduct a Children’s Service on the first day of Rosh HaShana while Barb McGee has enlisted the help of her son Jared to assist her with the Yom Kippur experience for them. Rick Concoff will again be providing a Yom Kippur experience for teens.
Our dedicated staff, Executive Director Kevin Scheier and Elizabeth Jarlsberg who are deeply involved in so many of the important behind-the-scenes tasks, and not to forget Jose Espinoza and his team.

I am aware of, what I would call, a certain “esthetic” that is unique to California and Sonoma County. In trying to be true to it, I hope to make our Holy Day experience more accessible to many, if not most, of those of you who plan to attend.
May you find yourself moved by your experience. May it inspire you, lift your spirits and provide you with courage and determination as each one of us faces the year that lies ahead.

With fondest wishes,