The Days of Awe: Finding Our Way Home

February 9, 2016 in Library Corner

By Robin Jacobson. 

As I write this, my 23-year old daughter is on the Appalachian Trail, 600 hundred miles from her starting point with 1,600 miles to go. Despite aching muscles, dirty clothes, and way too many mosquitoes, she is thrilled with her adventure. Meanwhile, I try not to worry too much and to understand why she wants to spend months in the wilderness! Unexpectedly, I found insight and reassurance while looking through materials for this High Holiday column.

Rabbi Alan Lew z”l believed that our journeys in life lead us home – to a place where we understand who we are and which path to take forward. To be sure, Lew’s book, This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, is not about hiking treks; rather, it urges readers to embark on a spiritual High Holy Days journey. Nevertheless, the book felt like a response to my maternal fretting. To jump-start your own holiday reflections, try This Is Real or other selections from our library described below.

This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared by Alan Lew

This Is Real describes the High Holy Days as an annual journey of the soul from denial to awareness, from anger to healing, from boredom to renewal. This spiritual journey, Lew writes, is rooted in the ancient human yearning to return home. The Torah tells of the Israelites leaving Egypt and crossing a wilderness to return to their ancestral home. History records the 2,000-year-old dream of the exiled Jewish people to regain Eretz Yisrael. In classic literature, Homer’s Odyssey relates a warrior’s struggles to return home. Even the quintessential American game of baseball is about reaching home after circling the bases. Lew promises that if you approach the holidays with an open heart and mind, they will “carry you home” to your true self and to a place where you can renew, reinvigorate, and reimagine your life.

Prayers of Awe series, edited by Lawrence Hoffman

This six-volume (and growing) series explains the origins of the iconic prayers of the High Holy Days and their relevance for today.  Each stand-alone volume is a collection of short essays by rabbis and scholars. The titles are: (1) Who By Fire, Who By Water: Un’taneh Tokef; (2) All These Vows: Kol Nidre; (3) We Have Sinned: Ashamnu and Al Chet; (4) May God Remember: Yizkor; (5) All the World: Universalism, Particularism and the High Holy Days; and (6) Naming God: Avinu Malkeinu.

In one thoughtful essay, Rabbi Shoshana Gelfand posits that the Yizkor service fosters the development of an ongoing relationship with lost loved ones. Although the deceased no longer change and grow, we change and grow, and consequently, our perception of those we mourn continually evolves. This evolution keeps the relationship alive.

The Days Between by Marcia Falk

This lovely collection of blessings and poems speaks for itself:

Opening the Heart

At the year’s turn,

in the days between,


we step away

from what we know


into the spaces

we cannot yet name.


Slowly, the edges

begin to yield,


the hard places



the gate to forgiveness




In the mirror of our eyes,

the other is reflected;


in the eyes of the other-



We look outward,



see how we have hurt

and harmed,


how hurt embeds even

in the smallest wounds.


We give ourselves over,

begin to make amends,



to make ourselves whole.