The Jerusalem Post

Rosh Hashanah: Thoughts of women during the Days of Awe

 Eve (photo credit: Dikla Laor)
(photo credit: Dikla Laor)

For these Yamim Noraim, we should be ever so proud as we are raised to a new peak by the women of Am Yisrael, the Nation of Israel.

This year I was most anxious to listen to the thoughts of women as 5784 began. Unknown voices, the words of friends and other famous expressions by women have inspired me. Let me share them with you.

A woman I knew in Atlanta, Georgia, when I was a youth, enjoyed writing rhymes and her thoughts on life. I found these words of hers which she sent to my parents; my mother, as she did frequently, preserved them:

On the High Holidays, let us test the function of our heart. 

Do we respond with heartfelt sureness to the needs of others? 


Do we have the stout-hearted courage of our convictions?

 Osnat (credit: Dikla Laor)
Osnat (credit: Dikla Laor)

What is the condition of our spiritual eyes? 

Do we have insight into the character of others? 

Can we see clearly the worth of people, or are we color blind by prejudice?


Let us coordinate our entire being for a definite purpose in living.

Do it this year; do not wait.

Thoughts about the Jewish New Year

Rachel Elovitz, an attorney in Atlanta, penned a moving expression of what this New Year means to her:

For me, the approach of the Jewish New Year signals the ramping up of what I do on a daily (if not hourly) basis. I examine my most troublesome thoughts, review the hills of transgressions I’ve climbed – and down which I’ve slid – over the course of my 57 years. I traverse the recesses of my heart, acknowledge my sadness over unsound choices and wayward paths chosen.

Elovitz describes how she feels, poignantly, about to perform Al Het.

I prepare to pound my chest physically not just metaphorically. I wonder if I and those I love will be signed into the Book of Life for another year, and then remind myself that the New Year has not yet arrived and how the kind of human I wish to be is one who washes herself in gratitude – someone who is thankful every minute that I and those I love are above ground when so many friends and family members are not. I bemoan the loss of those whose proximity and loving interaction I had the blessing of experiencing for so many years – those who I pray are together with Hashem in Gan Eden. I hope to be deserving of their company when my time comes.

Then she emphasizes how we, the individual, can join with all those around us as we pray and as we act:

I look forward to reciting the Thirteen Attributes of G-d – not as I do in the mornings when I wake, but enveloped by the weight of the Jewish community saying it in unison in the hope of absolution. I find myself overwhelmed with respect and gratitude for He (or She) who created the complexities, wonders and even the pain of life and am absolutely aware of (and am forever thankful for) how blessed I have been for the souls, human and canine, who have made my life rich beyond what I deserve.

I knew a very wise woman who lived Tucson, Arizona. She was born in Wilmington, Delaware, where I was a rabbi in the 1970s. Her family, who still live in Wilmington, helped Joe Biden when he was first elected as a senator from Delaware.

Esther Topkis Potts spent time in Jerusalem in 1923. She grew to be a wonderful woman who had a true understanding of our faith. We met in Phoenix and among other topics, we discussed the High Holy Days.

“Rabbi,” she said,” Rosh Hashanah became my favorite holiday because I felt myself renewed every year I have been blessed to observe those Days of Awe.

“The blowing of the shofar brought me back into the synagogue when I was playing outside with my friends. The sounds captured me because I loved to tell my friends in school how our New Year was announced with a ram’s horn – a call to the Almighty, to God.

“We were living in Wilmington, but our prayers rose to the Heavens above.”

Then she turned to the music of the prayers.

“I found the melodies rising from within each person present forming a crescendo for old and young. Of course, as a youth, it took time for me to acquaint myself with those melodies, but once I did – I have carried them through my lifetime.

“The most notable sector of the services was Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur.

“My music teacher in the private school I attended spoke in this fashion. ‘The Jewish people is an ancient people, and the melodies in the synagogue are perhaps 2,000 years old. Annually, the Kol Nidre service, translated as ‘All Vows,’ touches the congregants because they want to be pure once more and confess all their sins.”

Throughout her lifetime, Esther could not wait for Yom Kippur to arrive. On that day, she felt holiness and repentance bound together, transforming her into “Esther renewed.” In her youth, her parents took her to Palestine to learn more about the Jewish people of which she was a proud member.

“Rabbi, I will never forget going to the Western Wall, very narrow then, and see ‘my people’ praying,” she said. “The voices of the attendees bounced off the Wall, and I thought they rose to the heavens above. Praying in Jerusalem on the Passover holiday and praying in Wilmington on the High Holidays shaped me as a Jew.”

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we listen closely to the words of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. She carries us through that morning with her moving expressions and prepares us, I feel, to hear the shofar blow and to experience our sensitivities about teshuva as it peaks.

An interesting American woman poetess of 19th-century America was Penina Moise. Her poem “Rosh Hashanah” has one verse which challenges us as we are trying to search deeply for what we should be doing:

With firm resolve your bosom nerve

The God of right alone to serve

Speech, thought and act to regulate

By what His perfect laws dictate

Nor from His holy precepts stray.

Next, she addresses the manner in which she finds blessings as we climb higher and higher:

Peace to the house of Israel!

May joy with in it ever dwell!”

Listen closely: 

May sorrow on the opening year,

Forgetting its accustomed tear

With smiles again fond kindred meet

With hopes revived the festal greet.

Pessy Krausz, an outstanding writer and winner of a Lillith magazine fellowship, chose a very humorous but powerful approach to the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe).

Who could have thought, in 1960s London’s North West Synagogue to celebrate the Jewish year, daughters must wear black patent shoes?

Yet adulthood in Jerusalem let her embrace prayer, no matter what footwear. 

Who would have thought that Yom Kippur’s Kol Nidre evening prayers could not begin without women bedecked in coats of Persian lamb or mink, with little girls squashed between them in the synagogue gallery?

Yet adulthood allowed her to match canvas shoes with modest attire.

You would have thought dancing with our Sefer Torah was taboo for women.

Yet adulthood brings many in Israel synagogues to rejoice on Simchat Torah actively hugging the Torah’s velvety coat.

As we enter our New Year 5784, we have no idea what will occur after the turbulence of 5783. So for all of us as the year opens, let women inspire us with their insights. For many years in our faith, we studied about the daughters of Rashi putting on tefillin. We have known about the martyrdom of Hannah and her seven sons. We have listened and learned from the song of the prophetess Dvora. We were familiar with some of the spiritual women whose holiness inspired many. Sadly, we know about the shipload of young women who died in the Holocaust.

For these Yamim Noraim, we should be ever so proud as we are raised to a new peak by the women of Am Yisrael, the Nation of Israel.

Miryam Kubovy wrote a poem in French using the images of the High Holy Day liturgy. The distinguished Hebraist Rabbi Alan Lettofsky translated her words into Hebrew, and Amy Gotlieb, a top translator, made them sing in English:

We are humbled by the wonders of the world

grateful for the gift of thought,

grateful for our dreams, our hopes,

grateful for never-ending illusions,

grateful for those beautiful souls that transcend death.

Let every breath of life praise thee, O Lord. Halleluyah!  ■

Note: The photographs illustrating this article are taken from Dikla Laor’s new book, Women of the Bible, which “brings to life the powerful and often overlooked female figures from biblical history.” (