As we prepared to lead Yizkor from Mishkan HaNefesh we were challenged with how to make a large space feel intimate. Our High Holiday services take place at the Performing Arts Center of SUNY Purchase, an intimate concert hall that seats 1500 replete with a stage large enough for any philharmonic orchestra. Our plan was to use the ritual of the seven candles as outlined in Mishkan HaNefesh but in such a large space, we were concerned that the significance of these candles may lose its meaning for those sitting in the upper balcony.
Two things serendipitously came together. The first is a page in Mishkan HaNefesh that is set apart from the others. In the midst of the Yizkor service one finds a two-page spread that is different in color, whose words simply say, “Yizkor Elohim” and then a variety of words, randomly spaced (although nothing in Mishkan HaNefesh appears random) across the page describing different relations and the emotions one might feel having them gone. Verbs like, “I miss… I remember… I think of…I mourn… i promise,” and relations like, “my mother… my father… my uncle… my friend… my companion.” Amidst the plethora of amazing readings and poems, I personally find it to be one of the most powerful set of pages in the entire set. I wanted our congregants to be able to spend some time meditating on those pages.
The second “aha” moment was a Facebook posting (thanks CCAR Facebook page) of Rosh HaShanah services at Denise Eger’s congregation in Los Angeles. Student Rabbi Jeremy Gimbel led a rousing noggin with everyone standing and dancing and clapping. Up, above all those on the bima, projected on a screen was a piece of the artwork found in Mishkan HaNefesh. “This is how we are going to bring that page from the Yizkor services to our congregants!” I thought.
I quickly sent an email to Hara Person and Dan Medwin asking how we could get a jpeg or PDF of those pages from the Yizkor service to project on our large stage. For years we have projected the stained glass windows from our sanctuary on the scrim behind our portable aron kodesh. Now was an opportunity to transform that moment of worship.
During the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, Dan and Hara quickly sent us a JPEG of that page. Our projectionist jumped on it, transforming a static JPEG into move-able text where one word appeared, then another and another. He also played with the background colors to a project a reddish hue, bringing it more in-line with the coloring of the concert hall. In this small (albeit complicated by my standards) act, we were able to move Mishkan HaNefesh off the page and into people’s hearts. I have no idea how others felt about it (no one complained which I take as a compliment). It was for me, one of the most moving moments of our chagim.
So once again, hats off to the editorial team of Mishkan HaNefesh for their creativity in worship and to our staff at the CCAR for being agents instead of gatekeepers, of saying yes when they could have said no, and for being so responsive to one rabbi’s request.
Rabbi Daniel Gropper serves the Community Synagogue of Rye, New York.