The hokey pokey and Jewish New Year (Opinion)

Evon J. Yakar
Evon J. Yakar

At this time of year, the Jewish People around the globe are busy readying for what we call the High Holy Days. It is a period of the year that welcomes the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, as well as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As far as the Jewish holidays, it also includes the holiday of Sukkot, often called the Festival of Booths.

The central themes of this time of year draw our focus to a concept called a Cheshbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the soul. It is the idea that we use this time to consider the human each of us is, how we got here through the last year, and make commitments toward the best version of ourselves into the new year.  

The practice of Cheshbon HaNefesh inspires us to tap into the Jewish value of Teshuvah. This is often translated as repentance, yet the Hebrew speaks to so much more. The word is translated as repentance, however the root of the word involves a sense of turning and responding. Hebrew is a beautiful language in which words can be built from simple root letters. So the word Teshuvah is no different and it can mean: Repent, Turn, Answer, and more all in one. So … just like the Hokey Pokey, we engage different parts of ourselves, and then turn ourselves around to face the community [those we’re singing and dancing with] once again.

The Jewish community is inspired to consider at this time of year what we’ve done and how we’ve thought throughout the last year. We consider the ways our hands and hearts have done good work and we ponder the ways we’ve missed the mark too. We hold tight to the chance to be with community, the charge to shake off the missteps of the past year and the missed opportunities, and embrace the chance to turn around to face the New Year.  

We do this with communal prayer and fellowship, with our ancient liturgy and modern expressions, and through countless rituals that embrace the season.  

This year, the Tahoe Jewish Community, which consists of North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation in Tahoe Vista and Temple Bat Yam in South Lake Tahoe, will embrace the High Holy Day season after two years of COVID realities. We’ll do this with a welcome return to the familiar ways we’ve missed the holy day services and innovative and creative programming too. We’ll engage with art, with music, and with nature. We’ll gather in both our sanctuaries and “turn around again” to embrace Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Of the many rituals associated with this season is the shofar – the ram’s horn. It is a prominent fixture in Jewish communities in the fall. Its sound is ancient, even archaic, yet its call echoes through the generations in a way that is timeless. The root of the Hebrew word for shofar also gives rise to the Hebrew verb to improve. The shofar’s call is about improvement.

It is a sound that awakens us to improve ourselves, to turn around and face ourselves and our community re-committed to that which we’re all bound … as Jews and as humans to improve ourselves and our world. We welcome those wishing to experience the Holy Days to join us throughout the holidays.  Check our websites for all information – or

Evon J. Yakar is rabbi for North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation in Tahoe Vista and Temple Bat Yam in South Lake Tahoe.

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