Awaken – Rosh Hashanah is near

PHOTO: The sound of the shofar, such as this blast by Beth Israel Education Director Ben Sandler, awakens us from our spiritual slumber so we can reflect and repent as the new year approaches. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.


The High Holidays start “early” on our Gregorian calendar this year; the Hebrew month of Elul begins Aug. 9, Selichot is Aug. 28 and Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown Sept. 6.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland hosts the online community calendar for community members to easily access information on meaningful ways to prepare for and observe this year’s High Holidays. Congregations and other Jewish organizations are invited to share programs and services around Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah on the community calendar. (Submit events and services for the fall hagim at
Community members can check out virtual, hybrid and in-person classes, programs and services at

Chaplain's Corner: Make Time to Prepare for Redemption


We all know the long-standing joke: The High Holidays always run early or run late (despite that they always occur on the same dates in the lunar-based Hebrew calendar.) They only feel early or late because we gauge the holidays by how they fall relative to the solar calendar.
This year, they are even earlier (relatively speaking): Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown Sept. 6.
A tradition teaches that we are to use the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to reflect on the year that was. We are supposed to do this as objectively as possible. We are to confront what we did or did not do, how we feel about our decisions and how others feel about our choices.
This practice reveals Judaism’s inherent health, effectiveness and relevancy. By taking a hard, honest look at the previous year, we can recognize how we could have done better. We can be accountable. We can dedicate ourselves to heal relationships we tarnished.
This tradition runs counter to current prevailing values. Far too many of us deny responsibility for our words and actions and reject accountability. We refuse to admit we have inflicted any damage, and at the same time blame the person claiming to have been wronged.
Judaism demands us to do the opposite as a sacred responsibility. Whether or not we want to makes no difference.
Judaism instructs us to heal our relationship with others, heal our relationship with ourselves, and, if we possess a personal faith, heal our relationship with God. In particular, to say that these past months have tested familial relationships is an understatement. We have been forced to live in close quarters; to varying degrees, we slept, ate, worked, studied and did homework in the same space or one room over. At the same time, we were tested by stresses, pressures, anxieties and fears from multiple angles.
If I had documented the words with my high school-aged children that I wish I had not spoken, that list would be long. During the past year, I have had to ask forgiveness from them, and I have had to forgive myself.
A recurring point of conflict? The dishes and garbage. One of my son's and daughter’s responsibilities is to empty the clean dishes from the dishwasher and move the dirty dishes from the sink to the dishwasher. They also have to take out the garbage when it is full.
I imagine many of you can relate to how this feels: It’s the end of a long day. I went to the grocery store on the way home. What is waiting for me? An unemptied dishwasher, a sink full of dirty dishes and an overflowing garbage can. How do I react? I lose my temper and raise my voice. How many times did this happen during the previous year? Ugh….
On reflection (every time), I ask myself, “Is it really that big of a deal? It’s only dishes and garbage. My kids are … well … just being teenagers.” But each time this happens, it is part of a much greater context of a pressure-filled world that feels like Groundhog Day: the stresses, strains, fears and anxieties of a pandemic world; a polarized nation, politically and culturally; reminders to wear masks, socially distance, wash our hands, etc., etc., etc.
Who pays the price of this reality? The people we live with. Too many times, I have unnecessarily inflicted my kids with guilt. Too many times, I have felt like a failing father.
Fortunately, there is a way out of this Groundhog Day mess. Judaism offers two beautiful traditions. We need not wait until the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to reflect on the year that was and begin the process of making amends. Rather, we can use the entire Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes Rosh Hashanah. Elul begins on Aug. 9. We have a month to get our spiritual house in order, well before the High Holidays begin.
Another useful tradition is to sit down with our loved ones and simply say, “If there is anything I did to you during the previous year to hurt you, please accept my apology.” These words will not magically heal our relationships. But through heartfelt communication, we can create an opportunity for further discussion. We can begin to clear the air. We can listen to our loved ones in a nonjudgmental way, acknowledge what we have done and pledge to repair the harm we have inflicted.
This process is not easy. I have had to learn to check my ego, admit my mistakes and commit myself to making better choices. I hope that I am teaching my children the importance of self-critique as a means of accountability, communication and healing.
Another tradition teaches that we have truly atoned when we find ourselves in the same situation where we previously sinned, but this time make healthy decisions. I’ll see if I am making progress when I return home this evening and find an unemptied dishwasher, a sink filled with dirty dishes and an overflowing garbage can …

Rabbi Barry Cohen is the Jewish community chaplain of the Greater Portland area.



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