If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week, Joanna Sigalov of Edgware & District Reform Synagogue selects the liturgical poem El Nora Alila
On my desert island, I imagine myself fearful as each new wave laps the shoreline.
I’d be tiny and insignificant against nature’s power. I doubt I’d survive.
I’d feel disconnected from humanity, alone and vulnerable. When facing certain death, I believe even the non-believers will eventually cry out to God to forgive their sins, to be saved. Time is running out. Will I be saved before the doors to my future close forever?
The liturgy I treasure transforms everything – tempo, mood, connectedness. It is a song of hope, a plea for salvation. Its urgency touches me every year. El nora alila! God whose work is awesome, knows the voices of our soul, hears our shame.
At the 25th hour each Yom Kippur, we pray there is still time for atonement and know that if we atone completely, He will bring judgment, renewal, acceptance and survival.
For as long as I recall, my father Mitch and I have spent Yom Kippur together at Edgware District Reform Synagogue.
From the beginning of our fast, to the last shofar blow, we stand together, share a joke or three, hold hands, check if the other is OK, harmonise as we join the choir in song and pray our sins will be forgiven and we will be saved to stand here together again in another year. “May those who roam still return….” ‘El nora alila’ reminds me that salvation and forgiveness are possible.
The lively tempo comforts me and reminds me that wherever I am, I’m part of a wonderful community. We can transform our future, even when the odds are against us. Every Jewish community at Neilah reverberates in the knowledge that the Gates of Mercy may well be closing besha’at hane’ila, but we are not alone and it is not too late. We can be saved.