For two weeks before Shabbat Chanukah, four black boards with a question at the top and multi-colored chalk in the chalk trays were placed in the entrance commons of Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh. The question: “Chanukah means Dedication. What do you (re-) dedicate yourself to this year?” All who visited the congregation had the opportunity to write on the boards their answers to the question.
On Thursday before Shabbat, I took those answers and created “Rededication, A Hanukah Prayer from Pittsburgh,” which Rabbi Sharyn Henry and I edited together. At Friday night services, I read the prayer at a joint service of Rodef Shalom and Tree of Life / Or L’Simcha. The goal: add a bit of healing by using the hopes and ideals of the community as the core of a new piece of liturgy.
The week before, the Pittsburgh community marked the shloshim — the thirtieth day of the post-burial mourning process – following the October 27 attack that left 11 dead and seven injured as congregants of Tree of Life were gathering for Shabbat morning services.
This is our second collaboration using black boards. In 2015, we used the same blackboards for an “Elul Memory Project.” The goal: gather memories from the community to use as the basis of customized Yizkor prayer.
Rabbi Henry was inspired to conceive these black board projects by the work of artist Candy Chang’s international public art project “Before I Die.” In that project, artist Chang created large outdoor public blackboards with a series of blank lines inviting passers-by to fill in the end of the sentence: “Before I die I want to _______.”
For both of our projects at Rodef Shalom, I wrote the initial draft of the liturgical combination of the responses, then we edited the pieces together. I also read both pieces from the bima. In both cases, after services, people approached us both to share how they felt hearing their contributions included in the prayer.
Part of the success is a thoughtful approach to the formulation of the question. For the Elul Memory Project, Rabbi Henry and I tested two different formulations of the question with staff, asking how the structure of the question might change the answer.
The blackboards have proven to be a useful means of capturing both community memories and congregational hopes and dreams. It is a project that can be easily adapted to a variety of holidays or community experiences.
Here is the prayer we created for Shabbat Hanukkah:
Rededication, A Hanukah Prayer from Pittsburgh
That one cruse of pure oil,
Made holy for the dedication of the Temple,
That should have lasted only one day,
Lasted for eight days
Until new, pure oil for the Eternal Lamp
We rededicated holy space
To God and the people of Israel.
That light shines now in Pittsburgh.
The ancient light, 2,000 years old,
Shimmering across millennia from the dedication of our ancient home,
Mingles with the glow of the lamps we light tonight,
Our rededication to:
Family and friends,
Patience, Empathy, Sympathy.
Health and sobriety.
Learning from each other.
Petting more animals.
We rededicate ourselves to kindness,
Building a more peaceful world,
Acts of compassion to one another.
Tikkun olam, repairing the world.
Tzedakah, giving charity.
Taking risks and being vulnerable.
Being the action of love.
This is not easy
With broken hearts.
Yet this is who we are.
Inspired by the past,
Inspired by our faith,
We rededicate ourselves,
In this new generation,
To holiness and sacred convocation.
We will be vigilant in support of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish education.
We will be vigilant in advancing the dignity and the rights of all people.
Positive thinking and openness to new ideas,
Considering other points of view,
Trusting the mystery of life.
Paying forward these gifts.
To speak gently, with fewer words,
Criticizing less and helping more.
Simply doing the right things,
With dedication to truth.
With dedication to understanding.
With Peace –
Saalam, Shalom –
Udo, Paz, Vrede, Mиp, Paix, Friede –
In every language,
In every land,
The flame from that oil,
That one cruse of pure oil,
Still shines upon us,
From those days
To this season.
By Alden Solovy and Rabbi Sharyn H. Henry
© 2018 Alden Solovy and Rodef Shalom, Pittsburgh
Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist and teacher. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012),L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016).He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, published by CCAR Press in 2017, and This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings,now available!