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Once again our thoughts turn to the close of one year and the beginning of the next. It seems, though, that after so many years experiencing the cycle of the year—preparation, teshuvah, slipping back into our old ways and then waking up spiritually once again—that the Yamim Noraim lose any unique meaning.
I would like to suggest that the longer we live and as a result the more High Holyday seasons we experience, the entire cycle of the year can take on even more meaning.
Humans are products of our life experiences as understood through a filter of social, cultural, religious and communal norms. We carry memory and invoke that memory throughout our daily lives. Memory, however, isn’t simply the recalling of past events.
As we enter 5776, I would like us to think of the role that our memories play in giving meaning to Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the entire penitential experience.
The High Holy Days place upon us the expectation to remember the deeds of the past year and to make amends to God and fellow human beings for our shortcomings.
Memory in this sense of the word, then, begins with a recollection of our behaviors which we then measure against a standard of Jewish values, practice, law and community. We then right any wrongs we remember we committed. It is deceptively simple.
Memory is also interpreted. What I remember I did may not be the same memory of that identical event that another person carries. Memory can thus prevent reconciliation without one added Jewish value—recognition of the other. If in doubt, ask Teshuvah of the other individual. Even admit that “I don’t exactly remember it the way you took it.” Memory can then become a vehicle for rebuilding relationships.
Memory can be restructured. This restructured or re-engineered memory can serve as a buffer between the individual and traumatic events but it can also morph into denial. The more life experience we have, the more potential we have for restructuring memories. The penitential period gives us the opportunity to unpack some memories while still allowing us the blessing of savings ourselves from traumatic memories. The years may dull some memories but give others even more clarity.
I would submit to you that the High Holy Days hold greater meaning the older we become. Our memories give us the ability to ground ourselves in our past but also to move forward through correcting the shortfallings we remember not just from the prior year but indeed from years gone by.
Mary and I wish all of our members a memory-filled, memorable, happy, healthy and prosperous 5776.
Rabbi Ned Soltz

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