By Rielle Miller Gabriel, President
The High Holy days are upon us, and I am thinking of oranges. No, I’m not erroneously comparing apples and oranges, nor am I confusing my Jewish holiday food symbols. You see, when I was in elementary school we would each be given an orange on our last day of school before the High Holidays Fall Break. And one year I learned a very important lesson–leaving an orange in my school bag for a week and half in the waning summer temperatures of Philadelphia during an ‘early’ appearance of the holidays resulted in a very orangey-scented mess. Let’s just say that my parents were not particularly happy with me and my bag smelled like oranges for at least the entirety of the first semester.
You see, back before they were popular on the Passover Seder plate, oranges were used to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. They are sweet (for a “sweet new year”) and they are round (like the world whose birth we are celebrating). And, I learned at a tender age, they must not be neglected.
An older–perhaps wiser–me, now sees the orange as another symbolic metaphor for this important time of year. Like an orange, whose seeds from a neglected fruit can spring forth a new crop of sweet, round fruit, we, too, can emerge year after year sweeter and more full of life. I have always been drawn to the opportunity for introspection offered by the High Holy Days. I am likely my own worst critic, and I willingly submit to the liturgy and rituals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur–critiquing myself and apologizing to those who I have faulted.
It is probably no surprise then that by far my favorite ritual of this special period of time has always been Tashlich. There is something about the physical act of throwing my faults away that makes me feel present and committed to do, and be, better. Over the years though, my family has added to our Tashlich ritual. Letting the sermons of our very wise rabbis soak in, I have begun letting the hope and grace of these days restrain my self-recriminations. And our Tashlich ritual has adapted. We recite the traditional poem and toss our old bread into Rock Creek, but we also do these three things: (1) using a stick, we each draw a picture of something good from the year we want to keep with us as we move into the new year; (2) then we draw something we want to let go of from the prior year; (3) with our feet we wipe away the second drawing and replace it with a drawing of a promise we each make to ourselves. Like an orange, I have found this intentional time with my family–focused on grace and hope– leaves a sweetness in my memory.
At our Board Retreat this summer, we went through a similar thought process to prepare ourselves for the upcoming year. As a result, Temple Micah staff, clergy and board are working together to make sure we can continue the good things we gained as a congregation over the past year (such as hybrid worship access!), let go of things no longer serving us, and focus on our new priorities. In particular, we have promised ourselves to dedicate this year to bringing the warmth and intimacy back to Micah.
We look forward to sharing the many opportunities to engage with one another, hear each other’s stories, and reconnect over the year.
May you and your loved ones be sustained by these High Holy Days. I am looking forward to continued growth and healing for our community in 5783. L’Shana tova!
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of the Vine.