Rabbi Daniel Victor
Congregaton Rodeph Shalom, Bridgeport
“Jews pray a lot on the High Holidays…”
“See your prayer as arousing the letters through which heaven and earth and all living things were created. The letters are the life of all when you pray through them, all Creation joins with you in prayer. All that is around you can be uplifted…” (“Your Word is Fire” Dr. Green and Dr. Holtz)
Growing up in a very active prayer community in Newton, Mass., it was the music that moved me. The melodies would envelop me like a whirlwind and, thus, I would be caught up in the majesty of “High Holiday time” regardless of whether I knew what everything meant. Even today this is often enough for me, but as I got older I felt I had to face what the liturgy really meant, and ask myself these tougher questions. What do I do when traditional prayers challenge me?
As I explored different prayer communities in Israel and in college, I came to feel most comfortable in the Conservative movement because much of the traditional liturgy remained while room was given, especially in works like the Lev Shalem Machzor, for the re-understanding of our liturgy (sometimes through changes and sometimes through alternative readings or meditations).
Here are a few strategies for helping to make prayer more accessible based on the work of Dr. Barry Holtz of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
“Mental editing” – reciting the words on the page, while thinking words more in tune.
“Focusing” – orienting ourselves to the underlying values expressed in the words.
“Associative Reverie” – Meditating on the words as ‘touch points’ for our life experiences.
Seeing “Beyond the Words” – catching the lights within the letters; being swept up by the purely emotional experience.
“Embodiment” – actually taking ownership of the literal message even if we question it.
A final intention from the same work:
“Think that the letters of prayer are the garments of God. What a joy to be making a garment for the greatest of Kings! Enter into every letter with all your strength. God dwells within each letter; as you enter it, you become one with God (the source of all creation).”
I wish all of us a Shanah Tovah, a sweet new year, and may the prayers of the High Holidays help tune our spiritual antennas to the holiness that lies all around us.
Rabbi Jeffrey Glickman
Temple Beth Hillel, South Windsor
Almost everything that happens in this world we don’t see.
Almost every sound in this world we don’t hear. If we could see more, we might be able to find beauty and blessing, even in the mundane. We might develop a great sense of appreciation for the grandeur of your world and the miraculous nature of your caring for us. Perhaps we would come to have awe.
Dear God, help us to be observant Jews.
If we could hear more, we might be able to hear more laughter and more crying. We might develop a greater ability to resonate with the joys and sorrows of others. Perhaps we would come to love more.
Dear God, help us to remember that Shema always comes before Ve’ahavta, because you can not love until you are able to listen.
Observance and listening. May it be a year of both.
Rabbi Shelley Kovar Becker
Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation, Southington
Some years ago, in the book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, And The Making 0f The Oxford English Dictionary, I found a significant message for the yamim nora’im, the days of introspection. The book is all about the meaning of words and this tale of the creating of the first comprehensive dictionary of English speech also tells us something about the power of language. Unbeknownst to the editor, and the circumstance from which the book takes its title, one of his most prodigious contributors is a learned doctor, a man who is incarcerated in an English jail for the criminally insane. But it is not my intention to dwell on that part of the story. Rather, I am interested in the importance of words at this time on our holiday calendar.
I love words! I use the thesaurus on my computer frequently when I write a sermon or article because I am always trying to find a synonym for a word I have already used to elaborate on an idea or thought. And yet, even as I carefully craft language in this way, there are times others do not hear what I mean and I understand so well that we all do this.
But now, as we are to examine our behavior, we realize we probably hurt each other the most through our words. Words matter – think of all we have said since last Kol Nidrei – and now, in a time of reflection, take a heshbon hanefesh, a personal accounting of your speech. In our liturgy we ask forgiveness for the words we have uttered against God and one another because words have the ability to do so much: offend, upset, wound, injure, produce feelings of inadequacy, have ramifications we never thought possible.
At the beginning of a new year, may we forgive ourselves our all too human mistakes but seriously resolve to do better. And especially, let us communicate in speech replete in thoughtfulness.
Shanah tovah tikateyvu: May we, by our actions, be written for a good year.
Rabbi Gary Atkins
Beth Hillel Synagogue, Bloomfield
“Why is this set of Holy Days different from all other sets of Holy Days?”
Sounds like the wrong holiday….but as we start a new year in the Jewish calendar, we DO need to ask ourselves the question…. and the fact that they start as early as they ever will is the least of the answers.
The real answer is that we stand at the beginning of a new year, and we have a new opportunity to change ourselves, a renewed opportunity to make ourselves better Jews! All previous years are past; whatever happened (or didn’t) is over! What decisions will we make NOW? What will we do to decide the course of our lives NOW?
As a congregational rabbi, it is my unique opportunity to inspire and uplift my congregants. It is my chance to encourage them to deepen their connection to Judaism and to the Jewish people, to show them that Judaism is intellectually and emotionally stimulating; that being a part of the Jewish people offers meaning and blessing; that each of us CAN deepen our commitment to our magnificent and beautiful traditions.
So my sermons will be positive, will be life and confidence affirming, will show how individuals (Jewish or non-Jewish) have made their lives meaningful and even inspirational to themselves and to those around them. They will teach that we can confront even the difficult parts of our history with faith and resilience. And then, aided by the beautiful words of the mahzor and the inspirational chanting of the hazzan, we will be able to start the new year ever-more positive about what it means to be Jewish, to be an active part of the Jewish people, and proud defenders of the land and people of Israel. It is my prayer, even before the evening of Selichot, that my words will succeed, and will truly inspire and encourage my congregants and all who attend services at Beth Hillel Synagogue this year.
Sincere wishes for a good, sweet, and healthy year, a “shana tova u’m’tuka,” to all.
High Holiday app to “Wake Up the World”
A new app gives kids a fun way to celebrate the High Holidays by using their smartphone as a shofar to wake up the world. “Wake Up World: An Interactive Rosh Hashanah Book for the Jewish New Year” was created by San Francisco-based Jewish nonprofit G-dcast. Available in English and Hebrew, the app allows children to use their smart phone or tablet as a shofar to navigate a book where they “wake up” pets, family and friends. The illustrations are by Laura Huliska-Beith, an award-winning children’s book artist, and the narration is by Randi Zuckerberg, CEO, Zuckerberg Media.
“This story is a whole new way to engage children around Jewish education. Growing up, stories like this were so important to me. It’s great to see my son getting the same kind of message in a different way. It’s awesome to see G-dcast evolving Jewish education to keep up with technology,” said Randi Zuckerberg, who narrates the story in “Read it to me” mode.
Zuckerberg is not only a technology and social media expert, she is the parent to a two and a half year old boy, and the author of a forthcoming children’s book, Dot, about a tech-savvy little girl.
“Wake Up World” is one of a string of innovative Jewish apps G-dcast has premiered this year. The nonprofit also released “Let’s Bake Challah!”, which teaches children how to bake and bless challah; “Leviticus!”, an irreverent Fruit Ninja parody that teaches the third book of the Bible; and “eScapegoat”, a web app that lets users anonymously upload tweet-length sins onto a virtual goat and read the sins of others.
“Wake Up World” is G-dcast’s premiere offering for Android via Google Play and is available now. The iOS version of “Wake Up World” was released last week.
To download “Wake Up World” from Google Play, please visit: http://bit.ly/wakeupworld
Rosh Hashanah fun fact
Did you know that the last time Rosh Hashanah began as early as September 5 the year was 1899!
That was also the year that…
• Queens and Staten Island became part of New York City
• The Great Blizzard of 1899 pounded South Florida
• The paperclip and Bayer aspirin were patented
• Voting machines were approved for federal elections
• New York’s Bronx Zoo opened
The next time Rosh Hashanah falls this early: 2089
But wait, that’s not all. This year the first night of Chanukah falls on Thanksgiving – the first time that’s happened since President Lincoln established Thanksgiving in 1863. It won’t happen again until the year 79,811.
AND NOW…Here’s a youtube video from Israel to help make your Rosh Hashanah truly sweet. http://www.youtube.com/embed/8S2vLcArd8g
With many thanks to Howard Lasher of Newtown.