Categories
Healing High Holy Days

We Cannot Breathe Until All People Can Breathe

I have lived in Louisville, Kentucky for over ten years, working on countless projects with the mayor’s office, the Louisville Metro Police Department, and even the FBI, to try to bring healing, justice, and peace to this city. It is therefore with profound sadness, horror, rage, and disgust that I watch what is unfolding in this “city of possibility,” that crowned itself as “compassionate.”

My current work in Louisville—as Director for Program Development with Interfaith Paths to Peace—has led me to support the interfaith peace-making and justice-seeking efforts in this city. Clergy of all faiths have been intervening to de-escalate tensions between police and protesters, often inserting themselves between them to protect their right to peacefully demonstrate.

What small shreds of hope we still had were crushed by the announcement of the Attorney General that no charges would be made against the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor. The double standard of the law is glaring, and the city is grieving. Because of the forced curfew, those grieving are being arrested for exercising their right to protest because of a curfew that is imposed to perpetuate the stereotype that people of color are dangerous, when the last several months have demonstrated that they were peaceful and supported by clergy from across the community. 

Squelched grief has become a ticket to a non-socially isolated jail and fines that perpetuate debt and social inequality. It is just too overwhelming to see the glaring contrast between the ease with which a protester, clergy or lay, can be arrested and the inability to indict a police officer that turns off his camera, falsifies documents, and shoots a woman dead in her home for just sleeping.

And so, here we are, approaching Yom Kippur, reflecting upon our sins and the need to atone—our rabbis teach that we should confess our sins in the plural because even if not all committed the crime, all are guilty for not trying to stop it—and so it is. We confess—ashamnu. We have sinned.

We sin as a nation when we call ourselves a democracy but maintain an electoral college that was created to perpetuate slavery and the belief that people of color should not have the same voting power as white people.

We sin as a nation when we continue to enslave people of color… when this nation continues to target them and imprison them so that they can work without pay to fuel the profits of our privatized prison system and the corporations that derive profit thanks to the slavery amendment of our constitution.

We participate in the sin of slavery every time we buy something from any of the countless companies that rely upon unpaid prison labor.

Today, in between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we collectively confess our sins: the sins of this nation, for each of us who vote and pay taxes in this country and in this city, each of us are responsible for what is happening.

And today we affirm that we all share responsibility for our current reality—and as clergy we decry our continued complicity with these sins. And today, we join our brothers and sisters of all faiths, to publicly confess these sins and to reclaim the prophetic voice that calls upon us all to atone, make amends, and work for justice, peace, reconciliation, and a new start where all human beings are recognized as created in the Divine Image.

As we approach Yom Kippur, who amongst us can say that we have not sinned? 

Each of us has contributed in some way to the rapidly growing weight of our nation’s collective sins.

For the sin of children in cages and mothers with forced sterilizations.

For the sin of police officers who murder and are only sometimes held accountable if someone is videotaping.

For the sin of thousands upon thousands of deaths due to a virus that we have collectively refused to manage appropriately.

For the sin of destroying this Earth that was given to us to safeguard.

For all these sins and more, we confess—we are guilty.

Our sins continue to be an alphabet of woe, and this week, we add another shocking sin.

For the sin of failing to indict or charge officers who turned off their cameras, falsified documents, and murdered Breonna Taylor: we confess—ashamnu.

For the sin of remaining silent and failing to use tochecha to rebuke our brothers and sisters who support policies that perpetuate the systemic racism that leaves each of us with blood on our hands.

For all these sins and more, we confess our guilt and ask for Your help in making amends and working to atone and be worthy of forgiveness.

Our hearts break as we watch the consequences of our failure to act and our willingness to accept our divisions…our hearts break as we see what happens when we choose “shalom bayit” (to keep the peace) rather than to speak out against injustice.

We cannot breathe under the growing weight of our collective sins. We cannot breathe alongside our brothers and sisters. We cannot breathe until all people can breathe. Until all people can sleep soundly in their homes without worrying that their tax-funded dollars will pay for police officers to come and kill them in the middle of the night and not get charged.

This Yom Kippur may we confess, atone, and begin the difficult work of making amends, seeking justice, and becoming worthy of forgiveness.

Our rabbis have taught us to kindle light where there is darkness. As we grieve the darkness that continues to thicken and suffocate us all—let us find the strength to kindle light.

Blessed is the Source of Light who made us holy with commandments and ethical principles and who commands us to kindle light in the darkness.

Here in Louisville, we have begun a new interfaith ritual that I pray will radiate out into our country. In the midst of our communal brokenness and with our diverse experiences and perspectives we invite you to hold our city, and indeed our nation, in prayer, presence, and love.

The flame represents our common humanity and the different candles our unique expressions of its light. Since Wednesday, September 23rd and through the election season, we are asking everyone at 8:00 PM to light a candle and stand at a street corner in their neighborhood, or outside their home, or from their window to light a candle of hope and as an expression of love and healing prayer.

May each of us, enveloped in despair and rage, draw strength from these lights, kindled across our nation, and may this Light inspire us to rise up with the righteous and prophetic rage that needs to be expressed and channeled into the work of justice and healing.

May this new year usher forth the healing, peace, and justice for which we all pray, and may our prayers inspire us to act and make amends. 

Rabbi Dr. Nadia Siritsky, MSSW, BCC, is Director of Program Development and Engagement at Interfaith Paths to Peace in Louisville, Kentucky.

Categories
High Holy Days

Un’taneh Tokef for 5781

Let these words of our prayers ascend
As we stand embodied, virtual, in our homes, on this screen, alone, together.

Knowing You are God, not knowing what that means…
We proclaim the sacred power of this day,
The sacred power of the shofar’s blast,
The power of the internet connecting us 
While the power of an infinitesimally small virus reshapes the meaning of what human power can and cannot do…
It is awesome and full of dread. 

Our prayers proclaim: You are Judge. You inscribe and seal.
This year we say: We are judged by our own choices, fates sealed by our actions. 
Will we remember all that we have forgotten? 
Will we remember civility and respect, conversation and kindness?
Will we remember the dignity of personal responsibility, the privileges and obligations of belonging to a community?
Can we awaken in time to our own soul truth: that every moment bears the promise, the opportunity of t ‘shuvah, of choice, of change, of return?
What will fill our Book of Memories in this year to come, when so much is still possible?

A Great Shofar will cry–t’kiah!
A still small voice will be heard.
But will we hear it? Will angels tremble? Will we, with our better angels, tremble? Will we awaken to wisdom and compassion? Or will we remain like slumbering sheep? 

On Rosh HaShanah it is written; on the Fast of Yom Kippur it is sealed:
How many will pass away from this world; how many will be born into it.
How many of us will rise with compassion; how many of us will drift into numbness.
How many will be stricken with a novel virus; how many will be thrust into novel life paths.
Who will reach across barriers with love, and who will have barriers hurled upon them?
Who will recognize the ways life has given them advantages, and who will help others gain advantage?
Who will fall in love, and who will stumble in hate?
Who will find new perspectives, and who will see the world through a prism of banality?
Which book will you write yourself into this new year?
We have this as our guide: Tzedakah is the route of connection to others. T’filah is the route of connection to Source. And Tshuvah, is connection to the root of the soul[1]. These are the ways we choose life. These are the ways we choose love. These are the ways we choose You.

Rabbi Annie Belford has served Houston’s Temple Sinai since 2009 as Houston’s first full-time female solo pulpit rabbi. She is the mother of three amazing souls, loves visiting our National Parks, and is a proud member of the CCAR Committee for Worship and Practice. 

Rabbi Debra Kassoff has made her rabbinic career primarily in Mississippi, first at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life and since 2010 with Hebrew Union Congregation, which she originally served as student rabbi, in a previous century. She is also the new Director of Member Engagement for Mississippi Public Broadcasting Foundation. She lives in Jackson with her family.


[1] Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, Orot HaTeshuvah

Categories
High Holy Days

God Knows Us by Name

God numbers the stars; God calls them each by name. (Psalm 147:4)

Imagine that. The vast numbers of stars, the infinite number of them, not just in our night sky, in our Milky Way, but beyond—star after star after star. They are not mere dots in a dark sky to God. They are individual lights, each special in the eyes of the Holy One. How much more, then, are we, created in God’s own image, b’tzelem Elohim, בצלם אלוהים, important to God as who we are. Each person, with our quirks and talents, our strengths and our sins, each of us, unique before God, named and beloved.

My friend Gino grew up on a small farm. She tells me that when you know sheep from the time of birth, you can tell them apart. It’s like looking at a group of dogs of the same breed, she explained; if your dog is among them, or if they are all your dogs, you would see their individuality, to call them by name. 

I asked her about this because I’ve been thinking about the Un’taneh Tokef, the prayer we read during the High Holy Days. It is often thought of as ominous: “On Rosh HaShanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” Part of the reason it might frighten us is its pure honesty: “Who will pass on and how many will be created; who will live and who will die?” The reality is that every year, babies will be born and some of us, whether gathered in shul saying these words or in the larger world, will die. Everyone who is born will someday die. And this prayer makes us face that awe-full truth.

The Un’taneh Tokef describes the underlying metaphor of the Days of Awe: the Book of Life. “May you be written for a good and sweet year,” Jews wish one another at the New Year. What is this Book?  God remembers everything, the Un’taneh Tokef proclaims, even that which has been forgotten by humans, by those of us whose memories God is keeping for us. God will open our book of memories and read. There is no escaping our past; there is a Book of Life for each of us, and it bears the signature of every human being.    

“All who enter the world will pass before You like sheep. As a shepherd searches for his flock, and has his sheep pass under his staff, so too will You record and recount and review all living beings as You have them pass by. And You will decide the end of all creatures, and write down their sentence.”

Scary stuff, indeed.

But the image of God as shepherd suggests otherwise. God as judge, as prosecutor, suggests a Divine urge to judge us. God as shepherd, however, is a Holy One who wishes to care for us, each of us in our foolishness and wayward behavior. What is the point of the shepherd’s staff? To make sure that no lamb goes astray, gets lost in the field or wilderness. God’s staff is there to ensure that each of us is included. 

God as “author and sealer, recorder and recounter” might also be less judgmental than traditionally understood. Perhaps our Book of Life might be like a journal, kept for a class. Each year, God takes each of us aside, and reviews our progress. “How’s it going?,” God asks us. “No, really. I know you’ve been working on being more honest in your relationships. Any trouble there?,” God might say. Or, “How is your energy being split between work and family? I know they are both important to you.”

This is a time to look honestly at ourselves: our goals, our failings, our hopes, our regrets. This is God as a Teacher, a Coach, a Parent, putting an arm around us and saying, “Let’s look at your life together. How might it be better? I, God, the Holy One of the world, am here to help.” “For you want them to turn from their path and live.”

If God knows the stars by name, God certainly knows me. Not just my name, but me. The Divine knows the divinity in me, and the not-so-divine. At the turning of the year, God warns us not just that some will die, but that most will live—and how? Can we accept God’s guidance to return to ourselves through repentance, turn to God through prayer, and reach out to others through righteous action. These will not prevent us from dying, but will show us how to live, how to attain a good name, a name that God will be honored to pronounce. 


Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado. She may be reached at ravsjcohen@gmail.com.

Categories
High Holy Days News

Rabbi Hara Person’s High Holy Day Message to CCAR Members

As CCAR members prepare to celebrate the High Holy Days and lead services safely distanced but spiritually connected to their communities during the coronavirus pandemic, Rabbi Hara Person shares her gratitude for their deep commitment to strengthening the Reform community.


As these really strange High Holy Days approach, I keep thinking about that Baal Shem Tov story about going into the forest, finding just the right place, and the right prayer, and lighting the fire, and saving the people from danger. And how every subsequent generation loses a little bit of original ritual but it’s still enough.

Together, we are writing the next chapter of that story, in which, many, many years later, our people once again face incredible danger.

In this new story, it wasn’t clear what to do at first. The elders recalled bits and pieces of old stories, but there were many conflicting versions and no concrete direction. The rabbi didn’t know what to do and so she had to figure it out as best she could. There was no longer a forest—it had long ago been turned into a suburban development and a sprawling mall. As for the special prayers, those hadn’t been part of the rabbinic school curriculum when she was a student. And she couldn’t light a fire, as no one wanted to risk starting another wildfire. So the rabbi wove together the bits of the different stories she had heard, and talked to her wise colleagues who offered ideas and suggestions, and brought together the community.

Because of the great danger, they were spread out in many different places, each person participating in the service remotely through a computer. She told them the story of the past as best she could, and offered up prayers. The community participated with open hearts, and their fervent hopes for a better future reached right from their souls up to the heavens. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t way things had been done in the past. But it was enough.

What we’re doing this year, no matter how different it is from the past, is enough. All the planning you’re doing, all the incredibly hard work you’re doing to make these holidays happen, to keep your community connected, and to take care of them, is enough. Everything you’re doing to take care of yourself, and to take care of those you love, is enough. 

These High Holy Days are going to be different than ever before. They definitely won’t look like the Holy Days of yesterday. But that’s okay. We’re adapting to the present. Despite the strangeness of this experience, you’re still opening up your heart and creating space for others to open theirs. You’re enabling people to gather in creative and virtual ways. You’re helping them speak the yearnings of their souls. Yes, it will be different, but because of your careful work, it will still feel familiar and comforting.

It’s a lot. It’s really a lot. If you’re feeling exhausted and wrung out from all of this, you’re not alone.

Thank you for facing this moment with courage, creativity, and hope.

Thank you for pouring the best of yourself into making these upcoming Holy Days the best they can be under the circumstances.

Thank you for what you are doing to strengthen our community and our people at this difficult time, in all the many ways you are doing so.

Thank you for caring for our college students, our elderly, our sick, our youngest, our newest, our noisiest, our quietest, our bravest, and our most afraid.

Thank you to those just starting your rabbinic careers in a way that no one could have predicted, thank you to those for whom this will be the last time leading High Holy Day services, and thank you for those in retirement for being role models, mentors, and cheerleaders as we navigate unfamiliar terrain. 

Thank you for being part of our rabbinic community, for supporting each other throughout this time, for sharing your ideas and your concerns, your resources and your love.

And thank you for doing all this while balancing your own families and loved ones, perhaps schooling and playing with your children, caring for your parents and other family members, maybe dealing with the loneliness and isolation of distancing, trying to take care of your own health and wellbeing, dealing with fears and anxiety about your financial security and livelihood, perhaps mourning those you’ve lost, the tremendous turmoil of postponed or radically different life cycle events, no summer camp, cancelled plans, and that doesn’t even cover it.

I’m going to end, therefore, with a plea—once the holidays are behind us, please make time to recover. Take time to replenish your souls and nurture yourself. Please take care not only of those you serve and those you love, but also of yourself.

The forest, the fire, the prayers are all being reinvented this year, and how lucky we are to have your leadership in doing so in such a myriad of ways. And it is indeed enough.

L’Shanah Tovah.

Rabbi Hara Person is the Chief Executive of the CCAR.

Categories
High Holy Days Social Justice

Hearing the Shofar As a Wake-Up Call is a Sign of Our Privilege

This Elul, a group of Maine rabbis have been posting videos of shofar soundings from across the state. Many of us are talking about the shofar as a wake-up call. An alarm bell. A reminder that the holidays are coming.

The implication, of course, to waking up at the sound of the shofar is that we need a reminder. A reminder of what is broken in our world. A reminder of how we ourselves have fallen short. A reminder that we had better get to work, because Rosh HaShanah is coming. The need for a reminder implies that we live through the rest of the year with the privilege to forget the pain and suffering that exists in the world. The ways that we as a people, as a society, have gone astray. The need to hear the shofar means that we have been able to close our eyes.

The killing of George Floyd, and more recently the shooting of Jacob Blake, are a shofar sound calling us to attention. But, the shofar has been wailing continuously for years, for decades, for centuries, we just have not heard it. As Jacob Blake’s sister, Letetra Widman said, “So many people have reached out to me saying they’re sorry that this has been happening to my family. Well don’t be sorry because this has been happening to my family for a long time, longer than I can account for. It happened to Emmett Till, Emmett Till is my family. It happened to Philando, Mike Brown, Sandra.”

As the powerful lynching memorial in Montgomery, with its hanging steel rectangles reminiscent of coffins reminds us, we don’t know the names of all those who were murdered. The slaves who were bought and sold and beaten to death were known by name to their families and friends, but their names are unknown to us today. We have the luxury of needing the shofar to wake us up.

When the murder of George Floyd ripped through our national consciousness like the blast of a shofar, I, like so many concerned white people, went to a Black Lives Matter protest. I wore my social justice tallit, the one made by members of my congregation with colorful quotes about equality and justice. My family and I listened to speakers and marched and held up our signs. And then, like so many others across the country, we lay on the ground in silence for eight minutes and forty six seconds. The time it took George Floyd to suffocate to death. As I lay there on the pavement, next to my seven-year-old son, I was powerfully reminded of the Grand Aleinu on Yom Kippur. During that holy time of the year I bow on the ground, face down, before the Holy One blessed be God, who spread out the heavens and established the Earth. It is a voluntary act of humility. A reminder that there is something bigger than myself in this world. I need that reminder, because my heart doesn’t catch in my throat every time I see a police officer, because I don’t worry about my safety when I walk through the trails in my neighborhood, because I don’t have to remind my children of how to act respectfully before they leave the house each day.  Choosing to be reminded, choosing to lie face down, comes from privilege and is born out of the willful ignorance of the day to day lives of others.

Shofarot: A Prayer for Righteous Anger, from Mishkan HaNefesh

Misery for breakfast;
morning coffee with the news of distant deaths –
because someone’s always suffering,
and there’s bound to be a crisis raging somewhere,
or a quieter catastrophe
barely at the threshold of our notice.
We’re accustomed to the feeling
of something going wrong.
Like static in the background,
tuned out so we can get on with our day.
And it’s just the same as yesterday
and nothing can be done;
so there’s not much point
in getting too upset.

But if something were to shock us
like a baby’s piercing wail or a fire bell in the night,
like a punch in the stomach
or a puncture in the eardrum,
like a savage call to conscience
or a frantic cry for help –
would we scream like a shofar
and get mad enough to act?
“When a ram’s horn is sounded in a city do the people not take alarm?”

So let us get mad.
Let us scream.
Let us be punched in the stomach.
Let us end, for once, without a nechemta.



After ordination, Rabbi Asch worked as a community organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation. She currently serves as the rabbi of Temple Beth El in Augusta, Maine and Assistant Director of the Center for Small Town Jewish Life. Rabbi Asch serves as Vice President for Leadership on the CCAR Board of Trustees.

Categories
High Holy Days

Seeking Anew

I never thought this would happen again.

Five years ago, after my congregation received the newly published Mishkan HaNefesh, I made it my mission to carefully evaluate every page to determine what prayers, songs, and meditations would speak to the souls of my congregants. I relished evaluating the exquisite reflections and poems and marveled at the stirring interpretations and commentaries.

This appraisal process was mostly exhilarating thought I admit at times it also was exhausting. Such a bounty in the machzor required discernment in selecting elements for each service that would be elevating and inspiring. 

Once I finally determined the scope of every Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur service, I unexpectedly felt sad. I thought I would never again have the opportunity to begin the High Holy Days with such an open mind and spirit.

Such has been the case for the Yamim Noraim for the past four years. Sure, I tinkered with the order of prayers; pruning some readings and changing some melodies, but the scope of each service was largely unchanged.

Not this year. Not with the pandemic and the impossibility of gathering in our sanctuary. Not with livestreaming and the necessity of reimagining every aspect of the High Holy Days 

The themes for the Days of Awe are timeless: celebration, self-examination, repentance, forgiveness, transformation, and renewal. But we are living in a time of pervasive anxiety and uncertainty about our present and future.

So, just like in 2015, I am compelled to start fresh. I am putting aside my well-used copies of Mishkan HaNefesh and looking only at an unmarked machzor; searching again for the prayers, poems, and reflections that will embrace and uplift my congregation.

Despite the pandemic, and in spite of the effort it takes to reimagine our High Holy Day services, I am thankful for this opportunity. For in beginning anew, I become a seeker once again. I have trust that the rich expressions of spiritual yearning in Mishkan HaNefesh will guide the hearts of my congregants. 

I am strengthened by Larry Hoffman’s exhortation in a June webinar for our rabbinic chevrah to have faith in ourselves; to have confidence in our ability to seize this moment and create meaning for those we serve. To which I say: Amen!  Chazak chazak v’nitchazeik!    


5781 will be Avi Schulman’s fortieth year leading High Holy Day services.  He is the rabbi of Temple Beth Torah in Fremont, California.

Categories
High Holy Days Holiday

Open the Gates: A Reflection during Elul 5781

The month of Elul, leading up to Rosh HaShanah, is a time of increased soul-searching and God-searching. Traditionally, it is also a time when we draw closer to those we love, those we have hurt, and those we want to celebrate the New Year with. As this year, 2020, brings with it distance instead of closeness, and yearning instead of fulfillment, we tap into prayer to connect with our loved ones, ourselvesand God. Here, Rabbi Nicole Roberts shares a poem about preparing spiritually for the High Holy Days during this unprecedented time.

אדון הרחמים
בשנה הבאה
פתח לנו שער בעת נעילת שער
שערי חיבוקים ושערי פנים מלאים
שערי ביתינו ושערי חברינו
שערי סבא וסבתא ושערי משפחה רחוקה
פתח לנו שער כי אנחנו
רוצים לראות את פניך גם בתפילה
וגם בחיוך של אדם בלי מסכה

Adon haRachamim—dear God of mercy
In the coming year,
P’tach lanu sha’ar, b’et n’ilat sha’ar—
Open the gates for us, open them wide:
The gates to hugs and unmasked faces,
The gates to our homes and tea with a friend,
The gates to visits with grandparents,
And our family overseas.
Open the gates for us, open them wide,
That we may once again see Your face, not only in prayer,
But in the full-faced smiles of those we hold dear.



Rabbi Nicole Roberts serves North Shore Temple Emanuel in New South Wales, Australia.

Categories
High Holy Days

In the Middle of the Night: A High Holy Day Clergy COVID-19 Confession

Can I be honest? In these past months, I have lost more sleep, wrestled with more anxiety, and endured new levels of second-guessing myself, all because the intersection of High Holy Days and the coronavirus pandemic has upended finely honed planning and practices. Where once many of my fellow rabbis and I felt pressure over sermon writing, now, like so many colleagues around the world, we are stressing out over megabytes needed and minutes to cut, and platforms to stream on, and prayers to preserve. And then one late night, this confession came forth. Perhaps it speaks of your truth too:

In the Middle of the Night:
A High Holy Day Clergy COVID-19 Confession

In the middle of the night 
I am feeling the fright
About how to do this right—
My High Holy Days COVID-19 rewrite

Can I be an inspiration?
Will I shine a comforting light?
Will the internet hold up
Providing sufficient megabytes?

Are my kavannot kosher?
Are my stories too trite?
Should we prerecord or livestream
At the temple or offsite

What passions can I convey
From my living room as I sit tight?
What comfort can I bring
Streaming from a distance satellite?

Will I uplift enough souls
To make my community unite?
Will my sermons make them think
Or will they just cause a dogfight?

Can my services really stem
The feared membership flight?
Will my appeal really raise Tzedakah
From each philanthropic socialite?

Did we think it all through
Was our preparation airtight?
Did I fail to strategically plan
Without sufficient foresight?

Will I fall to the virus
The thermometer’s rising Fahrenheit?
Or from something unexpectedly random
Like a West Nile virus mosquito bite?

Have I already ruined Yom Kippur
Like a wayward satellite? 
Will I watch it come crashing down 
Like a fiery meteorite?

Will I later kick myself
With 2020’s hindsight
After I quickly crash and burn-
Oy, I’m getting stage fright

Yes, I’m trying for homeostasis 
To be patient and polite
But my heart’s being attacked
By anxiety’s lymphocyte

So as I ride the rollercoaster
Like a frightened suburbanite
I’m trying to discern the future 
Like a soon-to-be extinct Canaanite

Worrying, when we gather together 
For Rosh Hashanah’s first candlelight
Will my rabbinate already be over
Before I step into the limelight

Like all my clergy friends
I’m trying to breath through the fright
Though the pressure’s overwhelming
For us clerical leading lights

I know our people have the desire 
And a massive spiritual appetite 
So I wonder what else can I bring
During this moment of irreligious blight

What else can I offer
That will make my community delight?
Oy, I’d better calm down
So I don’t seem so uptight

And I’d better get some sleep
Hours after midnight
So I can get up and get working
At the first morning’s light

Just one more thought…
What if… 

My sermons are ready
And the chanting seems right
And the Torah’s all rolled 
And my machzor’s in sight
Will it all be for naught
Even if I get it all right
Because I simply forgot to send
The congregational Zoom invite?

Anxiety, I hate you
But at least you’re my constant friend
I’ll see you every night
Until these High Holy Days end.


Rabbi Paul Kipnes serves Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California.

Categories
High Holy Days Poetry

Hin’ni: Here I Am, The Confession of a Broken Heart

I am here.
I am here.
I stand before the open Ark and
the eternal scrolls of our people
dressed in white light.
I stand ready to enter into the Holy Days,
to offer prayers that urge me
to live better, kinder,
ever present to the pain of others,
to become a compassionate vessel, trustworthy
holding hope in the midst of despair.

Hin’ni
I am here, I am here.
I stand on the edge between earth and heaven,
between what I know and what I can never understand,
between life and life everlasting.
Mortality hovers, a rippling presence,
always there, lingering, waiting, holding.
I am here.

Hin’ni
I am here
I stand resilient, determined,
though I have been taken down,
forced to live a different way.
The rhythm of life has been altered.
Time unfolds and morphs, expands and stands still.
I have been called to be present, to pay attention.
What have I learned?
What have I done with the time I have been given,
glorious time of never-ending possibility?
Have I squandered the beauty, the radiance of life,
an offering to my inner being?

Who am I?
Where have I gone astray?
Am I worthy to pray with my people?
May I be worthy to pray with my people.

Hear my plea,
grant me the faith, courage and wisdom
to enter into cheshbon hanefesh:
the fragility and humility of self-examination.

Hin’ni,
I am here, I am here.
May this fractured heart, softened
and hold love and compassion,
in a way it never has before.

Hin’ni, I am here.


Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation BJBE in the Chicago area and is renown for her creative liturgy. Her work explores the need for meaning and purpose in our busy lives, creating an intentional life, spiritual awakening, forgiveness, as well as inspirational leadership and creating the synagogue for the twenty-first century. Her latest work includes Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice, available for purchase through the CCAR Press.

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Reading ‘Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27’ during a Pandemic

Read the same psalm every day for fifty days?
The same one we read last year? 
Using the same book and the same practice?
Yes. Yes. Yes and yes.
Get a new notebook or open a new computer file.
Sharpen your pencils or find your new favorite pen.
But yes, return to the psalm, return to the book, return to the practice
(this is after all the psalm for the season of return, t’shuvah).

Why? 
Because the world has changed.
Because the ways we see or hear,
experience and reflect on the same words have changed.
We know it to be true from our experience,
reading the same Torah portions in their annual cycle.
We see a character or situation from Genesis in a new way
because of something or someone we encountered or considered.
We understand the ethical demands of Leviticus differently
because we are sitting in a different chair, the light is brighter or dimmer,
we’ve lost or gained: a friend, a few pounds, some perspective.
And so this year, as we make our way in a world infected with COVID-19,
we hear, read, experience Psalm 27 again.

Who has not felt fear that the deadly virus will approach us, ravage our bodies? (27:2)
Who has not waged a battle against the enemy, scrubbing, wiping, wiping again, hands and handles, with disinfecting bleach? (27:3)
How many of us, confined to our homes, small or large, alone or with others, have not imagined being in a better place, a Palace? (27:4)
Who has sought out a hiding place, a fort or cave of pillows and blankets, constructed by children or adults, a shelter for body and soul? (27:5)
How can we sing, knowing it spreads disease with vengeance, needing the balm of music to tamp down the fear, still the heart, calm the breath, fill the soul? (27:6)
Will a face be recognized behind this mask? (27:8)
Who have we abandoned? (27:10)
On these chaotic days that merge one into the other, when voices of leadership sow discord, who has not noticed that facts are seen as fiction and fiction becomes fact? (27:12)
And what about gratitude for those who have followed the right path, stayed home or gone to work, first responders, caregivers, grocery store workers, truck drivers? (27:11)
When did we last cry out the Psalmist’s prayer?
Protect me, protect my loved ones, my coworkers, the most vulnerable, all of us.(27:7)
Are we ready to affirm the ancient words? Fill us with hope, keep us patient as we wait, for we have strong hearts and we have courage, we have each other, and we have You and Your light; we can wait, hopefully. (27:14)

The psalm is the same but the world is not, and none of us is unchanged. If you are new to the practice, welcome. If you are returning, welcome back. The Invitation (page xv) will help you get focused and organized (you have until August 21). This year, in response to readers and rabbis, there is a Navigation Chart to help match the Reflections for Focus to specific days of the season, as well as a Study Guide with textual passages and activities to accompany each verse. We have also provided a musical recording of Kavei El Adonai composed by Cantor Richard Cohn. Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year is available from CCAR Press, and I welcome you to join with my congregation, Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, weekly to engage in the practice online. We will be meeting Wednesdays at 9:00 a.m. CT starting August 19; details will be available at www.tedallas.org



Rabbi Debra J. Robbins has served Temple Emanu-El in Dallas since 1991 and currently works closely with the Social Justice and Adult Jewish Learning Councils, the Pastoral Care department, a variety of Worship initiatives, and teaches classes for adults. She is the author of Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year, published by CCAR Press.