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High Holiday Companion

A new book from a respected poet helps us find meaning in a sacred season.

By Susan Tomchin
Fall 2014

While synagogue attendance swells for the High Holidays, whether attendees are touched or changed by the experience is a whole other matter. 

With her new book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season (Brandeis University Press), the poet Marcia Falk has created a companion volume for Jews of all backgrounds seeking “a new experience of the High Holidays.” 

The author of several books of poetry and the groundbreaking work, The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath and the New Moon Festival, Falk brings fresh language and meaning to the seasonal liturgy. She offers evocative blessings for festive meals, reimagined versions of the essential parts of the holiday services and meditations for throughout what tradition calls Aseret Y’mey T’shuvah, the 10 Days of Turning, or Returning. 

Falk expresses the hope that her book will be widely used, whether “as alternative or supplement to the traditional liturgy, in synagogue pews or at the dinner table, by a riverbank, or at a kitchen window.” Contemplative and profound, her poetry helps to set the stage for quiet reflection and introspection, opening the heart to the possibility of fresh beginnings and renewed relationships in the year ahead.  

Here are two selections from the Guide:

The Gift
Sitting before a window, with no desire 
but to see with the heart, clearly:

you watch the shadows come 
and go,

you let yourself be forgiven.

Clouds cross the sky, mending
the roughened edges here and there, 

part way through your life.

Morning Minyan 
A quorum of small black birds 
settles on the birch outside the window:  

ten of them, enough to pray 
the most sacred prayers.

Whom do they beseech,
for what do they pray

with their too-toos 
and dee-dee-dees?

Do they ask for grace?
Cannot be. They already have it.

Do they seek forgiveness? For what? 
They cannot help but do what birds do.

Do they need healing?
Perhaps one of them has broken a wing?

Or are they singing praises of the Creator?
Of the creation? Of the many ilks and varieties of bird?

You would like to stay and find out
but you have no time this morning.

No time no time no time no time 
chants our species.

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