Finding Meaning in the High Holy Days at Temple Sinai

When I was a teenager attending High Holy Day services, the liturgy did not speak to me. “Who shall live, and who shall die,” part of Unetanah Tokef, the central prayer of the Rosh Hashanah
service, had little meaning to me then or even later when I was in my 20s and 30s.

I am now in my late 50s and have experienced some of life’s struggles and the deaths of family members, the parents of friends, and even some of my children’s classmates, and I find the
liturgy powerful, searingly so at times, and the High Holy Days deeply meaningful.

For example, the Al Chet prayer is a chastening reminder of the various ways we all fall short of our best, the Akedah is still disturbing to me even after having read and thought about it for years, and our clergy
always give me something to reflect on in their sermons.

At the High Holy Days, when I sit with my sons or even by myself if they are away – I can never sit with my wife Liz because she sings in the choir – I also know that I am part of something that transcends me, and I feel especially connected to those who came before me and, through my children, to the next generation, not just to my contemporaries.

I have wondered if I would find the High Holy Days as meaningful and affecting if I went to services somewhere else besides Temple Sinai. After all, the liturgy would essentially be the same, and, although I like to think that our clergy are the best, I imagine that I would hear thoughtful, stimulating sermons at many other synagogues.

However, I know the answer is, “No.” The reason is that Judaism is experienced in community, which takes time to develop, and Liz and I have put down deep roots at the temple during our 25+ years of membership.

Our sons were named here and became b’nai mitzvah and confirmands here; we have shared in the joys and sorrows of our friends here; and we have developed valued relationships with the clergy and staff.

That is why, when, during the High Holy Days, I see Liz in the choir, our friends in the congregation, and our clergy, I know that I am in my spiritual home, and that is a wonderful feeling.


-Steve Messner