Tel Aviv, 2017


In spite of our collective best efforts, I still hear people reporting anticipatory boredom when discussing their upcoming attendance at High Holy Day services. It’s a shame for a couple of reasons. First, High Holy Day services actually aren’t boring at all. Second, with all that life has to offer, there’s no reason to be bored anywhere or anytime. Here’s a quick list of suggestions for those that may be afflicted with this perennial plight.

  1. As you participate in services, ask yourself whether anything that is being said, shared, sung, or otherwise communicated reminds you of something that you know to be true but have forgotten. If so, explore that. What do know? How do you know it? Why or how have you forgotten it? Allow the various input channels of the High Holy Days to evoke in you a process of remembering.
  2. Argue. Pay close attention for things with which you disagree. Whether in the sermon, in the liturgy, or elsewhere. It’s hard to be bored when you’re fired up about something. Activate your critical and analytical skills.
  3. Meditate. Close your eyes. Relax. Breathe. Focus. Listen to the sounds around you, be they the turning of the pages, the melodies of the holy days, the sound of your loved ones or neighbors.
  4. Do theology. How many different God ideas are communicated or explored during the High Holy Days? Which resonate? Which don’t? Which seem helpful to the future thriving of humanity and our planet? Which might, in fact, be problematic? If you don’t believe in God, spend some time identifying the God you don’t believe in. Here’s a helpful tip: there are many names for God in Jewish tradition. Most of those names aren’t proper names but are actually attributes or descriptors of God. Use those as a gateway into theology.
  5. Time travel. Take a moment to think of yourself as a child during this season. Does anything come to mind? Then think about your parents. Your grandparents. Go back through the generations and imagine how they encountered Rosh Hashanah. What kind of vision or image are you able to conjure?
  6. Pray. Pray for the world. Pray for humanity. Pray for your loved ones. Pray for yourself.
  7. Look for coherence, look for tension. Does the prayer book, the synagogue, the congregation, offer a coherent world view? Or are there tensions and maybe even contradictions embedded in the text, the place, and the people? Coherence might be a good thing, but tension might be as well. Are you informed enough to offer a thought or perspective on this question? If not, can you be?
  8. Read the marginalia. Most prayer books are treasure troves of information. Most have lots of genres and types of material in them. Take a look at the margins, at the introduction, at the index. What do you find that you haven’t seen before? What’s missing? What biases, assumptions, themes, or tendencies does your prayer book reveal?
  9. Smile.
  10. Listen. To the still small voice inside of you. To the music. To the voices from the bimah. To the whispers around you. To the small talk. To the sermons. To the HVAC. To the silence.
Overcoming Boredom: Rabbinic Advice for High Holy Day Services