Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life

Rabbi’s Blog


September 2021


Dear Friends,

This year has been a particularly challenging one to prepare for the High Holy Days. I imagine many of you share this feeling. At one and the same time I am looking ahead to a time when we can gather together in person, while at the same time looking back to earlier this summer when that seemed so possible. The pandemic has altered most every aspect of our lives over the past 18 months. And, while the Hebrew month of Elul is really a time designated for spiritual seeking – for the spiritual inventory process, I have struggled, at times, to bring my heart and soul to that space this year.

In those moments when I feel a bit stuck at home and things are challenging, I have been holding onto our tradition’s understanding of home as a “mikdash me’at – a mini sanctuary.” Our challenge this year is to once again create a virtual high holiday space that replicates and celebrates the sanctuary of us together, with all the beauty and inspiration that comes from being in community. Even though it will not be the same, it will still be joyful to wish each other a Shanah Tovah and to celebrate the High Holy Days together. In fact, there are some ways in which our virtual space makes that even sweeter – with community members who might not be able to be physically present able to gather with our Coalition! As we prepare for this second virtual holiday season, I want to remind you (and remind me) of some of the things that we did last year that helped us build that sanctuary at home:

  • –  Have a really wonderful holiday meal! Light the candles, say kiddush and motzi, and enjoy some apples and honey before services.
  • –  Get dressed up (even if only from the waist up)! I found that putting on my suit and my tallit brought me to a place of physical readiness for services. This year, I am wearing a kippa that was made for my daughter’s bat mitzvah – to celebrate some of the special moments of this past year as we bring in the new one.
  • –  I invite you to create a sacred space in your home where you can participate in services. Maybe that means lighting a candle, or turning off your TV in the background. However you choose to do it, ensuring you are not distracted will help make sure you are spiritually and emotionally present, even if we are not physically together.
  • –  Use your prayer book. While during the year many of us have relied on the PDF of the siddur, we have arranged for people to have access to our Coalition Mahzorim (holiday prayer books). Last year, I found that to be incredibly meaningful.
  • –  Make space to do the spiritual work of this moment. Each year, we are invited to conduct a Heshbon Hanefesh – a spiritual accounting. Take this opportunity and reflect on the year. Look at the abundance of your life, as well as the growing edges, and begin to plan for next year. Although we don’t always know what is in store for us, we also know that our planning now will help us find real change in the year to come.

Rabban Gamliel, who was living and writing around the period of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, called us to this phrase of a Mikdash Me’at – first offered by the prophet Ezekiel several hundred years earlier. But in Rabban Gamiel’s world, where the Temple no longer existed, Judaism needed to adapt in order to survive. In the past 18 months, many of us have spent more time at home than ever before. This presented us with a unique opportunity and also real challenge. We have been working, studying, exercising, and living all in one space. As a community, we have been praying in that space as well.

Although our society is once again looking at a changing spiritual landscape, I believe that our experiences of the past year and from past generations can guide us toward meaning, community, and holiness. As we come together for Rosh Hashanah this year, I look forward to sharing this journey with you, to helping each of us find our Mikdash Me’at, and to walking the path of the Holy Days as a community.

Jen, Talyah, Kol, and I wish each of you a sweet, joyful, and healthy New Year. Kol Tuv,

Kol Tuv (Be Well),



Rabbi James