As the Days of Awe Approach

By Rabbi Jonathan Biatch and Cantor Jacob Niemi

“And now, write down for yourselves this elegy: teach it to the people of Israel; place it in their mouths; in order that this song become a witness against the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:19).

In this concluding scene from the Torah, God instructs Moses and Joshua to record the epic poem—which God is about to dictate—foretelling Israel’s fate as a sovereign people in the Promised Land. It describes a people cared for by God from their birth, beautiful and glorious in its appearance, rebellious in its youth, punished by enemies from within and without, and ultimately freed from misfortune by God’s miraculous power.

Is this satisfying conclusion to be ours, in our day? If our past actions have written our history, then we must compose new and forward-thinking songs if we wish to mend the ways we live and to forge a new future. May this work of personal renewal be earnest and sincere.

May our worship this year during the High Holy Days reflect this solemn responsibility. May it be serious and joyous, whole-hearted and hopeful, intense and optimistic. Let us support one another throughout these Days of Awe. 

Adapted from the Temple Beth El High Holy Day Program booklet.


Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, DD, MAHL earned a BA from California State University, Northridge, in radio-television broadcast management and then participated in a Jewish students’ institute and worked as a television production assistant in Israel. He earned a master’s degree in Jewish communal service from Brandeis University and worked for seven years at Jewish Federations in Buffalo, St. Louis, and Houston. He then entered the rabbinical program at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, receiving his master’s degree in Hebrew letters in 1991 and rabbinic ordination in 1992. Rabbi Biatch served pulpits in Staunton, Harrisonburg, and Alexandria, Virginia, and in Glendale, California, before joining Temple Beth El in 2005.

Cantor Jacob Niemi joined the Temple Beth El community in the summer of 2019. He earned a BA in sacred music with a minor in Hebrew language from Florida State University in 2013. He then continued his cantorial studies at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, earning a master’s degree in sacred music in 2017 and ordination as a cantor in 2018. Following ordination, he completed an extended unit of clinical pastoral education, serving as an interfaith chaplain at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Cantor Niemi is a prolific songwriter, with several melodies composed for Jewish sacred texts (especially liturgy), as well as songs with his own original words. His setting of Adon Olam was recently published by Transcontinental Music Publications in the ninth volume of the Shabbat Anthology

Disclaimer: The From Our Rabbis feature seeks to provide a platform representing the diversity of our community clergy. The views, information, or opinions expressed in the From Our Rabbis articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Jewish Federation of Madison.