Selichot sets mood for the Days of Awe

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In the rush to prepare for the High Holy Days, it's easy to overlook Selichot, the Saturday night service that ushers in the Days of Awe.

Falling this year on Saturday night, the Selichot prayer service is patterned after a custom practiced by Jews in the ghettos and small towns of Eastern Europe. In those days, during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a representative of the synagogue would go from house to house at midnight to rouse Jews from their sleep.

He would knock loudly three times upon the door with his wooden clapper, then sing in a traditional Yiddish melody, "O Israel! O holy people! Awake! Rouse yourselves! Get up for the service of the Creator!" When the Jews reached the synagogue, they would recite selichot, which are prayers asking God for forgiveness.

In modern times, this ancient custom has been adapted by many synagogues as a special worship service.

Usually hosted on a Saturday night one or two weeks prior to Rosh Hashanah, the Selichot service is designed to help congregants get in a proper mood for the coming holy days.

These modern Selichot services come in a variety of formats, ranging from strict recitation of prayers of forgiveness to a storytelling or musical program to a thought-provoking movie with Jewish themes.

Selichot services, though usually held in synagogue, can be adapted to home with ease.

Simply rent a movie or choose a book or article that will lead you and your family towards moral introspection and honest self-examination.

Thus will you and your family prepare emotionally, mentally and spiritually for more meaningful High Holy Days.