Preparing for the High Holy Days

As I write this article I am studying at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Being in Israel refuels me. Whether I am hiking, going for coffee, or studying in the Beit Midrash, there is something about being in the Jewish homeland that gives me new energy and insight. I am so grateful to the congregation for this time to study.

There are a few things that are hard about being in Israel. The politics here are challenging. I took several day trips to better understand the conflict. Those days were emotionally draining and very hard. I am still forming my reactions to what I have seen. Of course I will share my experiences with the congregation.

For me, personally, walking in Jerusalem is hard. The pavement is uneven and Jerusalem is hilly. Because the Jerusalem is a city often best navigated by foot, I tend to walk everywhere. Consequently, by the end of the day, I am physically exhausted! Over the years I have learned to pay particular attention to the shoes I wear here. Sandals look nice, but they don’t give enough support for the cobblestone, uneven pavement, hills, and distance. I’ve learned to choose wisely and this year I got it right and my joints are much happier!

Many of us think about the shoes we take with us to travel. Some think about fashion. Others think about comfort. Some of us try to combine both.

Quite by chance, while congratulating myself about my shoe selection and so too sifting through the enormity of lessons learned from my studies at Hartman and day trips to explore Israel, I came across this poem by Ruth Forman and I couldn’t help but connect this poem to my time here and the approaching the work of the High Holy Days.

shoes web masterPrayers Like Shoes

Ruth Forman

I wear prayers like shoes

pull em on quiet each morning
take me through the uncertain day

don’t know
what might knock me off course

sit up in bed
pull on the right
then the left
before shower before teeth

my mama’s gift
to walk me through this life

she wore strong ones
the kind steady your ankles
i know
cause when her man left / her children
gone / her eldest son without goodbye
they the only ones keep her

i saw her
still standing

mama passed on
some things to me
ma smile sense a discipline
subtle behind

but best she passed on
girl you go to God
and get you some good shoes
cause this life ain’t steady ground

now i don’t wear hers
you take em with you you know
but i suspect they made by the same company
pull em on each morning
first the right then the left

best piece a dress
i got

We all wear shoes and have stories about them. Some of us buy new shoes for the first day of school, or the High Holy Days, or a new fitness program, or a birthday, a ball, or a wedding. Those shoes and the stories that go with them shape the steps by which we approach each day, each task, or each event.

Elul is a month designed to reflect on the kinds of shoes we wear. What would be included in your prayer shoes? What is the nature of the prayer shoes that you would give to a loved one? Will you lace up shoes of gratitude or grief on Rosh HaShanah? Will you slip on the shoes of haughtiness or humility on Yom Kippur? As we prepare ourselves for the High Holy Days, it is time for us to consider our shoe choices and the stories that go with them and the feelings and experiences we have in our travels and traverses.

May it be a journey of strength and meaningful reflection.


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