By Cantor Lorna Wallach
A synagogue is a unique treasure.
Throughout the centuries, wherever Jews have lived and journeyed, the synagogue has provided a haven for our souls and a sanctuary in which to gather as a community to worship and to learn. In the synagogue, the essential times of life and rites of passage such as welcoming a newborn into the Covenant, the acceptance of adulthood and marriage are celebrated and made sacred. The synagogue can be a place in which to restore your strength and courage, and find the patience and wisdom with which to meet the many demands of life. In the synagogue, you may declare your Jewishness and share in its two- thousand – year- old history. One of the main ways in which we do all this is through prayer, and particularly through communal prayer. Prayer is at the heart of our spiritual experience during the High Holy Days.
The Haftarah that is read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the story of Hannah’s journey from the heartbreak of childlessness to the glory of motherhood, exemplifies the power of prayer. As the story of Hannah shows us, prayer can be a means of expressing and unburdening ourselves of our deepest pain, and faith can help us achieve the courage and strength to deal with it. We all face difficulty and pain at some point in our lives. What a blessing it would be to so many of us if the synagogue could be a place to find comfort and solace.
One of the High Holyday prayers that we sing together on Yom Kippur, “Ki Anu amekha, v’atah eloheinu,” provides that feeling for me of comfort and the support of the community. This early medieval poem emphasizes our relationship to God – but focuses on “We” rather than on our personal relationship with the Divine. “For We are Your people, and You are our God; We are Your children and You are our parent. We are Your servants, and You are our master; We are Your congregation, and You are our portion.”
The prayers of confession (Viddui) that we recite in the plural as a community on Yom Kippur are preceded by this short poem. As we prepare for the daunting task of confession, the text of this poem utilizes simple metaphors to reassure us that our connection to the Holy One is certain. The prayer ends with the ultimate promise that we seek, the guarantee of a communication that will be reciprocal and effectual: “We are the ones You address, You are the One to Whom we speak.” Ki Anu Amekha is essential to the Vidui that follows. We must be assured of our relationship to God before we pour out our hearts and ask forgiveness. Why raise our voices if God is not listening? Why bare our souls if God is distant or indifferent? We cannot hope to correct what is broken in our relationships unless we know that these relationships are there to be repaired. We find assurance, too, in the key word “Anu” (We). Each of us offers our confession couched in the first person plural, thus making it possible to bear the strain of Yom Kippur because we do it as a community. We sing, we turn and return, together.
As we begin the New Year, let us embark on a spiritual journey together to seek shalem and shalom, wholeness and peace.