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High Holy Days, 5773

Sep 12, 2012 — Categories:

These are the “Days of Awe” in the Jewish tradition. We poorly translate them as the “High Holidays” or with a little more panache, “High Holy Days.” But Yamim Noraim is the Hebrew for this period of time which spans the weeks preceding the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the Day of Repentance, Yom Kippur. Yamim Noraim literally means Days of Awe.

High Holy Days, 5773

Rabbi Julie S. Schwartz

These are the “Days of Awe” in the Jewish tradition.  We poorly translate them as the “High Holidays” or with a little more panache, “High Holy Days.”  But Yamim Noraim is the Hebrew for this period of time which spans the weeks preceding the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the Day of Repentance, Yom Kippur.  Yamim Noraim literally means Days of Awe.  It makes sense to me that we of the American Jewish community have settled upon a less powerful and daunting translation.  We are better at taking the awe out of experiences and replacing it with “pretty good.”  We aim for the middle and we hope for a bit above average. 

To say that this is a time that focuses on seeing the awesome nature of the Divine and the awesome opportunities inherent in our spiritual experiences – that may feel presumptuous or even overwhelming to a society that tolerates okay.  But once a year, it feels necessary to me for us to step back and recognize that life, our lives and the lives of the creatures on this planet, could be more than what we allow ourselves to experience.  We have the capacity to expect so much more than that which we see in the everyday.  Life can be filled with awe. 

To imagine such a world requires us to look at ourselves less confidently.  To create such change means that we will have to account for all of the ways that we have been satisfied with what has always been and feels too difficult to change.  To re-fashion our ways of being means that we will have to admit that we have been less than we are capable of being. 

This past summer I supervised a rabbinical student who supported a woman in her decision to leave her violent husband.  For both the husband and the wife, the student clearly framed the Jewish tradition’s understanding of peace within the home.  He did not allow religion to be the crutch of the abuser nor abandon the victim.  He made a difference in their lives and that difference will eventually be felt in ripples across the universe. 

Believing that the student’s brave efforts will actually have an effect throughout the cosmos is a way of bringing awe back into the everyday.  It is too tempting for us to despair about the possible meaning of one proper act.  It is even harder when the more seasoned veterans in this struggle know that the victim may well return to her abuser and need to be supported again and again to leave before she can move safely from that relationship. 

How easy it would be to simply avoid the messiness of the student’s conversation.  How easy it would be to say that these things usually do not work out well and to temper the achievement with a doomed sense of reality.  But the Days of Awe call us all to expect more from ourselves and from the world.  Having been formed in the image of our Creator, we can reach for better.  We can see more than is present in one action.  We can believe that a small step forward has power which is beyond our immediate experience.  That reach, that vision, that belief is the embrace of awe.


Rabbi Julie S. Schwartz is a native of Cincinnati.  She was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, in June 1986. 

Following ordination, she became the first woman rabbi to serve as a chaplain in the United States military.  From 1989 – 1999, she held various positions at the Hebrew Union College.  She was certified as a Jewish chaplain by the National Association of Jewish Chaplains and became a certified supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education.  In the early 1990s, she established the first CPE program ever affiliated with a rabbinical school.

In 2001, she became the Associate rabbi for Temple Emanu-El, Atlanta, Georgia and then became its Senior Rabbi in 2004. She has taught in Atlanta’s Melton School, Emory University, and has served on the boards of the trans-denominational National Association for Jewish Chaplains, chairing its Certification Commission, The Weber School, FaithTrust Institute, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, and the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.

In June, 2011, she returned to Cincinnati and the Hebrew Union College campus.  She again holds the post of Adjunct Associate Professor of Human Relations and supervises the programs in Clinical Pastoral Education as well as teaches course in related content.  She become the Chair of Chaplaincy Certification for the NAJC once again and is a member of the regional accreditation commission of the ACPE. 

She is married to Dr. Michael B Gladson and is the exhausted mother of Reuven, Lauren, Ari ( a third year Rabbinical student on the Cincinnati campus), Gavriella, and Adina.

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