Moorings, Approaching the Yaamim Noraaim

Rooting yourself as you walk in grief


Speak to me,

You are
my daughter,
my son.

This very day
I have given birth to you

-Adapted Psalm 2: 7b

The Holy days near,
time which holds the thin line which wavers between life and death.
The line which you have walked beside intimately this year.

Symbol of Sustenance:

As the new year begins, once more you will dip your apple into the honey of life.
The apple, symbol of knowledge,
filled with seeds,
mirrors you.
For you've gone through experiences that have wizened you. 
And you, like the apple, hold within possibilities,
seeds, which when planted and tended,
hold the promise of new life.

So take within yourself the healing fruit of the rooted tree.
And allow its sweetness, its nutrients, entry
into the core of your being.

Yaamin Noraaim and the Coming of Fall:


Coping with grief during this season.

As the fields lie lush and fragrant with
fruits in their ripeness
and vegetables in their prime;
as the leaves turn their deep vivid reds,
oranges and clarets;
as night and day hang in perfect balance,
Rosh Hashanah
enters your life.

For those who mourn
this time holds
painful and powerful junctures.

This is the end of the year that your
loved one died.
And a new Jewish year begins
without them physically present.

You feel keenly the movement of time, ever traveling onwards, 
continuing it's cycle.

For those who mourn this time can hold a sharp contrast.
For while the earth overflows with abundance, parts of self may feel barren, empty.

To walk well and deeply in this holy day period requires preparation.

The 30 days of Elul and the 10 days of the Days of Awe hold invitations for your spirit,
deep waters for your soul.

And if you can enter into the rituals, embracing them,
their motifs of review and struggle, loss and life,
can aid you as you mourn,
as you work to absorb your changed life.

Common Grief Reactions and Tips on Coping:

Rising Intensity of Feelings:
In this season of beginnings, endings, and changes, you may yet again experience surges of loneliness,
poignant memories and sweeps of tears.
This holiday like others brings up longings for home, family, and belonging.

The High Holy days, times when numbers of Jews return to synagogue, are a highly public time.
More come to synagogue now than almost any other time in the year.
Families gather, couples are together.
And you may feel more vividly the one now physically missing from your life.

Over anticipation:
Many dread the feelings that may rise in this time.
Often our anticipation adds intensity to this time.

This is a powerful time and a hard one in which to stand as mourner.
So reflect on what your needs are for this holiday, and for your own self care, plan ahead.

sany0218All the wild creatures of the forest are Mine,
Cattle upon thousands
of hills.

I know all the fowls
of the steeps, and all the wild things of the mountains.

So call Me
on your day of trouble.
I will be with you,
and you will be with Me.

-Adapted Psalm 50: 10, 11, 15

Important Tasks During the Yaamim Noraaim:

Focus on what you need this year:
See the journaling questions below to help you clarify what's most important about the Holy days
for you.

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare:
Your reactions are slower now. Everything takes more time to accomplish.
Double the amount of time that you need to plan things.

If you decide to send new years cards,  give yourself time to look for cards that you like.
Get the correct postage ahead of time, so you can enjoy the process without flurrying.
Transform the task of writing so that it's comforting and restorative versus rushed and a chore.

Well in advance make arrangements to be with others for the festival meals and services at synagogue.

Natural Questions and Responses:

When I think of writing New Years Cards I feel completely overwhelmed. At the same time
I also feel guilty for not being in touch with people. There are some who don't yet know
of my loss. How can I handle this?

One idea: A month before the New Year, write down all the names of the people with whom you feel the need
to be in touch.  Each week look at your list and see who you are most moved to write to and send them
cards.  Don't worry about the Holy day deadlines. Just gradually keep going through your list until you are
caught up with those who mean the most to you. 
People who are friends will understand if you are not in touch
and will be glad to hear from you whenever you are able to contact them.

Another route:  Create a general letter to friends that you can duplicate so that you won't have to repeat the
telling of your loss to each person. You can do this via email or snail mail. Then write a few personal lines at the

This may be a year to simplify and narrow down your list.
To be in touch with those who are truly the most important to you.

The times I anticipate that I'll feel most alone during the holy days are Rosh Hashannah dinner,
Erev Yom Kippur
dinner, break-fast and when walking through the door to synagogue for
services.  How can I best handle these times?
I feel like just tucking myself away and not being with people, but I also know that if I'm completely away from others at this time I'll also feel sad and lonely.

Make plans ahead of time to be with friends, neighbors or family members.
Call those with whom you feel most comfortable and ask if you can join them this year for Rosh Hashannah
dinner, Erev Yom Kippur dinner and/or break-fast.
Tell them that when you think about walking into synagogue it feels overwhelming and ask them if you can meet them beforehand, to walk into together and if possible, sit together.

If your synagogue has special seating reservations make your plans as soon as you can in advance. 
See if you can sit near people who are loving and supportive. 
If there is break-fast at the synagogue, ask someone beforehand if you could sit with them at their table.

Don't wait for others to think of you.  Be pro-active for your own well being.

It's important to be with others who warm your heart at this time, who care about you and with whom you feel
safe and cherished.

I feel I need to ask forgiveness from my loved one who's died. There are remnants from the
past that trouble me. How can I ask for forgiveness when they're no longer alive?

There are times when memories of things we may have done or said or things we didn't do or say
that we wished we had,  rise. 
And now, at this time of making amends, these feelings resurface.

Some people make time in Elul, before Rosh Hashannah, or in between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur to
journal their apologies to their loved ones who have died. 
Some people find asking a friend to just listen to their feelings, stand as witness, hear their words and give them feedback, brings great comfort.

Some people go to a Jewish cemetery to converse to their loved one. 
Some feel more comfortable going to a favorite spot in nature. 
Some journal or speak aloud their thoughts to their loved ones.
Some then imagine their loved ones response to them or what they would want to hear their loved one say to them.

There are many routes to making amends. 
Some offer tzedakah in their loved one's names.  Some offer service in honor of their loved one.
Key is what fits you, what has special meaning to you and/or to your loved one,
and to include as you plan, an end point to your service.


You are my help.
In the shadow of Your wings
I sing

My soul cleaves to You
while Your right hand
holds me fast.

-Adapted Psalm 63: 8,9



The month before the High Holy days, theYaamim Noraaim, traditionally is a time which invites us to move into the deeper questions of life.

In Preparing for Rosh Hashannah:

  • What did you learn in this past year?
  • What was the hardest thing for you about this last year?
  • What would you like to leave behind?
  • What were the unexpected gifts of the last year?
  • What do you most need in order to close this year?
  • What is most special to you about Rosh Hashannah?
  • What do you anticipate will be the hardest for you about Rosh Hashannah this year?
    What are options for dealing with that?
  • What would you like to come into your life this new year?
  • What changes would you like to make?
  • What concerns you most about this new year? What could help you deal with those concerns?


  • Are there pieces in your life that feel unresolved? what do you need for resolution?
  • What regrets do you hold?
  • Are there amends with your loved one who has died that need be made?
  • Are there amends with others in your life that need be made?
  • What could you do to atone for these? (Include an end time period)
  • Are there others whom you need to forgive, including yourself?

In Preparing for Yom Kippur:

  • Thinking of your own morality, reflect on how you are living life now.  Do you feel you are living
    as you truly wish? as whom you truly are? with the gifts God gave you?
  • What shifts need be made?
  • What amends with God need you make?

Things to Do That Might Enrich This Time For You:

The Month of Elul:
Send New Year wishes to those who are significant in your life. 
Let people important to you know that they are dear to you and that you value them in your life.
Use this opportunity to thank those who have seen you through the hard times. 
Let gratitude rise.

Get a new journal with which to begin the new year.
Label it with the new years dates in Hebrew and English as well as your age this year.
Pick out a card which you'd like to stand as thematic for your new year of life.
Put it on the cover as a reminder to yourself. 
Write about what it symbolizes for you and what your hopes are for this new year of your life.

Rosh Hashannah:
Send a tzedakah contribution in your loved ones memory to an organization whose work inspires you.
Include a brief note telling the organization that your contribution is in memory of your loved one
and why you chose their organization.
Let them know what it is you admire about what they are doing and of your hope that as you
enter the new year your gift will enable others to live life more fully.

Prepare a special holiday food that you find comforting and with which to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
Take a walk in nature to mark the birthday of the world. Take in the incredible beauty that abounds in this world.

When readying for Yom Kippur:
Ready for Yizcor which honors those significant in our lives who have died.
Think about creating your own time to communicate with your loved one.

At this time when the earth is preparing for fall, when the leaves are turning, when you are turning in teshuvah,
are there things you would like to say to your loved one? that you would like them to know?
Are there things that you can imagine that they might wish to convey to you now?
Journal, reflect. Take time to honor their spirits.


Cleanse my heart, that I might serve You in truth.
-Shabbat morning Amidah

Mourning and Spiritual Messages Derived from this Holiday:
the Power of Choosing Life:

The Days of Awe invite us to see where we missed the mark in our past year of life and to realign. 
During these days we look upon life and upon death and are urged to return to life-giving ways of living.

For some 'choosing life' when mourning means reaching out for needed support.  For some choosing life means
shifting the way we look at the world, consciously choosing to look at the world and life in ways that bring
peace, quietude, gratitude and joy in the midst of grief.

For some choosing life means evaluating if we have fully given ourselves to the mourning process.  Whether we've
tried to leave prematurely, not having allowed ourselves the time and space we need to mourn.

Choosing life when mourning also means being aware if this place of grief has become overly comfortable.
We're not shaped to stay in intense grief all our lives.

Your grief will not utterly disappear.  Your bond, your connection, will remain within you for rest of your life.
People we are linked with and love who have died are part of our body, a part of who we are,
and a part of our life story. 
By allowing ourselves to deeply mourn, the intensity of grief begins to shift and change.

One caveat,  for those who have experienced the death of a child:

The loss of a child remains keenly within throughout one's life. 
One learns how to survive,  how to live with that loss inside oneself. 
The grief of the loss of a child at any age, from a young child to an adult child, can surface
quickly and sharply, with intensity throughout life.

One need repeatedly, at junctures, determinedly, choose to live.  Our child would demand that of us.

We need choose to connect with life. 
We need to work to be connected with others and to engage in activities that bring joy and meaning.

There comes a pivatol time when you profoundly know that only you can change your life.
That no one else can do this for you. 
And this turning point, this knowing, this acting, this choosing, is a path of deep spirit.

Choosing life calls us to affirm the good that exists in this world as well as that which is random.
To see that which is mysterious, incomprehensible, as well that which is evil. 
It calls us to see the beauty that is there as well and consciously to savor it. 

Choosing life calls us to claim life, to join in life,  as the different people we are, in our now different circumstances.



Though you fall,
you are not cast down

For I hold your hand

-Adapted Psalm 37:24




A Resource for Comfort and Support:

A prayer to aid your passage during these Days of Awe.

I come to You, my Maker, my Source, my Guide, my Helper.
I come to You, my Light, my Water, my Companion, my Aid.
I come to You for sustenance, for healing, for loving, for direction.
I come to You for Mooring, for guidance, to gain vision.

You have tucked within me a soul of light.
You are within me calling me home,
earth and starlight, dust and dreams, clay and vessel,
parts that are lost, parts that seeking.
I enter your gates a weary pilgrim,
the dust of the road on my garments.

My soul calls me to return,
my heart leads me to You.
Help me find my way
that I might rest my aching body,
that I might wash my weary soul,
that I might come home to my deepest self,
that I might come home to my purpose in life,
that I might come home
to You.



Keep me
as the apple of Your eye.

Hide me
in the shadow of Your wings.

-Psalm 17:8





As a mourner entering this new year,
may you be held by the Holy One.

May you walk gently with yourself and with others.

May you open to the learnings of this season.

May you be sheltered under the wings of the Shechina.






Guide to Hebrew words

Yaamim Noraaim: Days of Awe, the ten days from Rosh Hashannah, the new year to Yom Kippur, the day of

Yizcor: Memory, the service honoring those who have died

Teshuvah: turning, returning, responding, the process of reflection and changing ourselves and our lives and
realigning with Spirit, with our true course in life

Tzedakah: giving funds for justice making

Shechina: Dwelling, the feminine presence of God which remains by our sides

Elul: the name of the Hebrew month that precedes the Yamim Noraaim, wherein we begin our review of our lives
and our process of making amends.

Amidah:  Standing prayer, time of uttering both prayers woven by our ancestors as well as the immediate prayers
that lie within our hearts to God

Photography Credits

First, second, fourth and fifth photograph: Frank Dobrushken
Third photograph: Vicki Hollander
Last photograph: Kathy Berendt