In an effort to make congregation-wide study an essential part of the Jewish High Holy Days of S'lichot and Yom Kippur, the Reform Movement has published Reaching for Holiness, a study guide to be used in the more than 900 congregations that are part of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
The book is part of the UAHC's ongoing Worship Initiative, a project which seeks to engage Reform Jews in worship that is meaningful, uplifting, and inspirational. The full program can be downloaded from the World Wide Web at http://uahc.org/growth/.
"We want to make sure that adult Jewish study is a priority in our congregations," said Rabbi Pamela Wax, Assistant Director of the UAHC's Department of Adult Jewish Growth. "We also want to make sure that we provide our worshippers with materials that make study interesting, enriching, and engaging. Reaching for Holiness not only provides congregants with eleven wonderful opportunities to learn, it promises to instill a greater sense of observance to the holiday of S'lichot."
S'lichot is a service of repentance and preparation held late in the evening on the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, which falls this year on September 8. The guide is also designed to be used for study on the afternoon of Yom Kippur (the day of atonement), celebrated this year on September 26.
The guide contains information and materials for eleven different workshops and one guided meditation so that each congregation that uses it can create a study program that is unique and appropriate to its members.
"Reaching for Holiness contains a tremendous variety of materials, allowing congregations to mold their study programs to the needs of their worshippers," Wax said. There are workshops for nearly everybody - from ones that focus on entertainment to ones that allow creative people to write their own poetry and prose, to those that involve serious text study."
In the eleven workshops, congregants are asked to contemplate the meanings of t'shuvah(forgiveness and repentance) and how it can impact their lives. In one exercise, participants analyze and discuss the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, looking at how the poet views mercy, and then compose their own poems that explore how Jewish values and rituals influence their views. In another, they compose their own prayers of repentance; in yet another they examine the theme of t'shuvah in contemporary popular culture by looking at the theme of repentance in the film Groundhog Day. Participants examine how issues of social justice relate to the High Holy Days, and examine relevant themes in the works of authors John Hollander, Ze'ev Falk, Gail Sheehy, Merle Feld, and Harvey Shapiro.
The study guide comes with an audiocassette that allows participants to examine the music of the High Holy Days. This music is incorporated into a number of the workshops, with questions asking participants their responses to the melodies and interpretations of the texts.
Reaching for Holiness is available, free of charge, to all UAHC congregations. It can be ordered by contacting the Department of Adult Jewish Growth at (212) 650-4087, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations is the synagogue arm of the Reform Movement in North America, and unifies over 1.5 million Jews in more than 900 synagogues in the United States and Canada. UAHC programs include camping and Israel programs for youth, adult education opportunities, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, music and book publishing, and the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC.