From the Rabbi’s Desk: “What wants me?”

high-holy-daysDear Ones,

The Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe are approaching. Jewish tradition tells us that we need to focus our attention on our personal lives, that the month of Elul is a time for reflection and self-awareness—a time, late in summer with autumn approaching, when we can sense the abundance of harvest and feel Divine Presence close to us.

During the High Holy Days, we spend extra time at the synagogue in prayer. The liturgy and rituals direct us to stop and reflect. The deeper meaning of tefillah (prayer) in Hebrew is about self-reflection and awareness. Within our day-to-day lives, so much prevents us from being in touch with and feeling connected to our essential selves, our relationships with creation and Creator that when we take stock of our lives, we often think about what we want.

However, Torah guides us to a different view: to ask what wants me? What is truly important to me and who do I ultimately want to be? Coming from a medium of love, spiritual questions can serve as an engine to self-discovery and growth. They are open, inviting and engaging, allowing us to search deep within, to sense and to feel. The goal of these questions is to awaken us to what really matters and explore how we can change our life-narratives—to remind us that we are the authors , the ones with the power to change our stories and bring greater shalom to our lives.

We are all living through a time of upheaval and uncertainty. On the one hand, this is scary. On the other hand, this is the precipice of a paradigm shift that holds the energy and potential for mashiaḥ consciousness: a new awareness of Divine Source and of how we are all partners with God in bringing to our world a time and place of greater love, greater harmony, greater justice and, ultimately, shalom. In order to change our personal narratives, we need to first understand how each of us can live and be the shift.

What in my life needs to shift in order to bring greater healing for self, for loved ones and friends, for my community and for my world? The High Holy Day prayer book, (maḥzor) repeatedly reminds us that we are not stuck in our karma, that we can change our mazal, our fortune, through teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah.

Here are some questions that came to me while I was meditating on the High Holy Days. I hope some of these questions will be pertinent to you. While realizing that we cannot answer them all, I hope they will provide new insight about parts of the prayer service and that they will serve as prompts for starting our ḥeshbon nefesh (soul accounting) as we get ourselves ready internally for Days of Awe and the coming new year.

  • Who are the people who mean the most to me,
  • Have I ever told them how I feel about them and their importance to my life and being?
  • Are there integral but fraught relationships in my life,
  • If so, what can I do to bring repair, healing, and reconciliation?
  • When do I feel most alive, most joyful,
  • Which life moments feel truly meaningful, is my life in the here-and-now meaningful?
  • What are my two or three biggest achievements in terms of personal importance and meaning since last High Holy Days, what are my two or three biggest mistakes since last High Holy days?
  • What have I hoped to do but not yet realized,
  • Do I persist with these hopes or let them go?
  • What three pieces of advice did I give to myself 10 years ago,
  • Is that advice still relevant?

In the Rosh Hashanah liturgy we have a section in Musaf titled Malkhuyot (God’s Kingship), fully experiencing God as Source of all life.

  • What does that mean to me,
  • Do I let Divine Source into my life,
  • Into my being and presence?

Zokhrenu l’ḥayim, remember us for life.

  • Choose life!
  • How am I choosing life,
  • Is my daily routine life-affirming?

Meḥayeh hametim, throughout our liturgy we acknowledge that God brings life to the dead.

  • Am I living a zombie-like life,
  • If I am, how do I enliven my time here on earth?
  • What if this time my prayers do connect with the Transcendent?
  • What if I let it all out and tell God everything in my heart, knowing that the Divine One already knows it all and more?
  • What if I allowed myself to really feel unburdened and liberated during Kol Nidre—no longer bound to promises unkept?
  • What if when I bow down at the Aleinu I really give myself over, what would happen to me deep inside?
  • What if I really attached all the sorrows of my life to the wailing of the shofar and felt them disperse within me,
  • What if I allowed the shofar to awaken something deep within me?

Our mystical tradition understands that in essence we are our neshamot (souls).

  • If I am my soul,
  • How do I contact this part of self,
  • How/Where do I find my soul?
  • What am I truly thankful for,
  • Where do I find beauty,
  • How/where do I experience awe
  • How/where do I experience unconditional love?

If I really do teshuvah—if I really return to my authentic self and find myself in a groove vibrating in harmony with the universe, will this change me, can the process of teshuvah bring me to my essential self?

  • What really scares me,
  • Whom do I fully trust,
  • What do I seek in my prayers?
  • Do I sense the Divine in others,
  • Do I give love to others?
  • Do I try to control my world,
  • Do I feel connected to the natural world,
  • What power do I have over my daily circumstances?
  • How do I want to be remembered,
  • What am I grateful for,
  • Do I trust my inner guides, my intuition,
  • Do I need to forgive myself?
  • When I close my eyes and concentrate on the Shema, what do I mean when I invoke Eḥad—One?
  • Where are You—Ayekah? Can I truly say Hineni, here I am God, all of me, fully present before you?

May this New Year bring us abundant blessings and the power and potential to realize positive change in our lives, in our families, in our community and in our world.

Rabbi Harry

High Holy Day Seating

HHD symbolIn past years we have found that reserved seats were often left empty, therefore we have decided that we will not solicit requests for reserved seats this year. Reserved seats that are left empty are unavailable to new members and to those attending services for the first time.

If you have special needs for seating, please contact our Administrator Susan Holtz during office hours at 250-382-0615.

Jewish Young Adults: High Holy Days Learning

CEE Young Adults HHD Learning 09262019 1000Thursday, September 26, 2019 7 – 9 pm at Congregation Emanu-El, 1461 Blanshard Street, Victoria BC—If you identify as a Jewish, Jew-ish, Jew-curious, or friendly-with-Jews young adult, please join us at shul that evening for a relaxed discussion over a beer or cider. Rabbi Harry will deliver a teaching on finding meaning and understanding in the High Holy Days (Yamim Noraim). If you’ve ever wanted to understand the High Holy Days better (or have been afraid to ask questions about them) this is not to be missed! Bring your questions! For more information…

High Holy Days 2019/5780 Service Schedule Congregation Emanu-El

Emanu El 150_orig

Saturday, Sept. 21 Leil Sliḥot

  • 7:00 pm “The Gates are Closing” (at the synagogue)
  • 8:30 pm Sliḥot Service

Sunday, Sept. 29 Erev Rosh Hashanah

  • 7:30 pm Ma’ariv Service
  • 6:39 pm Light candles

Monday, Sept. 30 Rosh Hashanah Day 1

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 4:30 pm Tashlikh (on beach at Cook & Dallas)
  • 7:41 pm Light candles

Tuesday, Oct. 1 Rosh Hashanah Day 2

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 7:39 pm Havdalah

Saturday, Oct. 5 Shabbat Shuvah

  • 9:00 am Service
  • Parashat Vayelekh וילך

Tuesday, Oct. 8 Erev Yom Kippur/Kol Nidre

  • 5:30 pm Service
  • 6:20 pm Light candles

Wednesday, Oct. 9 Yom Kippur

  • 9:00 am Morning Service
  • 12:00 pm Yizkor (approximately)
  • 5:00 pm Minḥah followed by Nei’lah
  • 7:23 pm Fast Ends
  • 7:30 pm Community Break Fast

Monday, Oct. 14 Sukkot Day 1

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 7:13 pm Light candles

Tuesday, Oct. 15 Sukkot Day 2

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 7:12 pm Havdalah

Saturday Oct. 19 Shabbat ḥol Hamo’ed

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 7:04 pm Havdalah

Sunday, Oct. 20 Hoshana Rabba

  • 10:30 am Service at Rabbi Harry & RaeAnn Brechner’s home
  • 12:00 pm Open House at the Brechners
  • 5:56 pm Light candles

Monday, Oct. 21 Shmini Atzeret/Erev Simḥat Torah

  • 9:00 am Morning Service
  • 11:00 am Yizkor (approximately)
  • 7:00 pm Evening & Simḥat Service
  • 7:00 pm Light candles

Tuesday, Oct. 22 Simḥat Torah

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 6:59 pm Havdalah

All are welcome to attend!  May you and yours be inscribed for a healthy and sweet New Year ahead!


Kehilat Kodesh Emanu-El



Shivat Shefa (the return of “Shefa”)

Shefa SiegalCongregation Emanu-El announces happily that Shefa Siegel, our cantorial soloist for the Jewish New Years from 2014-2016, will join us for the 2018 High Holy Day services. Shefa mixes the traditional modes, or nusaḥim, of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with the songs of Leonard Cohen, the melodies of Shlomo Carlebach, Persian classical music, and original compositions. He approaches prayer as devotional storytelling, using nusaḥ, liturgical poetry, and song to create sacred experience.

Song, especially our old sacred modes, springs from the spirit more ancient than law or scripture. Before any revelation of holy writ, Sinai still in the distance, the Israelites learned the Song of the Sea while travelling across the ocean floor, where music has its source. And long after all wisdom goes into oblivion, there still will be song, for in the beginning was not the word, but a melody.

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we go on a pilgrimage of the imagination. We chant our way to places marked by the sacred exploits of ancestors before following the pure sound of the shofar to the origin in a blinding moment of union.

Prayer may no longer spring so naturally or easily out of daily life, but the key to unlocking its sacred experience is nothing more complicated than sincerity. Each prayer has its own mode, nusaḥ, whose arabesques transfigure liturgical poetry from words on a page to worlds appearing like islands on the sea. Just as a navigator knows that if you see the image of the island in your mind, you will never be lost, prayer uses these old modes to know ourselves, by remembering how we got here. “You’d sing,” Leonard Cohen writes. “You’d sing, not for yourself, but to make a self.”

Rabbi Harry and Aaron Severs, our Gabbai, will from time to time call out page numbers from the Maḥzor, the High Holy Day prayer book. This does not mean that you, as a participant, need to jump to the page. If you are reading or studying a part of the Maḥzor that speaks to you then by all means, stay where you are. If you are connecting to the music and the vibe in the synagogue and want to put down the prayer book that is a great thing to do as well. Tfilah(”prayer” in Hebrew) is about being reflective and connecting to the Transcendent. In Yiddish the word davennen holds the word divine within it. Prayer can be about allowing ourselves at a soul level to connect to Divine Source. Using the music and the beautiful light in our sanctuary as a place of meditation can be a powerful and renewing exercise.

Before various prayer segments of the service Rabbi Harry will give a short teaching about the intentions of the prayers, deconstructing the technology of the liturgy, teasing out what the liturgy is trying to accomplish.

We are excited to connect with everyone this upcoming holiday season and we look forward to davening and learning together.

 Shana Tovah u’Metukah
Rabbi Harry & Shefa Siegel

PS: The editorial staff did not appreciate that the Rabbi was making a play on words with respect Shefa’s name, which means abundance in Hebrew … so we corrected the article title to a literal translation. We have returned the title to the Rabbi’s intent – the return of a plentiful vocal experience aka “Shefa”.

Congregation Emanu-El High Holy Days

Sunday, Sept. 9 Erev Rosh Hashanah

  • 7:30 pm Ma’ariv Service
  • 7:20 pm Light candles

Monday, Sept. 10 Rosh Hashanah Day 1

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 5:00 pm Tashlikh (on beach at Cook & Dallas)
  • 8:24 pm Light candles

Tuesday, Sept. 11 Rosh Hashanah Day 2

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 8:21 pm Havdalah

Saturday, Sept. 15 Shabbat Shuvah

  • 9:00 am Service
  • Parashat Vayelekh וילך

Tuesday, Sept. 18 Erev Yom Kippur

  • 6:15 pm Kol Nidre Service
  • 7:01 pm Light candles

Wednesday, Sept. 19 Yom Kippur

  • 9:00 am Morning Service
  • 1:00 pm Yizkor
  • 5:00 pm Minḥah followed by Nei’lah
  • 8:04 pm Fast Ends
  • 8:10 Community Break Fast

Sunday, Sept. 23 Erev Sukkot

  • 6:51 pm Light candles

Monday, Sept. 24 Sukkot Day 1

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 7:55 pm Light candles

Tuesday, Sept. 25 Sukkot Day 2

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 7:53 pm Havdalah

Saturday Sept. 29 Shabbat ḥol Hamo’ed

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 7:45 pm Havdalah

Sunday, Sept. 30 Hoshaana Rabbah

  • 11  – 11:45 am Service at Rabbi Harry and RaeAnn Brechner’s Home
  • 12 – 2 pm Open House at the Brechner’s
  • 6:36 pm Light candles

Monday, Oct. 1 Shmini Atzeret

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 11:00 am Yizkor

Leil Simḥat Torah

  • 7:00 pm Service
  • 7:41 pm Light candles

Tuesday, Oct. 2 Simḥat Torah

  • 9:00 am Service
  • 7:38 pm Havdalah


May you and yours be inscribed for a healthy, peaceful, and sweet New Year ahead!

Religious Services Committee, Kehilat Kodesh Emanu-El