A bit of soul searching before the Days of Awe

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer

This year, the celebration of Selichot – the official “kickoff” for the High Holy Days – commences with sundown on Saturday, Sept. 12th. Jewish tradition instructs us to regard this time as a period of soul-searching and reflection, as we prepare for the solemnity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

To many of us, it probably seems like soul-searching and reflection have dominated our lives since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the initial period of mandatory quarantine, when we cocooned at home, fear and reflection occupied our every thought. Since my gym facilities remained shuttered, life came to a screeching halt, leaving me with an abundance of hours to fill, debating the questions barraging my brain: “What message should we learn from all of this? G-d clearly wants us to do something differently…but what?”

Sure, I found ways to stay physically active, from teaching Group Exercise classes virtually from our home, to walking 5 miles, even lifting the various dumbbells my husband has collected through the years. However, the gaps in between seemed riddled with angst.

Jews begin and end the Days of Awe by beseeching a compassionate G-d to accept our prayers as we promise to turn from our less-than-stellar ways. COVID-19 and its aftermath have me pondering whether our behaviors and actions in the past year led us to this place of severe illness. So many of the familiar High Holiday prayers center around asking for forgiveness, and promising to change our lives for the betterment of all. We CAN foster change in ourselves…but will we see a clear path?

For many of us, the resolutions we make each Jan. 1 tend to lose steam by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around. As always, intentions are good, yet resolve and follow-through end up taking a back seat to over-structured and stressful lives. As a personal trainer, I witness this regularly: clients and new gym members attack their workouts and nutrition commitments with voracity, only to lose steam when the going gets rough. Could this same outlook have anything to do with our increasing weariness of social distancing and endless mask-wearing? We grow complacent over time, only to get a swift reminder to realign our priorities as COVID-19 cases spike new highs nationwide.

Yes, gyms have re-opened, as have schools, restaurants, movie theatres and bars. Concurrently, viral cases have increased. The ever-vigilant regard for protecting our health, so foremost from March until July, is waning. At this time of year, Selichot reminds us that we must remain focused on heeding the proper call to action, honoring the truth in our hearts, and doing our best to keep our society and ourselves healthy and safe. Whether that translates to resuming your fitness and nutritional goals abandoned in February, or continuing to don a mask before leaving the house, think of these things as commandments, as mitzvot. Listen closely for G-d’s message of change – on the wind, in the laughter of children, present in our holiday prayers. 

By the time Yom Kippur concludes, with the final sounding of the shofar, perhaps we will know the answer. 

L’Shana Tovah.