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Welcome

Erev Rosh Hashanah, 5774/2013
Rabbi Rachel Dvash Schoenfeld

Shannah Tova

As the new rabbi of Shir Hadash, I have been welcomed heartily over the last two months. I now want to return the favor, and take the opportunity to welcome you to Rosh Hashannah, on behalf of Shir Hadash.

We welcome you if you’re an old timer here, and have been helping to orient me to Shir Hadash. We welcome you if this is your first time at a Shir Hadash event, and you don’t know what to expect. We welcome you if you’re going to be leading part of the service on High Holidays, and we welcome you if you don’t read Hebrew and have a hard time following along. We welcome you if you identify as atheist, agnostic, or humanist, or if you don’t know how you identify, and we welcome you if you have a belief in an omnipresent, transcendental God. We welcome you if you think prayer is hocus-pocus, or if you daven at home daily. We welcome you whatever your sexual orientation is, and we welcome you whatever your gender identity is. We especially welcome you if getting here was physically difficult for you, or if you have health issues, whether visible or invisible. We welcome you if you feel good about yourself, or if you struggle with depression. We welcome you if you’re happy with your work, or if you don’t know what to say when people ask ‘how’s the job search?”. We welcome you if you’re a fan of the writings of Mordechai Kaplan, or if you don’t know what Reconstructionist Judaism is. We welcome you if you read the explanations in the prayer book, and we especially welcome you if you’re not confident in your singing ability, or your Hebrew, but sing along anyhow. We welcome you if you spend your time here following the prayers, getting lost in the melodies or in the words, meditating on your year, or if you spend your time here making conversation with old and new friends. Wherever you’re coming from, whoever you are, you’re welcome here.

The word “Shannah” means both “Year” and “Change”, as in “leshanot” – ‘to change’. The concepts “year” and “change” are intertwined in Judaism – a New Year means change, for us personally, as well as for the calendar year. Whether we anticipate it, or resist it, right now, the year is changing, and so are we. Rosh Hashannah is our opportunity to look at the big picture. Today, we look backwards and forwards, at the past year and at the next year to come. Kierkegaard said it so beautifully. He said “we live life forward, but we can only understand that life when we look backward.” In order to orient ourselves in context, in order to shape our future, we look to our past. We stand at the very edge of the year today, where we can peer back over the past as well as envision our year to come.

Being with Shir Hadash is a big, and wonderful change for me this year, and I know having a new rabbi is a change for you, as well. The very name of this chavurah - Shir Hadash, a New Song – shows the character of this congregation as open to change, open to newness. As we embark on the journey of the High Holidays together, I want to recognize that change opens up opportunities, and also, sometimes, change makes for variations. There will be melodies that I know differently, perhaps there will be words that I sing differently, there will be tones that I set differently than in the past. Thank you for welcoming me, and for joining me in the changes.

In the phrase “Rosh Hashannah”, “Rosh” is generally translated “Head” – as in “Head of the Year”, but it could just as easily be translated “Beginning” and, if we translate “Shannah” as” change”, today’s holiday is called “The beginning of change”. Now is the time to open, heart, head and soul. Welcome to the beginning of change. Welcome to Rosh Hashannah; welcome to the new Jewish year 5774.