When you spend any extended time living in Israel, one of the first Hebrew phrases you pick up is the oft-used and little-understood, Selichah! Usually used in a series of staccato repetitions (“Selichah, selichah, selichah!”), this word is ubiquitous on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv alike.
The word (סליחה) literally means forgiveness, and of course, it’s the Hebrew equivalent to ‘Pardon me?’ (UK) or ‘Get outta my way!’ (US), and to be honest: it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes it’s an aggressive-sounding ‘Move!’ and others a more passive, ‘Please, if you wouldn’t mind, if it isn’t a bother, sorry…’
If you’re a Hebrew-speaker it is a more than regular part of the vocabulary, but at this time of year, it takes on a special meaning separate from its day to day usage. Traditionally, every day during this month of Elul we recite Selichot before morning prayers– this Selichot being a collection of prayers which sometimes ask for forgiveness and sometimes shout it.
Just like in its more mundane usage, the Selichot we recite during this month prior to Rosh haShanah are sometimes aggressive petitions and sometimes passive pleas. Our tone can be both mournful and joyful; for, there is more than one way to ask forgiveness.
Often, these particular prayers and piyyutim (liturgical poems) are put to music in a type of ‘concert’ the week before Rosh haShanah. I’m happy to say that SAMS has helped make that a reality this year, with a choir composed of members from Hatch End Masorti, Elstree and Borehamwood Masorti, Edgware Masorti, Kol Nefesh and SAMS. They will join together to sing these prayers of Selichot to beautiful melodies. If you would like more information about the Selichot service, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of them will be yelling ‘Excuse me!’ and others whispering ‘Pardon me,’ but all of them should make for a moving introduction to the High Holy Days. Please join us, to support our SAMS choir members, and to come together to say ‘Selichah!’, in whatever way suits you.