There has been a lot of planning these past few months to hold a large, festive, multigenerational temple community picnic on Selichot. This will take place on Saturday afternoon, September 21st at 4:30pm, which is 10 days prior to Rosh Hashanah. We will have food trucks, carnival games for children of all ages, an adult learning opportunity with our very own Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Avraham, a Geniza dedication (a grave for old Jewish books and artifacts we no longer use) and age appropriate services to officially begin the Jewish High Holiday season.
While I always say I’ll take any excuse for a picnic, this one has a very specific purpose. First, one must understand what the holiday of Selichot is and why, as post-modern Jews, we should even care to celebrate.
Selichot are penitential poems and prayers, composed by our ancestors to reflect the need for repentance in our lives. But it’s not just a call for individual repentance, it is an opportunity to join with the community, to remember our obligation to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. When the Jewish community faced trouble, the leaders would call together the community to come and pray, sometimes fast (if rain was needed, or there was an impending threat) and hear the shofar blast for the first time that year. It was customary to gather around midnight, when it is dark, and use candlelight. This shows we understand our vulnerability, so we can pour out our hearts in a way that can’t necessarily be done during the day.
In modern times, meeting at midnight does not necessarily add more meaning to the holiday. In fact, for those who are not able to easily stay up late at night, holding services and festivities earlier makes it accessible to everyone. So, to have our picnic as a communal celebration is a great way to start the High Holiday process.
Second, we will be disposing of the old High Holiday prayer books that we will no longer use. Burying Jewish artifacts is the way to honor their purpose and not just throw them out. It is important to treat Jewish items that will no longer be used with dignity and respect. So, your presence is not only honoring them, but it is also a way to embrace the new changes and the new prayer book we will be using for the High Holidays going forward.