High Holiday Marathon - Part 2

by Zehorit HeilicherTastemaker in Residence

The following two days of the holiday are traditionally spent at synagogue services, participating in prayer, with moving music and liturgy. These set the tone for the next “Ten days of Awe” Aseret Yemey T’shuvah– the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During this period, Jewish tradition requires that we examine our actions and take responsibility for them. “Het”, which is often mistranslated as sin, actually means missing the mark, a miss-deed; assuming that we actually mean well most of the time, yet somehow, miss the mark. We are to apologize to those we have hurt and acquire their forgiveness, as wrongs we have committed against others are misdeeds that neither a fast nor prayers will atone. According to Jewish tradition heaven’s gates are open during Yom Kippur to receive our honest supplication and our future will be affected by our sincerity and ethics. Yom Kippur requires a self – examination: of our past year, our actions and relationships. The goal is to shed old patterns and commit to an ethical and compassionate path as we open ourselves to divine wisdom and compassion through fast and prayer. 

The holiday begins with a “last meal” before the fast on the evening of the day before, followed by a poignant synagogue service named Kol Nidrei for its central prayer focused on our vows and promises in the coming year. The next day is a full day of fasting, when no drink or food are allowed, unless a medical condition exists. The day ends with a service called Ne’ila or Locking, referring to the closing and locking of heaven’s gates at the end of this holiday. Starving, tired, yet somehow rejuvenated by this process, people around the country gather for a “Break Fast” meal. Though these dinners are sometimes catered, more often than not they become a group effort. Growing up in Israel, this meal was a quiet, small event, however since living in the US, I have adopted the American Jewish custom of a larger affair. 

This year we gathered at my friend, Cheryl’s house: a motley crew of native Minnesotans, an Israeli (me), a Brit (Shelley), couples from NYC, Indiana and Iowa; all contributing their specialty dishes and traditions. The menu for the Break Fast meal is often brunch like: egg dishes, bagels with cream cheese and lox (of course!!), fruit, blintzes (or blintz casserole – see recipe), orange juice, etc. The conversations this year focused on our Rabbi’s sermon and the choir’s music but also on the two dear friends we lost: one to cancer and the other to gun violence. Though the Break Fast meal is celebratory in nature, it is more somber than Rosh Hashanah, as we acknowledge our losses, as well as our concern and our hope for the future.

Sukkot follows within a few days, picking up on the vulnerability we exposed during our Yom Kippur fast. It is the first of three ancient pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem that Jews observed in the past. The holiday today commemorates the pilgrimage and pays homage to the temporary dwellings that Israelites inhabited while journeying from Egypt to the Promised Land after the Exodus. Jews are commanded to build a Sukka – a temporary hut made with natural materials and a roof of branches. There we are commanded to have our meals and spend most of our days and sleep there at night – for eight days. Our vulnerability to the elements must be experienced and our physical fragility exposed. Through this practice we are connected to a past collective experience and are reminded of our mortality. Moving back into our sturdy homes at the end of the holiday, we hopefully gain a sense of gratitude and humility that at times are difficult to maintain in daily life.


Our Sukka is a family effort: it was designed and built by my husband; it is adorned with our 4 kids’ art work and with decoration I brought from Israel or made here. Since Sukkot is also a harvest holiday, some of my favorite decorations are the very traditional depictions of the Seven Species (Shivat Haminim) native to the land of milk and honey as mentioned in the bible: pomegranate, wheat, barley, olives, figs, grapes and dates. In Israel, it is customary to decorate the Sukka with the actual Shivat Haminim as they are harvested at this time of year.  We serve festive meals in the Sukka (in Minnesota – weather permitting) and when possible enjoy the balmy fall weather.


Throughout the year, in synagogues around the world, a Torah portion is read from the 5 books of Moses in chronological order every week. Sukkot is the culmination of the Torah reading cycle and the holiday’s end (Simhat Torah – literally “the joy of Torah”) marks the beginning of a new cycle and the reading from the start of Genesis, B’resheet, again. Synagogues hold parties for all ages, where the Torah, which is a scroll, is unrolled to its full length around the sanctuary. This gives individuals the opportunity to come close to the sacred and fragile scroll and see the ancient Hebrew writing in person.


Simhat Torah also marks the end of the High Holidays and though it is a relief by the end of the three weeks to return to a more normal schedule, there is a definite let down along with a sense of fatigue. These three holidays provide a unique opportunity to take time to examine our lives, celebrate our blessings, acknowledge our limitations and accept them in the embrace of family, friends and community.  

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