Jewish Holidays Jewish Life

Cyber-prepping for the High Holidays

Cyber-prepping for the High Holidays: New website offers 40-day spiritual journey
By Cindy Mindell

We purchase tickets for synagogue services, cook and enjoy special meals, gather with family from near and far, send our High Holiday best to the dry-cleaner’s. But there’s another kind of preparation for the New Year, says Rabbi Danny Cohen of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford; one that can offer meaningful personal growth as 5771 draws near.

“The forty days prior to Yom Kippur are a gift to unlock the song inside each and every person,” he writes on his new interactive website, “40 Days to a Better You.”
“Here is your gift. The forty days commencing with the beginning of the month of Elul and culminating with Yom Kippur mark another period of new possibility and potential for you…. From thousands of years ago when Moshe beseeched G-d to forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf until today, these 40 days are infused by G-d with unlimited personal potential.”
Cohen says he was inspired to create the website from a strong desire to connect Jewishly to people, wherever they may be.
“I’m a rabbi for my synagogue, but also for the Jewish people,” he says. “My thought was, ‘If you can’t bring the people to the mountain, bring the mountain to the people.’ I was looking for ways to connect with people and create a more user-friendly High Holiday experience, including ways to prepare for the holidays.”
Earlier this year, Agudath Sholom lay leader Bob Raymond suggested that Cohen design a website for congregants to prepare for Pesach, a place where they could ask questions and educate themselves. The rabbi considered designing a similar site for the High Holidays and the two brainstormed ideas, particularly around the significance of the number 40 and spiritual self-help ideas from Jewish and other religious traditions.
Cohen writes, “What is the magic of 40? In Judaism, 40 symbolizes change and renewal. Think about the number for a moment. It always appears in relationship to a transition. In Biblical times, the rain cleansed the earth for 40 days and 40 nights. In fact, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that G-d in essence immersed the world in a mikvah whose volume consists of 40 measures of water as a symbol of the new birth of the world. Moses ascended Mount Sinai for forty days and nights to receive the Torah and the Jews journeyed in the desert for forty years. Judaism also teaches that 40 days after conception, the soul enters a child in the womb.”
Cohen was led to the website SparkPeople.com by his brother Benyamin Cohen, author of the book “My Jesus Year.” The free website provides a forum for its online international community of people actively pursuing weight loss and healthy living. Cohen believed the model could work for an online Jewish community where members shared ideas, inspiration, and support in spiritual preparation for the New Year.
Participants can take a simple online pledge – “I pledge to spend a few minutes every day learning more about the High Holidays and how G-d and others can be more integrated into my life” – or create a personal mission statement. They can read a daily inspirational posting by Cohen or listen to podcasts of his sermons. Registrants receive free honey and a High Holiday survival guide, and the Inspiration Corner allows members to share their ideas, questions, and recipes with the community. Visitors can help support those in need by donating online to the Agudath Sholom Kindness Fund, or check “Welcome Home for the Holidays” to find an open invitation to a High Holiday service or meal throughout the U.S.
Cohen’s interest in connecting the Jewish people grew out of his childhood in Atlanta, as the son of a rabbi.
“My family was always focused on bringing people closer to Judaism through a good Shabbat meal,” he says. “We never asked how they came, as long as they were there to celebrate with us.”
While Cohen’s own focus is on inreach at Agudath Sholom – building up the synagogue organization, providing congregants with resources, and enabling people to be inspired by each other – “I also love to do outreach outside my own community,” he says. The website is a first step, a way to create an online Jewish world, bridging Jews wherever they may be.
For more information: www.40daystoabetteryou.com


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