There is a Jewish holiday that is not practiced very much—especially in the Northwest where the Jewish population is small and dispersed over the mountains and the plains. It is celebrated Saturday night before the High Holy Days begin with the New Year—Rosh Hashanah—the birthday of the world.

It is called Selichot, which means preparation.

On that Saturday night, each person is supposed to prepare for the holidays by looking deeply into our soul, study the ways in which we have measured up or missed the mark during the year, atone for misdeeds, ask forgiveness of those we have wronged and set new goals of behavior for the coming year.

This year, I decided that I would take this holiday seriously and that the proper way to prepare was to hold a Healing for the Holidays workshop at the synagogue at which my rabbi husband was leading services. The synagogue in Bozeman, Montana had never recognized Selichot — let alone make a big deal out of getting spiritually and emotionally ready for the holidays — other than making sure that the shopping and cooking were done.

The healing I proposed had to do with getting in touch with healthy habits and their impact on our emotional and spiritual well-being. We spent time doing experiential exercises that connected our breath with restoring our energy, centering ourselves, and relieving stress. We experienced drinking water consciously by tasting small sips. We took time to eat slowly, chewing our food and savoring the flavor. We studied our own flexibility by doing some simple Pilates exercises. We talked about self-critical thought viruses and the damage they do to our self-image. Then we enumerated the qualities we liked about ourselves. And finally, we journaled about our feelings.

Research confirms that if you write about what you feel, you’ll feel better. To most of us that is self-evident. But science has now demonstrated that writing about our emotions around significant life events can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, strengthen our immune systems, reduce pain and suffering and speed the healing process.

So we journaled—and we cried together. The catalyst was drawing the floor plan of the house in which we grew up. We made note of the objects that took our attention as we mentally toured our homes, and wrote about what we recalled: the dog that was killed by a car, the Raggedy Ann that was clutched during childhood asthma attacks, the treasured bicycle that was stolen—all of it reappeared with the intensity that surrounded the original incidents. Stress released as smiles of relief spread over our faces.

They we were ready to be conscious and alive for the holidays. Now we were truly ready to experience Jewish soul food.

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