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Rabbi Lori Forman-Jacobi

Dear Community,

It's hard to believe that we are facing another High Holiday season while still dealing with COVID-19 and its repercussions. The past 18 months have shown who we are and the character traits we rely on in challenging times. No matter how we celebrate this year, we will use this time to review the past and plan for a renewed future.

One way we can do so is by learning about the tradition of mussar. The Hebrew word mussar, translated as discipline or self-conduct, is the study and practice of moral character traits, or middot. It is most often associated with Rabbi Yisrael, a 19th-century rabbi who felt that through the practice of middot one might learn not so much what to do, but rather, how to live.

There are various lists of middot, such as the 24 character traits identified by Tiffany Shlain in this revised periodic chart. Check out this interactive version.

Take a moment to read through these character traits.

  • Pick 3 qualities that you think are your character strengths.
  • Who else in your life represents this quality and how?
  • Now pick 3 middot you'd like to strengthen
  • Who else in your life represents this quality and how?

To practice mussar, one identifies a middot to work on. And it's not just the things we need to do more of; sometimes we can improve ourselves by doing less. Maybe you see yourself as being too quiet, too trustworthy, too enthusiastic. Concentrating on one middah at time, find a focus phrase or an affirmation to meditate on. If, for example, your middah was "truth," your affirmation might be words of Torah that say, "Keep far from falsehood." This word or phrase reminds you where your head and heart should be. You could make it the screensaver on your computer or just have it as a post-it note stuck to your bathroom mirror. As you go through the day, you might pay closer attention to a tendency to play fast and loose with the truth. The little white lie would suddenly sting, no longer crossing your lips without notice. Put the learning into practice. If, for example, you are working on the middah of humility, you might intentionally sit in the back of the room. If you are practicing generosity, you might choose to give $1 to 100 people over the course of 100 days. Extending your hand 100 times becomes the external action that generates the internal change you seek.

One aspect of Yom Kippur is that we recite Yizkor. This service is different from the eulogies delivered at funerals because Yizkor is as much about the living as it is about the dead. In the Yizkor service, one by one, we remember our loved ones, revisiting their stories anew each year. Yizkor reminds us that the interpretive process continues. With the passage of time, our perspective changes. We become different people and so do the memories of our loved ones. Each year we recall their lives: their grace, their struggles, and yes, even their shortcomings. Their humanity, no different than our own, was marked by imperfections. The task of Yizkor is not to judge, but to understand; to understand and to learn; and then, of course, to apply what we have learned. The revisitation of Yizkor prayers is meant to spur our own growth, continuing efforts not just to honor the lives of our loved ones, but to make our own lives worthy of remembrance.

Take a moment and think about your loved one’s middot. Which middot shone through his or her life? How did this middah influence you and your life? Which middot did they help you develop?

We remember those who carried us throughout our journey. We did not arrive here on our own.

Shana Tova,
Rabbi Lori Forman-Jacobi
Director, Jewish Journeys


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Erev Rosh Hashanah Service for Families with Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi, Ph.D.
(In Person + Virtual)
Mon, Sep 6, 5:30 pm
Adult Ticket Ages 1–17 Ticket | Virtual Ticket

Rosh Hashanah Day 1 Services with Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi, Ph.D.
(In Person + Virtual)
Tue, Sep 7, 9:30 am + 11:30 am
9:30 am: Adult Ticket Ages 1–17 Ticket Virtual Ticket
11:30 am: Adult Ticket Ages 1–17 Ticket | Virtual Ticket

Harlem Community Tashlich and Shofar Service (In Person)
Tue, Sep 7, 6 pm

Rosh Hashanah Day 2 with Beineinu 
Wed, Sep 8, 10:30 am
In Person Ticket | Virtual Ticket

Tashlich at Home (Virtual) Fri, Sep 10, 11 am

Kol Nidre with Rabbi Joy Levitt 
Wed, Sep 15, 7 pm
In Person Ticket | Virtual Ticket

Yom Kippur Morning Service with Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi, Ph.D.
(In Person + Virtual)
Thu, Sep 16, 9:30 am + 11:30 am
9:30 am: Adult Ticket Ages 1–17 Ticket | Virtual Ticket
11:30 am (Adults Only): Adult Ticket | Virtual Ticket

Yizkor Memorial Service (Virtual)
Thu, Sep 16, 2 pm


Hillel Higher Holidays 


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What is Rosh Hashanah?

Hadar's High Holiday Reader

JCC Harlem High Holidays Mahzor (PDF)

18 Doors (Formerly Interfaith Family) Guide to High Holidays

RespectAbility: Making High Holidays Accessible for All

New Jewish Music from Let My People Sing

The Forward’s Elul Series

DIY High Holiday Rituals

30-Day Racial Equity Challenge - Join Dimensions and the Jewish Emergent Network for 30 days of anti-racism reflection, discovery, action and transformation.

Sign Up for 10Q - Answer 10 questions about the year that has just passed and the year to come, creating a new way to engage in reflection during the High Holidays.

40 Holy Days - a free online toolkit of music and inspiration featuring leading Jewish artists from around the globe

Create Your Own High Holiday Rituals and Liturgy

Herefor, OneTable’s new all-ages initiative, has gorgeous resources for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

A Guide for Your Earth-Based Yom Kippur Journey

Catering and Kosher Supermarkets