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Rosh Hashanah 5775

ct cover 12-2-11Rosh Hashanah synagogue services: meaningful or just a marathon?

By Maayan Jaffe/JNS.org

There are four sounds that the shofar makes on Rosh Hashanah. The tekiah is a basic note of moderate length. Shevarim breaks the tekiah into three short notes. Teruah breaks the tekiah into nine smaller notes. Tekiah gedola takes the standard tekiah and makes it three times as long.

Synagogue services, too, have varying lengths. There are short services, such as the evening service on Rosh Hashanah, and even shorter ones like the weekday afternoon service (mincha). In fact, mincha can be so short that Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg of Temple Beth El in Birmingham, Ala., has seen Israeli bus drivers “jump off the bus, daven (pray), and jump back on the bus without losing much time on their route.”

The same can’t be said for shacharit (morning service) and mussaf (additional service) on Rosh Hashanah – far from it.

shofar copy“The Rosh Hashanah morning service is designed like the tekiah gedola,” Konigsburg tells JNS.org. “The theme of the day is the coronation of God as ruler of the universe. A coronation is filled with pomp and ceremony, and that is what the Rosh Hashanah service is all about.”

It sounds nice in theory, but realistically, how many Rosh Hashanah services have you spent in the hallway chatting with your friends, bemoaning the length of the rabbi’s speech or the operatic performance of the cantor?

“I understand having kavanah (proper intention) on Rosh Hashanah, but to elongate something that normally goes 25-30 minutes to an hour seems pointless,” laments Gabriel Lewin of Pikesville, Md. “And while I appreciate the need for shuls to raise money and to sell off honors, like getting an aliyah [to the Torah], the problem is it turns into 35 minutes of grandstanding… and it also wastes a lot of time that could have been spent doing something more kadosh (holy).”

Hannah Heller, also of Pikesville, says she remembers being “frustrated as a child in shul when davening seemed endless and the people talking was such a distraction that I wondered why I had to be there all those hours.” Today, Heller said she still finds Rosh Hashanah services to be long, but they are also very meaningful for her. It was a matter of finding the right synagogue in Netivot Shalom, a modern Orthodox establishment where, according to its website, “everyone has a voice.”

“Those who lead the davening do a lot of catchy, popular tunes and people are encouraged to sing along,” says Heller, noting that the tunes make her a part of the service. Heller says the speeches at Netivot Shalom are kept to a minimum and given not only by the rabbi, but also by members of the congregation. And while a lot of traditional singing takes place, “the person who leads davening avoids making it a

cantorial performance and, instead, makes more of an effort to include everyone and help them feel that the prayers are relevant to each of us.”

Heller also finds that being prepared can make a difference. She brings — and the synagogue provides — Jewish books in English for moments when the liturgy is too heavy or she is struggling to stay focused. One book she recommends is “Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit,” by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf, but she notes that there are many others for that situation. In addition, Heller recommends that synagogues offer pre-holiday primers to assist congregants in understanding the prayers. She says recording tunes for participants to learn in advance can be helpful, too.

“The real problem with all services is not that they are too long, it is that people are not engaged by the service,” says Konigsburg. “An opera is very long with lots of singing, unless you have read in advance the story and know what musical highlights to pay attention to. When we understand the service and are engaged by it, we don’t really consider the passage of time. When we don’t understand the music or the words, then yes, it seems to drag on and on.”

Konigsburg says that rabbis and cantors can work hard to engage their members, but ultimately, “each of us is responsible for our own spirituality.”

Lewin realized that lesson not too long ago and decided to find a synagogue that was a better fit. Now, he prays in a service at a private home with 40 or 50 like-minded individuals instead of a larger Baltimore shul. “You have to know yourself,” says Lewin. “Don’t be afraid to go somewhere else. Be honest about what you want and find it.”

Andrew Lavin attends Temple Beth Israel in Port Washington, N.Y. He says he also used to find the length of the High Holiday prayer experience challenging, but as he has gotten older, he finds synagogue to be “one of the few places in the world where I can get peace and quiet and solitude and get into my own thoughts.”

Konigsburg says, “The Rosh Hashanah service is not a marathon, but an appropriate entrance to a Jewish New Year.”

Maayan Jaffe is a freelance writer in Overland Park, Kan. Reach her at maayanjaffe@icloud.com or follow her on Twitter, @MaayanJaffe.


Selichot – an early morning take on forgiveness

By Mark Mietkiewicz

“King David was anguished when he prophetically foresaw the destruction of the Holy Temple and the cessation of the offering of the sacrifices. ‘How will the Jews atone for their sins?’ he wondered. God replied: ‘When suffering will befall the Jews because of their sins, they should gather before me in complete unity. Together they shall confess their sins and recite the order of the Selichot, and I will answer their prayers.’” – Midrash. [http://bit.ly/selichot1]

On Sunday, Sept. 21, people will travel to their synagogues midway through the night. And they will continue to return very early every weekday until Yom Kippur. They will come to take stock of their behavior over the past year and prepare themselves for the coming one – and to recite Selichot. Today, a look at these traditional prayers of forgiveness – and some modern aids – thanks to the web.

The central phrase in the Selichot service is the recitation of the 13 Attributes of Mercy that were spoken as Moses received the second set of tablets at Mount Sinai. [bit.ly/selichot2] “God passed by before (Moses) and proclaimed, ‘Merciful God, merciful God, powerful God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity, willful sin and error, and Who cleanses.” (Exodus 34:6) [bit.ly/selichot3]

Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz asks why we spend so much effort reciting God’s attributes. Shouldn’t we focus on our own spiritual growth rather than invoking this phrase? He then suggests that in order to grow, we need to make sure our own lifestyles reflect these Godly attributes. “For example, the Talmud says that if you are patient with others, then God will be patient with you. You can only demand that God employ all these attributes if you apply them in your own relationships.” [bit.ly/selichot4]

For some Jews, Selichot have already started. Sephardim have been rising early since the start of the month of Elul (back on August 28) and will continue to do so for 40 days (excluding Shabbat) until Yom Kippur. You can read a description of what it is like to arrive bleary-eyed early mornings at San Francisco’s Magain David Sephardim Congregation. [bit.ly/selichot5] They don’t look too sleepy at Rabbi Avraham Benhaim’s minyan. You can peek in on his Sephardic Selichot via YouTube. [bit.ly/selichot6]

Rabbi Benhaim’s service seems quaint compared to the one held in Beersheva for 15,000 early morning Selichot participants. When you watch the video, you can get a feel for the vibe in the air but nothing could simulate what was like to hear 100 shofars blasting simultaneously that morning. [bit.ly/selichot7]

And although there may not have been as many participants, there was certainly electricity (and a lot of music) in the air at the Selichot service with the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. You can watch the full 86-minute service online. (The “Yotzer” at the 35-minute mark is breathtaking.) [bit.ly/selichot8]

There are several ways to get the text of the service:

You can download the entire 199-page Chabad Selichot book in Hebrew only. [bit.ly/selichot9]

The clearly laid out Metzudah Siddur can be viewed online. However, the site has been designed to prevent printing. [bit.ly/selichot10]

You can go mobile. RustyBrick, a leading producer of Jewish apps, has created a great iOS one for Selichot. ($2.99 – Lita & Edut Hamizrach customs are available.) [bit.ly/selichot11] Rimon Publications has produced an interlinear Hebrew-English version for Android devices. ($4.94) [bit.ly/selichot12]

Or you could just do it the old-fashioned way and purchase a book. [bit.ly/selichot13]

Even people conversant in Hebrew may be daunted by the Selichot with its “Piyyutim,” intricate poetical compositions redolent with Biblical allusions. Not a problem, says Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple. “What moves most people is not the intellectual as much as the emotional content of the service. And in terms of the feelings aroused by the time of year, the mood of the moment, the melodies and refrains, and even the fact that Selichot probably create more genuine piety than any of our other prayers, it must be said that this is truly one of our most successful liturgical experiences.” [bit.ly/selichot14]

Rabbi Mark Hurvitz of Congregation Etz Chaim in Ramona, Calif. has taken many of the concepts of Selichot and given them a modern spin. His Selichot Grid looks like a Bingo card except that the squares contain comments like “I have done things to others that I would not want done to myself” or “I’ve said: ‘I won’t.’ But then did.” The goal is to ask people to sign a square that is true about themselves and presumably promote discussion about repentance and forgiveness. [bit.ly/selichot15]

For more practical suggestions about getting yourself into shape, check out Aish HaTorah’s Growth Worksheet. [bit.ly/selichot16] The Union for Reform Judaism has created several downloadable booklets about Selichot that use textual study, meditations, plays and a lot of music to get the message across. [bit.ly/selichot17]

Once you’ve finished your early morning recitation of Selichot, why go to sleep when you could watch a video or two? Larry Mark, editor of JewishFilm.com, has created a list of films for Selichot-time viewing. About “The Quarrel,” Mark comments, “Two men meet in a park in a rainstorm. They chose different paths. Can forgiveness be reached?” For “Crimes and Misdemeanors” he says, “One of Woody Allen’s best is a jumping-off point to discuss sins and getting caught, choices, consequences, the lack of consequences, acceptance, and human nature.” And here’s his take on Bill Murray’s never-ending “Groundhog Day.” “Repeating past mistakes over and over… until teshuva is made.” [bit.ly/selichot18] n

Mark Mietkiewicz can be reached at highway@rogers.com


A is for Apple

By Eileen Goltz

In the midst of preparing for yontif there is one food item that, in my opinion, is almost always purchased and rarely homemade. I’m talking about applesauce. Quite frankly, it’s just sad because the homemade applesauce is easy, easy, super easy to make and the taste is awesome. It’s that wonderful comfort food we all used to serve our kids but forget how great it is as a side dish for just about any holiday meal.

Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, just opened that jar of sweet, gooey glop, poured it in a bowl and said “Here you go kids, enjoy.” While I’m certainly guilty of that particular food infraction, I’m here to say that at this time of year, as a holiday gift to yourself and your family you should try the extraordinary taste of homemade applesauce. Making applesauce is so simple and fun, you really should include your kids, grandkids, neighbors, or even your significant other in the process. Go apple-picking…then end up in the kitchen making memories.

The following recipes can be whipped up in no time and frozen for up to four weeks before you need to serve it. For the most part you won’t even have to go to the grocery store for any ingredients (except possibly for the apples).

Master Recipe Applesauce

Wash, pare, and core eight cooking apples. Add about 1/2 cup water and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cook in covered pot until soft. Add about 1/2 cup sugar while hot. Simmer just long enough for the sugar to be combined. You can vary the amount of sugar and water to adjust for your own personal sweetness preference.

Note: add with sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, grated lemon rind or juice, or a combination of spices depending on how adventurous your taste buds are. Makes 8 servings.

Applesauce Variations:
Honey applesauce: In master recipe, substitute 1/2 cup honey for sugar. Add one to two teaspoons grated lemon rind.
Orange applesauce: In master recipe, add one tablespoon orange zest with sugar.

Brown Sugar Applesauce

6 to 8 tart apples
Cinnamon to taste or 2 thin slices lemon
2/3 cup water
About 3/4 cup brown sugar 

Preheat oven to 375˚. Wash apples, core, and cut in quarters (you don’t need to peel the apples, Place the cut apples in an ungreased baking dish. Add the cinnamon or lemon, and water. Mix well, cover with foil and bake until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Place the apple mixture through a strainer and then add the sugar to the apple mixture. Mix well. You can serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for at least three hours. This is great either hot or cold. Serves 6 to 8.

Baked Applesauce Variations:
Creamed applesauce: Substitute 2/3 cup whipping cream for the water. Add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg with sugar.
Honey applesauce: Substitute honey for sugar. Add 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind.
Maple applesauce: Substitute 1 cup maple syrup for sugar and water.
Orange applesauce: Add 2 tablespoons orange zest while cooking.
Modified from Epicurious.com

Spiced Applesauce
(pareve or dairy)

12 tart apples
2 cups boiling water
6 whole cloves
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Core and quarter apples; do not peel. Put the apples in a saucepan with the water and cloves. Simmer, tightly covered, until apples are tender. Cool slightly and then press the mixture through a sieve. Return the mixture to heat; add vinegar and sugar; simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat; beat in butter or margarine. Remove from heat, remove the cloves and serve either hot or cold. Serves 6-8.
Modified from about.com

Cranberry Applesauce

6 lbs. Macintosh or Granny Smith apples, quartered and cored
1/2 cup water
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey 

In a large saucepan combine the apples and water. Cover and cook stirring often, until soft, about 20 minutes. Uncover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally for 10 more minutes. Add the cranberries with sugar and continue to cook for about 15 minutes until the cranberries “pop” open. Pass the applesauce through a coarse strainer and return it to the saucepan. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the honey and stir until blended. Transfer the applesauce to a glass bowl and cool completely before you cover and refrigerate. Serves 8.
Modified from yummly.com

Berry Applesauce

8 tart apples
2 16 oz frozen sliced strawberries in syrup
1/2 cup white wine
1/8 teaspoon lemon zest 

Wash, pare, core, and slice the apples. Place the apples in a large saucepan. Add the strawberries and then simmer until the apples are tender 30 to 40 minutes. Add wine, grated lemon rind. Cook five more minutes and then remove from heat. Cool and then refrigerate for several hours. Serve cold. This is a thick applesauce. Serves 6.

Applesauce Laure

1/2 cup boiling water
2 pounds  apples, peeled, cored & sliced
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract

In 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, heat first four ingredients to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes until the apples are tender for chunky applesauce, 12 to 15 minutes for smoother applesauce. During last minutes of cooking time, stir sugar into applesauce mixture. Makes 4 cups.

Submitted by Laure Aldridge Indianapolis, Ind.

© Eileen Goltz


applesApples Dipped in Honey

Martha Stewart may not be Jewish – but she’s got just the thing to keep kids bowled over by the Rosh Hashanah tradition of dipping apples in honey. Trim the top and bottom of an apple and hollow it out with a spoon or melon baller. (macintoshes are easy to scoop.) Brush the inside with lemon juice, and fill with honey. Slice more apples for dipping.




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