Two Muslims, an Episcopalian & a Rabbi walk into a synagogue…

The Jewish high holy days are here! The focus among Jewish communities right now is on atonement for personal and collective sins, leading up to Yom Kippur which begins the evening of September 22 this year.  (Coinciding with the very different, but equally noteworthy Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha!)

Last week I participated in a ‘kick off’ of the high holy days; an evening at a local synagogue devoted to Selichot, a series of prayers & poems that prime the heart and mind for the rigors of atonement. I was invited by Rabbi Neil Blumofe, along with two other colleagues (one Muslim and on Christian) to engage in a panel discussion around our shared experiences at the Shalom Hartman Institute while incorporating reflections on repentance and forgiveness from Jewish texts.

It was a delightful evening, with a couple hundred members of the Jewish community attending. Each of us spoke for about 15 minutes and then we took questions from the audience.  The questions were thoughtful, and the community was kind and appreciative of us being there to share the evening with them.

For my portion of the panel, I talked about the instructions that Maimonides gave on seeking forgiveness, and how vital it is that we continue to seek forgiveness and make right our wrongs, even when the person we’ve wronged is slow to forgive. This is a challenge to the ego, of course.  It’s far easier to seek the assured forgiveness of the Creator than to have to humble ourselves before others and continue to seek forgiveness even if our apologies have been rejected.  But it is essential to mending relationships–whether interpersonal or on a much larger scale.

Following our panel we observed the Selichot service which included liturgical prayer and song, interspersed with some gorgeous music played on the harp and clarinet by a couple of talented congregants.  We watched the changing of the torah scroll covers from purple to white for the high holy days; and the evening ended with a soul-shaking sounding of the shofar by Rabbi Blumofe.

Thanks to Congregation Agudas Achim for these photos of the event: