Return Again

By Carole Stone

“Return again, return again” are the first words of a song written by Shlomo Carlebach, the world-renowned composer of Jewish liturgical music. They speak metaphorically of the theme permeating the Jewish High Holidays, returning to our core values and true essence and making amends to God and those around us for all those we have hurt. 

This season commences formally with the nighttime service of Selichot, which means forgiveness, the focus of this season. This introduction to the High Holidays, occurring in the Hebrew month of Elul of our lunar calendar, sets the mood for Rosh Hashana.

Elul marks an entire month of reflection and introspection. The shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown each weekday morning to awaken us to our obligation to repent. It emphatically announces the coming of Rosh Hashana and of the period known as the “Days of Awe.”

Especially during Elul and the subsequent days Jews are called upon to approach those they have offended to ask for forgiveness. We are mandated to perform teshuvah, returning to God and to holiness. This theme carries through the entire holiday season, culminating the following week in the fast day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we ask God, both individually and communally, for forgiveness for all our averahour sins—so that we may be inscribed in the “Book of Life” for another year.

Rosh Hashana celebrates not only the Jewish New Year; it marks the “birthday of the world.” Observant Jews believe that we are now approaching the conclusion of the year 5782, which marks 5,782 years since the world’s creation. The name Rosh Hashana literally means “head of the year” since it falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the first month of our year. On this holiday Jews attend synagogue to pray, self-reflect, and listen to thrilling shofar blasts.

A week later the High Holidays reach their crescendo with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. To purify ourselves and to better focus on our task at hand, repentance, we dress in white, eschewing both jewelry and leather, and neither eat nor drink for a full 25 hours. We pray together in the synagogue, united as one community.

Return again, return again,

Return to the land of your soul.

Return to what you are,

Return to who you are,

Return to where you are born and reborn again,

Return again, return again,

Return to the land of your soul.

Shlomo Carlebach

As always, everyone is welcome to join our community—this year in person—at the JC3 for some or all of the High Holidays services. We offer a choice of a traditional egalitarian or a non-traditional chavurah service and yizkor (memorial) service, culminating with our traditional communal “break-the-fast” potluck at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. Please visit our website at or call us at 415 185 9191 for more information and to make reservations and pre-pay for our Rosh Hashana dinner. 

L’Shana Tova!

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