Reflections on the High Holidays with Rabbi Elana Friedman

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Jewish Life at Duke

Campus Rabbi Elana Friedman offers some thoughts as we enter into the New Year and celebrate the High Holidays on campus

As the campus rabbi, I am fortunate to meet with Duke students over coffee, tea, snacks (I recently shared hard boiled eggs with a student!), lunch, or during a walk through Duke’s beautiful campus. The first meetings of the academic year are conversations that tend to be a catch up -- summers on DukeEngage or interning, working or studying abroad -- or a get-to-know-you.

This year, the whole month of September is also the month of Elul (this past year is a Shanah Me'uberet, a “pregnant year” or leap year) and therefore my individual conversations with students have an Elul flair. During Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we start to prepare for the High Holidays with questions of reflection and introspection.

In my conversations I hope to inspire students to begin “the work” of the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) by asking questions about the past year and the year ahead. Each conversation illuminates curiosities, struggles and elations. I am repeatedly moved by the thoughtfulness of our students.

Some answers are big – a change in major, a new dorm on West, starting their first-year/sophomore/junior/senior year. Some answers are complex – a change in outlook, a new understanding of self, an awareness of anxieties around career choices or friendships, or a shift in relation to Judaism and community. Thankfully, most answers seem to be from the heart, for the Yamim Noraim give us the chance to question, to wonder and to answer without a GPA at risk or a study group to coordinate with.

While I can’t have coffee with you this weekend, I offer these questions to you as you prepare for your Yamim Noraim. Perhaps you can ask them to your partner, your child, or your closest friend. If not, ask yourself over a cup of coffee on Sunday morning or print them and bring them with you to synagogue.

This year, I am different than the last.
What kind of person was I during this past year? What did I discover about myself? What was my focus? What were my core values? How did those translate into my day-to-day life? What am I proud of? How did I grow or change from the same time last year? Where did I fall short? Who did I potentially offend or hurt this past year? To whom do I need to make amends?

This upcoming year, I will be different.
What kind of person do I want to be this year? What do I hope to achieve? What patterns do I want to break? Who do I want to spend my time with? What are my core values? How do I stay true to them? To whom am I responsible? How can I make things better for those less fortunate than I am?

My hope is that these questions are not simple or beyond your grasp, but offer you insight as we enter the sacred work on Sunday night at sundown. Here at Jewish Life at Duke, our community will be together seeking peace for our souls. May you find answers to your questions, meaning in your path, comfort in your hopes and kindness in your missteps. May 5777 be a year of wholeness and renewal for us all.

Wishing you and your family a Shanah Tovah U'Metukah! A good and sweet new year!

-Rabbi Elana Friedman