CCAR Israel Trip – January 2019

I write this as I am returning to Chicago from a week spent with a number of rabbinical colleagues in Israel. The purpose of the trip was to expose our group to the creativity and innovations that are occurring in Israel, as well as to consider the continued societal and political challenges that Israel faces. The trip was sponsored by the Central Conference of American Rabbis and run by the same travel agency I have been using for congregational trips to Israel since 1998, Da’at/Arzaworld Tours. It was led by Rabbi Hara Person and Rabbi Don Goor. Th title was Israel: Innovation, Change and Creativity.

Highlights of the trip included lectures on how Israel is becoming a leader in the field of hi-tech. We also visited hi-tech centers in Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion University in the Negev. We met social entrepreneurial start-ups like Soapy, a company that provides hygienic soap and water to schools in India (and also sells their systems to McDonalds, KFC and Subway in the States). We learned how finally Israel is taking recycling seriously. We visited a program for abandoned children that gives them a beautiful place to live and a second chance at life.

We also met with Rabbi Noa Sattath, the director of the religious action center of Israel, an institution devoted to fighting for the rights of liberal Jews in Israel so that they can enjoy government support as well as the support given to the ultra-orthodox. We met with a West Bank settler and his dialogue partner, a Palestinian, who has suffered greatly from the occupation of the West Bank. These two men, part of a group called Roots, are not meeting to seek peace so much as to seek a way to live without violence and to speak of a new paradigm for achieving a sense of equality in the relationship between Jews and Palestinians.

On a cultural level we enjoyed delicious Israeli cuisine, tasted Israeli wine and even whiskey, visited the newly renovated museum for the Jewish experience in the Diaspora, and enjoyed watching the highly rated Amos Kolben modern dance troupe of Jerusalem.

Unlike my home in Chicago, weather was beautiful and the country was humming with excitement due to the upcoming national elections. While we were there, the former Chief of Staff of the army, Benny Ganz, announced his intention to compete for Prime Minister. His speech was seen as electrifying and game changing.

To sum up, I would say the mood in Israel is generally optimistic. People feel very much alive and excited about the future. The majority would prefer a future without having to police Palestinians and their lands but there is little hope in that regard that such a peace plan will come soon. Indeed, people do not speak of peace. They speak of lack of hostility and making some kind of agreement. Israelis also would like to see the Orthodox establishment be more tolerant of non-Orthodox denominations like Reform Judaism, but the work is slow and will take a lot of money and time to convince the government that liberal voices need to be heard.

On Friday night we visited the amazing Reform synagogue outside of Jerusalem, Mevaseret Zion and their youth group led service (on the topic of feminism) was inspiring and could have fit right at home in NFTY.

Reform Judaism is alive and well in Israel. There are over 100 Reform rabbis practicing. Their jobs are not easy but they are bringing our religious values to a secular public in need of such a spiritual and relevant perspective.

I cannot promise that any trip to January will have such great weather (although I can probably guarantee that the rates will be lower than the summer and the weather better than Chicago). But I can promise you will find in Israel a vibrant, complicated, heterogeneous country that offers experiences for Jews and non-Jews alike that will challenge you, delight you and sustain you. The other rabbis were a joy to be with and our guide, Yishay, was outstanding. I am so grateful to Da’at and the CCAR for offering us this trip.

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Rabbi Edwin Goldberg serves Temple Sholom of Chicago.


Total Solar Eclipse

As most of us know quite well, today (Monday, August 21st) there will be a rare event in our country: a total solar eclipse. In short, the moon will “photobomb” the sun’s selfie. I recently wrote a chapter in the new book Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation that speaks  about the relationship between the sun and the moon. In chapter one of Genesis (verse 16) we read: “And God made two great lights; the large light to rule the day, and the small light to rule the night; and God made the stars.” There seems to be a contradiction here.  If God made two great lights, then how can one be large and one be small?  Many Jewish commentators address this apparent irregularity.  One comment from an ancient midrash sees a moral lesson within the disparity.  The moon complained to God that it did not like being the same size as the sun, so God “rewarded” the moon’s complaint by making it smaller.

A more favorable treatment of the moon is found in Midrash Genesis Rabbah, 6:4:  R. Aha said: Imagine a king who had two governors, one ruling in the city and the other in a province. Said the king: Since the former has humbled himself to rule in the city only, I decree that whenever he goes out, the city council and the people shall go out with him, and whenever he enters, the city council and the people shall enter with him. Thus did the Holy One, blessed be He, say: Since the moon humbled itself to rule by night, I decree that when she comes forth, the stars shall come forth with her, and when she goes in [disappears], the stars shall go in with her.

This teaching reflects an ancient rabbinic support for humility in our leaders.  As another sage (Hillel) once observed: “When I exalt myself I am humbled, but when I humble myself I am exalted.”   It is only when we create space for the world that we are able to find our genuine selves.  The medieval mystical notion of tzimtzum, or contraction, by which God could create the world only by contracting God’s Self, teaches us the spiritual power of creating space within our own egos for the world around us.  By letting go of some of the ego needs that distract us we open space for enjoying the present and being more present for others.

I know these days we can easily be frustrated, worried and even fearful. There are certainly many things we can do about our current situation. One thing we may not have considered is practicing more humility in our family, circle of friends, and areas of work. This practice will not solve all our problems but it can serve as a timely corrective in a world too eclipsed for the light to shine through.

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, serves Temple Sholom of Chicago, and is the editor of Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor, and coordinating editor of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.  Rabbi Goldberg  is also is a contributor to CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation!

Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Introducing Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor

Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh, newly released by CCAR Press, is a compendium to the new machzor of the Reform Movement, Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe. It is serving as a springboard for entering into the sanctuary of our souls with enthusiasm and helpful insights, exegetical and homiletical material, tips, guideposts, and indexes of poems and of biblical citations.

On the advent of the book’s publication, CCAR Press sat down with the editor, Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, senior rabbi at Temple Sholom of Chicago and coordinating editor of Mishkan HaNefesh, to talk a little bit about the creation, purpose, and content of the new compendium.

Q: Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh serves as a roadmap to the new CCAR machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh. What made you want to work on Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh?

A: When I was a young rabbi, there was a book to help me understand Gates of Repentance called Gates of Understanding II, edited by Rabbi Larry Hoffman. I thought someone should write some sort of compendium to explain the background of Mishkan HaNefesh, what I would call a midrash, if you will, or a commentary on the creation of the new machzor. That’s what we were going for. And it wasn’t just me. I invited all of the usual suspects—those who helped create the new machzor—to help make the commentary work.

Q: You refer to Divrei as a “midrash on the machzor.” How would you summarize the purpose of Divrei? In other words, the “why” behind the project?

A: After the High Holy days last year, I remember asking myself, “What do I know now that I wish I’d known before the High Holy Days?” I put everything I’ve learned into Divrei. Another one of the things that Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh does is put into book form what I’ve been sharing about the new machzor with colleagues for a number of years through presentations and conferences. It is like the teacher workbook to help other teachers present a better curriculum with the textbook (Mishkan HaNefesh). It is meant for preparation, as there is a lot more work to do for the High Holy Days besides just buying Mishkan HaNefesh. Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh helps the service leader prepare so that the machzor can be used as a sacred implement in the larger presentation of the High Holy Day experience. Divrei Image

Divrei answers the question, “Where did that come from?” The reader will find insights into the changes we’ve made to the traditional text, such as why we changed a word or two and why it’s important. We also want rabbis and cantors to know that we changed a word or two to make sure that they’re on the same page. It will make time spent preparing more efficient, and I think it will also give them answers to questions that, frankly, they may not even know to ask yet.

There are a number of innovations in Mishkan HaNefesh that we talk about in Divrei,  including the additional Torah portions that we’ve included that have never been included in a High Holy Day prayerbook and why, and also some ideas for how one might write a sermon about that. There are certainly things that we couldn’t include in the actual machzor. So Divrei is a bridge to the machzor that helps people plan and execute their worship services and experiences.

Q: Divrei is split into three parts: Commentary, Essays, and Indexes and Tables. What is different about the content of Divrei versus the content of Mishkan HaNefesh?

A: When it comes to Divrei, one thing that’s very important to understand is that it is not full of commentary on the machzor or the High Holy Days because Mishkan HaNefesh itself has a lot of commentary in it. The point was not to create another book that models or reflects that, but to create additional material. I use an ancient commentator– Rashi’s explanation, what he included in his commentary on the Bible: “I am only adding what cries out, what cries out, ‘Explain me.’”

The book isn’t very long because we’re not trying to recreate the wheel. The first part of the book includes commentary that does not already appear in Mishkan HaNefesh. If something is already in the machzor, it is not repeated. The second part of the book includes more in-depth essays by myself and the other editors who were involved in the creation of the machzor so that one can gain a little more in-depth understanding of what the book is trying to accomplish. And there’s an amazing section at the end with all sorts of indexes that will really help people who need to find something in the machzor very quickly, in addition to giving them a lot more technical insight.

Q: This book is full of information pertaining to the new machzor, including background information concerning the perspective and choices of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh, as well as extra material that isn’t found in the machzor. Who is the intended audience of this book?

A: Divrei Mishakn HaNefesh can be for anyone who wants to learn more about the High Holy Days. It can be for anyone who wants to learn more about Mishkan HaNefesh. It’s not only for the people who will be “driving the experience,” the rabbis and cantors and other people who will be leading the worship, but for anyone who will use the new prayerbook and wants to enhance their understanding of the High Holy Days.

View the Table of Contents

Read more about Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor

Order Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh

Edwin Goldberg, DHL, is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago, editor of Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor, and coordinating editor of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.


Paradoxes in Israel 2016

Today is February 29, a leap day and plot device in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, Pirates of Penzance. In the story, Young Frederic is forced to be a pirate, but is allowed to give up this despicable occupation when he turns twenty-one. However, when on his twenty-first birthday, he goes to the pirate lair to declare his independence, the pirate king has an ingenious paradox to share with Frederic: Because of your birthday, Frederic is only five years old! So, no, he is not allowed to stop being a pirate.

My recent trip to Israel, courtesy of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, has shown me many paradoxes in Israel.

For starters, despite the new age of terror in the streets of Jerusalem, Israelis are enjoying life more than ever before. One day I went wine and beer tasting in the Ellah Valley, near Jerusalem. It could have been the Loire Valley!

In addition, despite all the bitterness of the Palestinian plight, I visited a model Palestinian city, Rawabi, in the middle of the West Bank, where a 21st century oasis of order and beauty is taken shape.

More meaningful to me is the contrast between my Israeli Reform youth trip leader, back in 1979, expressing his frustration to me that whenever he mentioned Reform Judaism to young people in Israel, they just laughed at him. Last week, this troop leader, Rabbi Danny Freelander – now the head of the World Union for Progressive Judaism – spoke at the K’nesset and no one was laughing.

Kotel serviceFinally, praying with men and woman together at the Kotel last Thursday morning, while a female colleague read from the Torah, reflects the biggest paradox of all: Reform Judaism in Israel is now seen as a solution to many who want religion without sacrificing modern values and sensitivities. At the same time, it is becoming a huge problem to the Ultra-Orthodox who see their absolute control of matters religious in Israel challenged and even endangered.

The biggest paradox will be if we serious Reform Jews do not continue to build on our victories and push for the recognition and support Reform Jews require and need to transform Israeli society. As the Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv said, adding her voice to the many Members of K’nesset, the President of Israel, and the Prime Minister of Israel: Israel is counting on us.

It’s time to take a leap!

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago and is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.


General CCAR High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh Rabbis

Opening the Sacred Envelope: The Joy of Seeing Mishkan HaNefesh Being Used

Some weeks ago I was sitting in a synagogue in the Upper East Side of New York on a beautiful May morning, listening to the beautiful words of Rosh HaShanah liturgy set to music during the Hava T’filah seminar for rabbis and cantors. Even the sound of the shofar pierced the air as a clergy team shared their model service with the group. In the very capable hands of the clergy and musicians of Temple Israel, eighty rabbis and cantors had gathered to pray the Rosh Hashanah Evening Service from the new CCAR Machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh. Yes, it was artificial by design. But it was real worship and so it was gratifying to see the book come to life.

Temple IsraelAs has been stated many times, Mishkan HaNefesh calls upon worship leaders to omit much of the service (there is enough material for many years) so that every choice you  make is important. I call this the Trader Joe’s method. If you walk into Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, Chicago, you can get lost – there are way too many choices. Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, has just a few items in every category. By design, Mishkan HaNefesh is Whole Foods, offering you many options, but the worship service itself has to be Trader Joe’s. (Do not use this analogy on Yom Kippur).

The experience of the Rosh HaShanah service at Hava T’filah reminded me that the worship experience is very different than just the machzor itself. By all means embrace the machzor when preparing for the Days of Awe. But focus on the experience of the Days of Awe, allowing the machzor to be a sacred implement in your creation of the experience.

The great Bible scholar Uriel Simon once taught, in connection with Joseph, that a dream not interpreted is like an envelope not opened and a letter unread. I would argue that a machzor not employed in worship is the same.

What a pleasure it was to witness this sacred envelope being opened!


High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh Rabbis

Inside Mishkan HaNefesh: Doing it Right or Doing it Well?

At one point in the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore lets Harry know that there will come a time when he has to choose between what is right and what looks easy.  The point he is making is that Voldemort chose the easy over the right; of course Harry should do the opposite.  The right choice is clearly the moral one.

When it comes to the creation of Mishkan HaNefesh, the editors were instructed by Rabbi Larry Hoffman to consider a different choice, but one that will have its detractors on either side.  In short, when it comes to relevant liturgy we have to choose between doing it right or doing it well.  As explained in his piece in the summer 2013 CCAR Journal, rightness is about following the rules.  Doing it well is responding to the experience of the worshiper.  Of course, the alterations from the rules need not be radical.  We don’t need to declare Et laasot l’adonai and for the sake of God overturn everything, but we must practice common sense.

I thought of this as I remembered looking at the traditional Yom Kippur liturgy and omitting countless repetitions of the Thirteen Midot.  Now, I think the Thirteen Midot are about as fundamental a text to the Days of Awe as anything.  I am just okay not having it repeat more than five or six times in a given day.

What are some more subtle examples of how the editors omitted sometimes important prayers in order to privilege more important pieces?  Understanding that there is a limit to how much any given volume can contain, as well as our commitment to an integrated theology along with two-page spreads, the choices were not easy but they were necessary.  So for instance, the Torah services in Mishkan HaNefesh omit some verses such as Ki Mitzion.  We have nothing against this declaration.  We just needed to cut somewhere.  The same was true of Gates of Repentance.  They cut out Genesis 21.  We were not prepared to lose that again.

We also don’t have the full traditional verses of the Sh’ma everytime.  There are many beautiful piyyutim that are not included.  The Torah and Haftarah portions feature very limited commentary.  We would like to offer more in a supplemental book.

Not including things is not easy.  We take comfort in knowing that many congregations will avail themselves of screen technology, if not today then in the future, and omissions can be corrected on the screens, or with the old standby, handouts.  It is not ideal but then we could only produce a sacred tool to help present effective and meaningful worship.  There will never be a “just add water” prayer book.

An old sermon title has a great name: “Steering or Drifting, Which?” The editors of Mishkan HaNefesh wrestled with a different but potent dilemma, “Doing it Right or Doing it Well, Which?”  It is an art, not a science, and we are humbled by the task.

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago and is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Inside Mishkan HaNefesh: A Letter to My Younger Self

What follows is a hypothetical letter written after this coming Yom Kippur to myself.

Dear Myself from Three Months Ago,

As I munch my Yom Kippur break-the-fast madeleine, I recall the past ten days with joy that so much about praying with the new machzor went well.  But I also feel some regret, and a bit of the subjunctive mood sits in.  If only I had known three months ago, when preparing for the Days of Awe, what I now have discovered having used it.  So I am writing this to you in hopes that, through some wrinkle in the space-time continuum, you get this before it is too late and can prepare properly.

Here are Ten Things, in no particular order, I wish I had known about Mishkan HaNefesh before these High Holy Days:

  • The Hashkiveinu in the evening services restores Shomreinu to Malkeinu. After all this is the time of year for the sovereign side of God to be highlighted.
  • The Kaddish restores the High Holy Day ul-eila mikol. It’s the same matter of privileging the transcendent as above.
  • The Uvchein restores the image of the Sparks of David, not as a literal progenitor of the Messiah but a symbol of messianic hope.
  • The Kaddish Yatom inclues now kol yoshvei teiveil, in keeping with our historic Reform value of universalism and in recognition of the worth of all humanity.
  • HaMelech HaYosheiv is now correctly HaMelech Yosheiv, the proper phrasing for the High Holy Days.
  • Page 207 of Yom Kippur has Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire as a commentary to Unetaneh Tokef.
  • Page 243 of Rosh Hashanah adds to the Akedah verses about Abraham’s brother’s great progeny back in the old country. This is another test of Abraham’s faith.  He sacrificed everything for one son, whereas Nahor stayed put and was blessed with so many.
  • There is a great midrash (Pesikta drav Kahana 24:1) on Cain repenting and receiving a reduction in punishment from God.
  • Page 607 of Yom Kippur features a great transition from Yizkor to N’ilah:

Set me as a seal (chotam) upon your heart, for love is strong as deathSong of Songs 8:6Love stronger than death leads to the “seal” motif of N’ilah.

  • The Prayer for Our Country for Canada contains French.

Bonus Insight: The Al Cheyts are different than in GOR.  Wish I had known that!

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg is the rabbi of  Temple Sholom of Chicago and is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh

High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Why Is the Shofar Service in Three Sections in Mishkan HaNefesh?

With Mishkan HaNefesh now close to being published, the decision regarding the Shofar sections made by the editors many years ago, and piloted for many a season, is naturally coming under review by colleagues.  The responses range from, “So excited” to “Wait, what is going on with the shofar service?”  It therefore seemed like a good time to review why we made this choice and why it has been so popular in the piloting – and why you should be excited about it.

As you will see when you open Mishkan HaNefesh, each service has a certain theme that we focus on throughout the liturgy.  The point is not to reduce a complex, theologically rich and poetically vibrant worship service to a slogan.  We do wish to privilege a certain message, however, because there are certain themes that ground the worship service.  As an example, if you can reduce a sermon to one essential sentence (which many homiletics professors suggest) that does not mean the rest of the sermon is redundant verbiage.IMG_2402

Early on in the creation of the machzor, the editors looked at Rosh HaShanah morning and decided that there is a particular symbolic act that permeates the whole morning.  Like synecdoche in literature, the one thing represents something far greater.  For us – and quite possible for you – that is the sounding of the shofar.  But it is more than the sound; it is the liturgy surrounding the shofar sounding.  And more in particular, it is the tripartite themes of malchyuot (Sovereignty), zichronot (Remembrance) and shofarot.

Reform Judaism did away with the musaf service on Rosh HaShanah (and everywhere else) long ago but kept the practice of the three shofar sections.  The editors of Mishkan HaNefesh realized that these themes and the sounding of the shofar could be developed and dramatized in a pervasive way by splitting the three sections into three different places in the worship service, each positioned in some logical place.  After experimentation during the piloting phase, we settled on the following: malchuyot would come in the Amidah, following the M’loch declaration.  Zichronot would follow the scriptural readings, including God remembering Sarah and Hannah.  And Shofarot would precede the closing prayers and the redemptive message of the second part of the Aleinu – l’taken olam b’malkhut Shadai.

Dividing the shofar sections means the congregation can spend more time with each theme.  Chevruta, musical selections, min-sermons, iyyunim, much can be innovated.  Or not.  The choice is up to the worship leaders.  One could even decide to feature the three sections one after the other if preferred.

When the editors first introduced this model of separating the three sections of the Shofar liturgy and blasts, it was admittedly met with some skepticism.  Because we were in the early piloting phase at that point, we decided to give it a try and evaluate after the piloting.  The feedback was so overwhelmingly positive about the way in which it impacted on the overall feel, flow, and meaningfulness of the service, even from those who had been the most resistant, that we chose to maintain this innovation.

Mishkan HaNefesh is not so easy for worship leaders not because it restricts choice.  Quite the contrary.  Because there are so many choices. Depending on the choices you make, these three shofar sections can become high points throughout the Rosh HaShanah morning service.

You should know that, in addition to the three shofar sections, the shofar also can be sounded earlier in the service as well as the night before.  These are possible soundings to once again focus on the prime imagery of the day.  Like the rest of the book, the idea is not to do everything.  Rather it is to decide what matters most for you and your congregation and employ the machzor in that endeavor.

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom in Chicago, and part of the editorial team of Mishkan HaNefesh.

Machzor Mishkan haNefesh Prayer Rabbis

Do Not Adjust Your Machzor! It’s Not a Mistake

With Mishkan HaNefesh, the new Reform machzor, reaching the public for the first time, it is natural that some of the differences between its Hebrew text and Gates of Repentance will confuse some readers. The purpose of this blog, and others to follow, is to explain the differences. They are not mistakes.

For instance, Gates of Repentance, includes the declaration HaMelekh HaYosheiv shortly before the Bar’chu, an apt statement for the Days of Awe. Ironically, such words are also found in the Shabbat liturgy. The more appropriate rendering for the Days of Awe is HaMelekh Yosheiv. There is something more immediate about this declaration. It reminds me of Rabbi Alan Lew (z”l) who entitled his book on the Days of Awe, This is Real and You are Totally Unprepared. Mishkan HaNefesh restores this more
HaMelechtraditional statement, dropping the second definite marker.

Another change deals with the words said at the beginning of the Selichot prayers on Yom Kippur. We are accustomed to asking God for forgiveness, although we are not stiff-necked to deny our culpability. This makes no sense. It’s like observing that “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Of course you can. The proper statement is, “You can’t eat your cake and have it too.” Likewise, the declaration should be “We are so stiff-necked.” That’s why we are in need of forgiveness. Hence, the Hebrew now reads, “Anachnu azei fanim….” and not “She-ein anachnu azei fanim.” We have removed the illogical “ein” [not].

Our correction actually reflects the version in the 9th century Seder Rav Amram. The original Amram version says, “We are in fact so stiff necked as to maintain that we are righteous and have not sinned, but we have sinned.” In other words, we are actually so arrogant as to want to maintain the fiction of being perfectly righteous and never sinning, but actually, we really have sinned. It then follows naturally that we should confess.

Rabbi Larry Hoffman, a great source of help on matters such as this gap between logic and our received tradition, suspects the additional word, “ein,” [not] crept in over time because people were hesitant to say that we are indeed all that arrogant. They preferred saying “we are not so arrogant” as to maintain that we have not sinned.

The editors and proofreaders consulted many different machzorim, noting variants in the text. In many cases, the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh have followed the Ernst Daniel Goldschmidt version of the traditional machor when there have been questions of the best text to use. Goldschmidt (1895–1972) was a liturgical scholar who created what are considered authoritative critical editions of liturgical texts including the machzor. These changes may also cause some confusion for readers of Mishkan HaNefesh, especially in relation to Gates of Repentance. Each of these choices reflects the desire on the part of the editors to render the most faithful version of the tradition.

So back to mistakes. Yes, there surely are some mistakes in Mishkan HaNefesh. We used some of the top, most thorough Hebrew-English proofreaders in the country. Even so, the new machzor is a human endeavor and as such, it is necessarily imperfect. As with every book, we will correct mistakes in subsequent printing. But much of what might at first glance seem like a mistake is in fact a careful, intentional choice.

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago and is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.

Israel Rabbis Reform Judaism

Reflections and Concerns Upon Returning from Israel

I returned this morning from a week in Israel. I had planned to, under the auspices of AIPAC and with 17 other “progressive” rabbis (AIPAC’s term) see first-hand the multitudes of ways that Israel society is coping and excelling despite its continued security and societal challenges. Of course, what I got was a very different trip. I missed the first day due to a funeral back in Chicago. What I saw after that was a series of meetings with people of various backgrounds; the common word for all of them was that the situation is complicated. We met with a Palestinian demographer, GLBT activists, various professors, statesmen and community activists. Because of the war with Gaza there was much that we could not do, or at the very least there were many places we could not visit. Instead, we got to hear sirens, warning that Hamas missiles were incoming. We rushed to bomb shelters or stairwells. It all reminded me of a visit to Israel in late 2000, with the Second Intifada underway. The only difference was this time, thanks to the Iron Dome, the terror wasn’t really terror (at least for those not in the south). The terror was inconvenient. Which is to say it didn’t feel like terror at all.

Gaza security fence.
Gaza security fence.

My concern is for those with children, who cannot be so cavalier about the “they incompetently shoot missiles and if they are actually coming close by we zap them with Iron Dome”. My concern is for the soldiers, like my nephew, who may have to go into Gaza. And my concern is that the violence will not end soon. I came on the trip already believing that American Jews should support Israel much more than they should speak out against Israel. Actually I don’t think they should speak out at all. Unless they make aliyah of course, then be my guest. But I am grateful that Israelis themselves see the bigger picture. Most of those with whom we spoke will not give up hope that some agreement can be worked out.

On our last day (yesterday, actually) we visited a small hospital in Safed. This is a place with doctors and nurses of all religions and ethnic groups, including of course Jewish. For a year and a half they have been treating hundreds of Syrians who make their way to the board. We met with a three year old who was shot in the leg and who is getting excellent treatment. His father was the first Syrian I had ever met. I know he will always be grateful for the menshlikheit of the Jews and Arabs who saved his boy’s leg, if not his life.

One final thought, translated by me from the Hebrew of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s press conference last Friday: Hamas uses civilians to cover their missiles. Israel uses missiles to protect their civilians. That’s the difference.

I cannot wait to return to Israel, hopefully in a time of quiet and opportunity for peace. In the mean time I come away with even greater respect for Israel, a country that, in the words of Dr. Donniel Hartman, wants to be Scandinavia but is stuck in the Middle East.