Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why is this Rosh Hashanah different from all others?

No, we're not adding the Four Questions to our liturgy, but as you walk into our building this week for services, you'll notice lots that is new, though it's important to note that most of what you'll see will be familiar. Same old rabbi up there, for one (although I'll be wearing a new white knitted yarmulke) and the liturgy is essentially unchanged. But since our eyes and ears tend to gravitate to that which is different, allow me to give you a sneak preview of what to expect:

1) Even before entering the building, you'll notice the freshly painted lines in our parking lot, plus speed bumps and new signs, all designed to make your first impression of TBE safer and more welcoming. In the back of the lot you'll see our new playground, a work in progress, and our new community garden, the Finkelstein Gan Mitzvah, which has produced a bountiful first harvest despite our hot, dry summer.

2) Parents with young children will enjoy meeting Ronnie Brockman, our new early childhood director, who is coordinating a special new family service that begins at 10:15. We'll still have our full assortment of children's programming at 11 as well.

3) As you take out your ticket to enter the building, notice that we are asking congregants to consider not only the importance of the monetary aspects of our High Holidays Campaign (and we do rely on your support!) but this year we are hoping for a commitment of time as well. Voluntarism is the foundation of any nurturing community and active congregation. We appreciate all your support.

4) Now, enter the lobby. The renovation is complete, and it is beautiful. You'll see some special touches, inspired by Bruce Feinberg z'l, in whose memory this lobby was restored. A TV screen will inform you of important upcoming events, obviating the need for lengthy announcements from the pulpit.

5) Pick up our new machzor and immediately you'll see and feel a difference. The cover is soft in texture and earth-toned in color. But it's what's inside that will really stand out. To date, 150,000 copies of the book have been sold and the reviews have been outstanding. The Wall Street Journal hailed it as "postdenominational," and a true reflection of the diversity and inclusiveness that can gather under Conservative Judaism's Big Tent. Some excerpts from that review appear at the bottom of this page.

6) A major goal of ours this year has been to simplify and streamline the service experience and to help people focus on exploring the new machzor. So it will not be necessary to bring added materials to your seat. The white sourcebook will be available (and by all means, continue to use it if you wish), but responsive readings will all come from the new machzor.

7) We're streamlining ark openings too. With a new "honors" system in place (people will be coming up to the bima at set times, rather than for specific openings), along with the new machzor, we have dramatically reduced the dreaded yo-yo effect, the constant standing and sitting and quick ark closings and re-openings. There will be times, for important prayers like "Unetane Tokef," when we'll be standing for longer periods, but overall we'll be standing less, especially later in the service. The effect will be, I hope, a service that will flow and feel less disjointed.

8) Oh, and did I mention that we have a new cantor? We are truly fortunate to have Cantor Mordecai here. Those who have experienced services over the past month know exactly what I am talking about. The music this week will be a synthesis of old favorites, featuring our fabulous choir, mixed in with some new touches. Some things may appear unusual (some of the younger kids have been surprised that you can have a male cantor) and a variety of musical styles will be employed. I'm anxious to hear your feedback afterwards, but for the next couple of days, all I want to hear are your voices - in song! Our new cantor is wonderful at engaging people and inviting us to sing along. His tunes are eminently singable. The next few days are about participation, not observation. It's all about being inspired to change our lives and to change the world.

So that's what will be different as we begin 5771. But many things will remain the same:

- The need for a food drive is as great as ever. Please take home a bag to fill.

- Marc Schneider will once again handle shofar and choir directing responsibilities. He is a true unsung hero of the High Holidays. As always, all shofar blowers are invited to join in the final blasts at the end of the service.

- And, as always, we remain as dependent on your patience and warmth as we deal with bus lines and other inconveniences, see old friends and meet new ones. We'll have lots of new people here this year. Please consider yourself a host, rather than a consumer. Everyone is a greeter! Introduce yourself to the stranger next to you. Show her the page (with a new book, this year, we'll all be equally lost - the playing field has been leveled). For those who can't remain in the sanctuary for any reason, the service will be piped into the lobby. I hope that people both in the lobby and sanctuary-social hall will be respectful and keep schmoozing to a minimum. If you want to talk (and I would hate to be considered an anti-schmoozer), I hear the weather is going to be nice. Feel free to step outside. But know that you just might be missing something amazing and unforgettable that will be happening inside....

I look forward to greeting you over the next few days, beginning tonight, when Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper will be delivering the d'var Torah. Also note that tonight, seating will be in the main sanctuary only - it's cozier that way.

My thanks to our excellent staff and dedicated volunteers, in particular our once-in-a-lifetime president, Eileen Rosner. Our congregation is doing amazing things and I hope you will catch the spirit of unity, optimism and joy that have become our hallmark as we enter our 90th year.

I pray that all of us find inspiration over the coming days to write ourselves into the Book of A-Life-that-Matters, and that we can all be up to the task of providing comfort to one another, especially to those who have suffered loss, illness or economic setback. I pray that 5771 will at last be a year of peace and security for Israel and around the world.

L'Shana Tova, a sweet, purpose-filled year, from my family and all of us at TBE!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

PS - Sadly, Time magazine's cover story this week terribly distorted the situation in Israel. Some strong reaction has appeared in the Jewish press, including Media Watch: Time Says, 'Israel Doesn't Want Peace' and Daniel Gordis' strong response in the Commentary blog. I've read the Time cover story, "The Good Life And Its Dangers" and I agree with Gordis that the insinuation that Israelis would prefer money to peace is insane and borderline anti-Semitic, in the Fagin/Shylock mode. Israelis' apathy toward the current negotiation stems from their having had their hopes summarily doused by the post-Oslo terror attacks. Israelis know how to live for the day. And the mere fact that they have not abandoned their embattled homeland for greener pastures, but rather built it up into an economic heavyweight, testifies to their moral courage, resilience, and desire to build a better world for all.

Below are excerpts from the WSJ review of "Machzor Lev Shalem" and links to two other reviews:

Conservative 'Machzor' Tries for Accessibility and Inspiration, (JTA)
A Tale of Two Ma(c)hzors (New Voices - student magazine)
A Stirring New Prayer Book for the High Holidays Wall Street Journal

"The broad-based approach of the new prayer book-in which supplementary readings range from Hasidic sages to Gilda Radner, and from devout medieval Jewish Spanish poets to Israeli poet and professed atheist Yehuda Amichai-is in some ways reflective of this "post-denominational" style that blurs lines between the different movements.

The point is that regardless of the movement label you choose (or eschew), whether you're a synagogue regular or not, this prayer book is sophisticated and scholarly but entirely user-friendly at all levels. Prayers appear in the original Hebrew, for those who can read Hebrew, as well as transliteration in the Roman alphabet, for those who don't. For those who just want to know what those prayers mean, there are newly updated, more contemporary sounding, English translations.

Accompanying commentaries on each page help explicate the intent and origins of those prayers, many of which are hundreds of years, or more, old. The ritual blowing of the shofar (or ram's horn) is given additional contemporary resonance by a description of the distinctive short, staccato notes that are sounded as "broken," and the longer sustained notes as "whole," thus providing a metaphor for the spiritual quest of the High Holidays as a journey from brokenness to wholeness.

To further address modern-day concerns, new prayers are included for those unable to carry out the customary fast on Yom Kippur; for those in need of healing; and for their caregivers, too. To honor the role of women in Jewish tradition (and in contemporary egalitarian services), a liturgical poem was expanded to include mention of Biblical heroines as well as

There is even a meditation for victims of abusive parents-it appears in the "Yizkhor" (memorial) service, under the title, "In Memory of a Parent Who Was Hurtful." As for issues of sexual orientation, the prayer book offers an alternate Torah reading to substitute for the traditional selection on the afternoon of Yom Kippur (Leviticus 18) about permitted and prohibited sexual unions. An additional commentary places the traditional passage in the historical and Biblical context and invites the reader to decide on his or her own interpretation.

Comprehensive and informative, traditional and contemporary, this full-hearted prayer book speaks eloquently to the mind and soul."

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