Introducing a New Way to Reflect on 5781

August 18, 2020Rabbi Esther L. Lederman and Rabbi Leora Kaye

If the High Holidays were to be pared down to their very essence, what are some words and phrases that might come to mind?

Belonging. Connection. Memory. An accounting of the soul.

These are just some of the words that emerged over a series of conversations with URJ leadership together with congregational leaders and members from across the Reform Movement. For the past few weeks, the URJ has been at work developing some signature offerings and experiences for you to use and share with your congregations for the High Holidays.

This is all thanks to a generous gift from the Righteous Persons Foundation. After the initial deep dives into the core essence of the holidays with congregational leaders, we began to work with two design firms, IDEO and Mobius, on developing these experiences.

A significant part of the process involved asking key questions that would guide the thinking and design of the experience. These included: What are ways of empowering the home as a sanctuary? What might repair look like in this moment? What are ways of supporting reflection on who we were last year and who we want to be this year?

The outcome of the design work is an offering of three signature experiences, described below. Each experience is an opportunity for congregants to connect to their spirituality at a time and place that best fits their needs. Some can be done in solitude; some people may choose to do them with those with whom they live. They are all intended to be supplemental to the incredible offerings and plans that congregations are in the midst of developing.

  • The Spiritual: Every year, we return to the doctor’s office to check-in with our physical body. What if we adopted the same practice for our spiritual bodies? This offering is an opportunity to take stock of the vital signs of your inner core.
  • The Setting: Our community, comforts, and support systems are made up of all types of people, places, and things. As we go through the High Holidays, who and what do we want alongside us? Because we won’t be going to synagogue in person, this offering is an opportunity to make our High Holidays community our own.
  • The Memorial: We are coming to the end of a year of incalculable loss. The traditional rituals of mourning – a funeral, shiva – might have looked different this year; we may be mourning something abstract that we don't have a familiar way of honoring. This offering is designed to help you begin to process these losses in order to reflect on how they will change the way you live moving forward.

We also collected a sprinkling of additional ideas, a “highlight reel” of some other ideas that emerged, so that you and your community can continue to delve deep into your experiences and your hopes for the future.

To enter into this conversation, we invite you to visit and to share this opportunity far and wide with your community.

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Digital Resources for a Sweet 5784

Before we know it, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot will be upon us in rapid succession, signaling the beginning of the new year and the start of planning for upcoming programs. Here are a few resources to help you reflect and create meaningful experiences for your congregation as you celebrate the High Holidays and move into 5784.