The Month of Elul – The entire month before the High Holy Days is set aside as a time of spiritual preparation. The theme of the month is Love, and we spend the month trying to get back into loving relationship with God, with humanity, and with ourselves.
Selihot – A series of communal prayers asking for forgiveness, recited in the days leading up to the High Holy Days, beginning the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah – The start of the new year brings our annual chance to step out of our daily routines and try to recapture a sense of possibility. Happy birthday, world. Rosh Hashanah is a two-day holiday, whose central ritual is that great call to action, the blowing of the Shofar.
The Ten Days of Teshuvah – On Rosh Hashanah we are written into the Books of Life and Death, the liturgy tells us, and on Yom Kippur those books are sealed. And so, during the days in between, we do everything we can to ensure a true transformation, and a hatima tova, a “good sealing.” It is a time of making things right, asking for forgiveness, and giving charity.
Tashlikh – Each year, it’s our tradition to gather in song and community at Santa Monica Beach the Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for a ritual “casting away” of our missteps, mistakes and bad patterns — all the things we don’t want to bring with us into the New Year.
Yom Kippur – Intensive self-reflection – heshbon hanefesh — is the name of the game on Yom Kippur and the High Holy Days overall. The centerpiece is teshuvah, the idea that change is possible within all living systems. That’s true for individuals, communities and entire societies. For 25 hours we abstain from food and drink, and we wear white and take an honest look inside to reflect on who we have become and who we could be.
Sukkot – As soon as Yom Kippur ends, we move from the realm of the soul and plant our feet firmly back on the ground. For seven days we eat (and for some, sleep) in a sukkah, a makeshift hut that is just susceptible enough to the elements to remind us of our vulnerability and also the blessings of security.
Sh’mini Atzeret/Simhat Torah – The final chapters of the high holies. As the holiday season culminates in an outburst of joy, we affirm that despite hardships we may encounter, the Torah affirms and enriches our lives.