High Holy Days Holiday Machzor Technology

Beyond the Service: Five (More) Things to Consider for Online High Holy Days

A few years ago, in the midst of chemotherapy treatments, I could not attend High Holy Day services at my synagogue. My family attended as usual, and I stayed home, turned on the computer, and watched the livestream. It gave me the perspective to say with confidence that streaming would never be a satisfactory replacement for in-person services. With High Holy Days 5781 going all or mostly online in most communities, here are five things I had to figure out for myself; addressing them will make a huge difference for our communities this fall.

  1. Distractions. In our own sanctuaries, we make an announcement or put in our handouts a reminder to silence cell phones, and the peer pressure of being in a theater-like setting is enough for most people to comply. But at home, we are asking people to be on the very screens that we want them to avoid in synagogue. More than that, unlike the online Shabbat services we’ve been doing for months now, High Holy Day services aren’t just for the most dedicated among us. Rosh HaShanah falling on a weekend will help limit work distractions, but how many people will try to stream Yom Kippur services while also working from home and, perhaps, homeschooling their children? Consider a reminder—and a how-to—not just on connecting to the livestream, but on turning off distracting notifications: news apps, emails, text messages, and more, that will drag them away from the service mentally if not physically.

  2. Physical machzor. Visual T’filah is beautiful; it has been a lifesaver, and I wish it had been part of the livestream in the year I was home. I was lucky to have my own machzor on the shelf; I’m not sure I would have continued streaming without it. But the High Holy Days are about personal reflection; Mishkan HaNefesh allows eyes to wander and enhances individual prayer in the midst of community prayer. During a choral piece, how many of our congregants watch the cantor or choir the whole time, and how many are reading something else on the page? Our machzor encourages reflection and prayer, and especially in a year that is already strange, anything we can do to enrich that is important. If our congregants don’t already own a machzor, we should be thinking about how to get a copy into their hands.

  3. Busy hands. I’m a doodler and a fidgeter. In the sanctuary, the machzor gives me something to hold onto. But when streaming services, the machzor sits on a table in front of me, so my hands are empty. I do not participate as fully as I do when I’m in the sanctuary. People will be tempted to pick up their phones to play a game, or to read a nearby magazine, or to fold laundry. What could we encourage people to do instead? I did hand lettering during the High Holy Days I was streaming, creating artwork out of words from the machzor. I copied out, by hand, readings or lines I found especially meaningful. I wrote prayers. What can we give to our congregants to keep them in the mental space of the service, when they are surrounded by a million other things they could be doing?

  4. Kids and others. In the year I stayed home, during the daytime services, my husband took our children to the synagogue. For the evening services, I was home with the kids while he went to synagogue. Even though the kids (then three and almost one) were in bed when the services began, I missed a lot until they (eventually) fell asleep. I could not have done it during the day when they were up. How can we support families with young children at home, without the ubiquitous babysitting or children’s programming? While some congregations might simultaneously stream children’s programming, many won’t be able to. What resources can we provide in order to entertain, educate, and spiritually nourish children so that their parents can focus and pray? What resources can we provide to parents to empower them to get their kids connected and engaged?

  5. Connection. The High Holy Days are about connecting with God, but they’re also about connecting with other people and with clergy. I missed this part the most, in my streaming year, and we’re all feeling it now. Maybe we want to encourage congregants to (virtually) chat with each other during services. Maybe we can have someone periodically post pre-written discussion questions—or questions about the sermon—during the service. Maybe we can add High Holy Day programming that isn’t services, like small-group Tashlich (one of few things I attended in-person that year), or physically distant picnics, or apple picking. Maybe we’re making more phone calls than usual, and having board members call the congregation not just to say “shanah tovah,” but to really work on connecting, encourage religious school classes and other auxiliary groups to hold themed hangouts, or having breakout group receptions or discussions during or after the service.

It’s really hard to feel connected at a time when we’re used to being with our biggest crowds, and instead, we’re alone in a room. I won’t pretend it was fun when I did it a few years ago, but working together and planning ahead, the experience could be a new way to engage, reflect, and pray together.

Rabbi Jessica Barolsky lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her family, where she is a member of Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun. She is grateful that CEEBJ has been livestreaming services for many years.

Books High Holy Days Machzor

Pulling Out an Old Friend Before the New Year

With the New Year set to begin shortly, I know most of my rabbinical friends are working very hard to craft their sermons and iyunim.  I know I spend time thinking about each and every word and story to shape a meaningful message to my community.

But each year before I begin to write, I engage in my own process of preparation.  I turn to the original Shaarei Teshuvah—Gates of Repentance.  Not our previous machzor-but Rabbi Jonah of Gerona’s book. I use my now well- worn text as my way into preparing myself for the High Holy Day Season. My copy is written in and has dog –eared and paper clipped pages. It still has some of the original book cover. This is a text that I have studied alone in some years and with a chavruta in others depending on the year.

I love re-reading this powerful text on repentance each year.  I deeply hearken to the way it highlights the practical steps to teshuvah.  The text outlines Twenty Principles that help one move from acknowledging the transgressions one has committed to keeping others far from sin.  Many of the principles would be recognizable from anyone who has worked the 12 steps of an Alcoholic Anonymous Program. But Rabbi Jonah goes deeper into each principle helping to lift up the essence of teshuvah with a focus on keeping the person far from sin.

I love reading and re-reading this text as a spark to prepare my heart, my soul, and as a reflection on the process I need for myself at this time of year.  I have found that the preparation I do spiritually-feeding my own soul matters perhaps more than the messages I will deliver from the bima.  Not in some selfish way but rather as a process to lift my intentions higher. The text study and reflection builds in me the spiritual reserve to frame my messages to my community.

But as much as I study and review the Twenty Principles, I love the notes that I have written alongside the text in my book. The sparks of sermon ideas and questions it raised in me through the years are a good review.  My scribbled notes on grammar or vocabulary in Hebrew, my jotted shorthand mentioning another book I may have been reading at the time bring the various years together in one place; the comment of a chavruta partner; all these notes to myself help me to prepare.   And most of all it is a record of my spiritual journey of years when I felt my sins weighed heavy against me or the years when I felt wronged by others.

My preparation for the New Year is not complete without studying with my friend Rabbi Jonah of Geronah.  In these days before the New Year arrives I hope that you feel that you have filled your spiritual reserve enough to share with your family and friends and the communities you lead.

With every good wish for a sweet and fulfilling 5777.


Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the current President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood.  

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh Reform Judaism

One Is Silver and the Other’s Gold: Precious Gifts of Mishkan HaNefesh

“Make new friends, and keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” We all heard and likely sang that ditty as children. We were not thinking of prayer books, but about friends.

For many people, though, a prayer book is an old friend. I recall an older Temple member, who was ill and unable to attend services here on the High Holy Days. When I visited, she showed me the prayer books that she and her family had used for a private service on Rosh Hashanah eve, and planned to use again on Yom Kippur: Union Prayer Book, of course.

I suspect that those High Holy Days were the most meaningful of that family’s life, as their matriarch neared the end of her life, but still able to celebrate and enjoy her family. Only immediate relatives were present, with one friend: that prayer book, which had been a part of their lives for generations, linking them to all who had come before, and to their memories of Rosh Hashanah in the Temple that has been their family’s synagogue home for a century and a half.

For many, Union Prayer Book was and remains a friend. Though a generation or more has passed since that book was used for regular High Holy Day services here, many return to its special place in our homes, to seek comfort and guidance.

Gates of Repentance was a hip, contemporary friend for its era. That decade, the 1970s, was characterized by low regard for anyone over 30; and Union Prayer Book was far older than that. Radical change was in the air in the years immediately following the moon landing and Vietnam War protests, the Civil Rights Movement and the dawn of Women’s Liberation. While young adults of that era embraced the change, throwing off archaic language – you know, all those thee’s and thou’s – offering more accessible English for a new generation, others mourned the loss of an old friend.MhN Standard - RESIZED FINAL

The 21st Century is sometimes called post-modern, meaning in part that we embrace advances without throwing away the gems of the past. Mishkan HaNefesh preserves more of Jewish tradition than any previous Reform prayer book, while also embracing more of our Reform heritage than Gates of Repentance.

On the one hand, Mishkan HaNefesh includes more traditional Hebrew than its predecessors. On the other hand, the Hebrew is all transliterated on each page as it appears, making it more accessible, as we have become accustomed with Mishkan T’filah.

Another example of embracing both traditional and Reform practice is in the scriptural readings. Those of us who’ve been Reform for as long as we’ve been alive, or at least for as long as we’ve been Jewish, may imagine that the Binding of Isaac is the traditional Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah morning. That’s only partially true. In traditional synagogues, that section is read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Mishkan HaNefesh offers choices. This year, for example, we will read the traditional selection for the first – and in our case, the only – day of Rosh Hashanah, which is about the birth of Isaac. Then, we will immediately turn to a Haftarah designated by our Reform forbears, a selection from the Book of Nehemiah about an ancient Rosh Hashanah.

The evocative English of Mishkan HaNefesh is its greatest strength, whether in translations of traditional prayers or in the more interpretive sections on the left side of the page. We may find inspiration in prayer and poetry that is mostly new to us, and then turn to a reading that has brought meaning to Reform Jews since the first edition of Union Prayer Book.

The editors of Mishkan HaNefesh solved some nettlesome problems with grace. For some years, we have been awkwardly changing the words when Gates of Repentance refers to God as “He.” As with Mishkan T’filah, that problem has been solved in ways that are never noticeable.

The most important words on the High Holy Days are Avinu Malkeinu, previously translated, “Our Father, our King.” The solution in Mishkan HaNefesh is a thing of beauty: “Avinu Malkeinu, Sh’ma Koleinu, Avinu Malkeinu – Almighty and Merciful – hear our voice.” “Almighty and Merciful” is evocative alliteration, reflecting the opening “a” and “m” sounds of Avinu Malkeinu. More significant, the meaning is conveyed, even if not literally. We call upon Malkeinu, our Sovereign, to acknowledge God’s power to judge us when we have sinned. We call upon Avinu, our loving heavenly Parent, asking the Holy One to be merciful when we have gone astray.

Most creative is the placement of the shofar ritual. In Orthodox synagogues, the shofar is sounded during the mussaf service. Mussaf means “additional,” and it refers to a repetition of prayers, duplication eliminated by our Reform founders. Reform prayer books placed the shofar after the Haftarah reading, since traditional mussaf follows the Torah service. The shofar ritual has three parts – the first, emphasizing God’s sovereignty; the second, asking God to forgive us by recalling the merit of our ancestors; and the third, pointing toward amessianic, future. When the entire shofar ritual is compressed into one part of the service, whether in mussaf or after the Haftarah, each part loses its significance. Mishkan HaNefesh liberates us both from a tradition that is no longer meaningful to us and a decision of our 19th century Reform founders. We now separate the three sections, giving each its own special place in the service.

One is silver and the other’s gold. Mishkan HaNefesh enables us to make a new friend while keeping the old. It preserves our birthright, the old friends that are our Jewish tradition and our Reform heritage, with prayers from the ancient and medieval High Holy Day machzor and words from Union Prayer Book. It provides new poetry, a new friend, inviting our spirits to soar. Mishkan HaNefesh is art in our hands. The look and the feel of these gold and silver volumes are classic wonders, worthy to be cherished for generations, even in a future when these are the beloved old books on the shelf from a previous era.

We have received a magnificent gift, from our editors and from our Conference. Let our hearts, full of gratitude, find precious gems in the silver and in the gold.

Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Rabbi Block chairs the CCAR Resolutions Committee.

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Meet the Editors of Mishkan HaNefesh: Rabbi Sheldon Marder

When Rabbi Sheldon Marder talks about finding the essential meaning in the traditional service and then innovating to make it relevant to the 21st century, he talks from years of expert experience. As one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe, Rabbi Marder played various roles, including taking on a lead role in the masterful translations. We asked him to tell us about his journey in becoming an editor of the new machzor, the process of working on the prayerbooks, and his favorite parts of the liturgical texts.


Q: Tell us about yourself and your background in Jewish liturgy.

A: My background in Jewish liturgy begins with the Union Prayer Book, my siddur from 1955 – 1975 (from first grade through my third year at HUC). In the late 1960s, my mother co-wrote a pamphlet for rabbis: a guide to degenderizing the prayers in the UPB, which was distributed to Reform rabbis by the UAHC. Her passion for the prayerbook made an impression on me. But, to my disappointment, the premise of the pamphlet—that the exclusive use of male language for God erected a false barrier to the already-difficult task of praying—was rejected by the liturgy committee that created Gates of Prayer in 1975. Nonetheless, I considered Gates of Prayer a great achievement for the Reform movement and enjoyed using it for thirty years.MhN Standard - RESIZED FINAL

In 1973 I began studying with Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, who exposed his students simultaneously to the primary liturgical sources (Mishnaic, Talmudic, Geonic, etc.) and to scholarship in the social sciences to enhance our understanding of ritual, culture, and belief systems (Mary Douglas, Edward Hall, and Gregory Bateson come immediately to mind); and at the same time I was exposed to contemporary trends in Jewish liturgy and spirituality (e.g., the 1972 feminist issue of the journal Response). By far, my most important—indeed, formative—experience in rabbinic school was the thesis I wrote under the mentorship of Rabbi Hoffman. It was a project that involved research into many dimensions of the medieval world of Jewish liturgy; it focused on primary sources: liturgical manuscripts from the Mediterranean region, where Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews met, mingled, and interacted. The main manuscript’s instructions were in Arabic, which added to my appreciation and understanding of the culture in which the document was created.

My liturgical skills and concerns have been deepened by reading, studying, reflecting, and teaching about two areas of great interest and meaning to me: Biblical poetry—the book of Psalms in particular; and modern Hebrew poetry. These interests go back more than forty years, but have increased in intensity and depth over time.

Every setting in which I have worked as a rabbi has had a liturgical/worship component.  Early in my career, I had a job in which I recruited, trained, and supervised Jewish volunteers to lead services in sixty nursing homes in the Los Angeles area. This was a profound learning experience. On a human and practical level, nothing has been more important.


Q: Working on Mishkan HaNefesh was a seven-year process. What made you want to take part in this project?

A:  The work seemed to bring together and draw on many things that I enjoy: prayer, poetry, Jewish study, and creative writing. I felt that I had not studied the liturgy of the High Holy Days Mishkan HaNefeshdeeply enough; this would be an opportunity to do some serious work in that area.  At the same time, as I thought about all of the other prayer books I’ve used and seen (probably hundreds of them), I was humbled by the overwhelming feeling that this was beyond me….  In any case, I decided to do it because I would be part of a team and, especially because the team of four editors would include my wife, Janet.  My mother – mentioned above – talked me into it!  And my participation in the CCAR’s machzor Think Tank in late 2008 whetted my appetite for the work.


Q: What was your role in the creation of Mishkan HaNefesh?  

A: There was no aspect of the machzor that did not interest me. I wrote faithful translations for the traditional liturgy, the Torah and Haftarah portions, medieval piyutim, and some of the modern Hebrew poems. Through my work on the machzor, I experienced translation on intellectual, emotional, and spiritual levels. It became, for me, a form of prayer. The machzor gave me the gift of developing a personal philosophy and method of translation.  I wrote “sublinear” commentaries—and especially enjoyed blending historical, linguistic, and literary approaches into comments that ultimately have a spiritual message and purpose. I wrote original prayers, creative readings, interpretations of prayers and midrashim, and essays that introduce services, liturgical rubrics, and the Torah and Haftarah portions. I enjoyed the creative work of conceptualizing several services for Yom Kippur afternoon. It was an incredibly meaningful experience to bring to life, in a new way, traditional services like Avodah, Eileh Ezk’rah, and Yizkor; it was very gratifying to bring new meaning to them.


Q: What is your favorite part of the books, and what would you like readers/worshipers to take away from the experience of using Mishkan HaNefesh this High Holy Days?   

A: I think the afternoon—from Minchah to N’ilah—is my favorite part of the two volumes because in those services – in addition to everything else – there was the aspect of finding the essence – the essential meaning – in the traditional service and then innovating to make it relevant to the 21st century.  Avodah, the theme of which is “discovering the holy,” is a good example; or Eileh Ezk’rah which is thematically a counterpart to Minchah: the first focuses on tikkun olam (repair of the world) and the second focuses on tikkun midot hanefesh (character development and self-improvement).  I also really enjoy looking at the pictures!  (Joel Shapiro’s art). I enjoyed weaving contemporary themes and ideas throughout the books – for example, our relationship to Israel; the urgency of saving our environment.

I would like Mishkan HaNefesh to provide people with significant, serious religious experiences and, perhaps, inspire them to study and pray more often and more regularly. And I hope it will lead people to the most important tasks of the Days of Awe: Cheshbon HaNefesh (self-reckoning and self-examination) and T’shuvah (repentance and return to the right path).

Rabbi Sheldon Marder is the co-editor, translator, writer, and commentator of Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe, published by CCAR Press in 2015. He is also the contributor to other publications, such as Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor, published by CCAR Press in 2016; and CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Summer 2013 issue. He is currently the Rabbi and Department Head of Jewish Life at the Jewish Home of San Francisco.

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Meet the Editors of Mishkan HaNefesh: Rabbi Janet Marder

From the girl who used to read novels during High Holy Day services to an editor of the new, groundbreaking, machzor, Rabbi Janet Marder is now one of the leading names in Jewish liturgy. Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe will be used by over 400 congregations this upcoming High Holy Days. It is time to get to know the editors better. Rabbi Janet Marder shares with us what inspired her in her work on the machzor and what she hopes inspires readers and worshipers.


Q: Tell us about yourself and your background in Jewish liturgy.

A: I didn’t grow up in a Reform congregation – we belonged to a Conservative synagogue until I was a junior in high school – and we were not regulars at Shabbat services.  We did go to services every year on the High Holy Days – and I spent quite a number of those services reading a novel, rather than the machzor, feeling quite uninvolved in what was going on. I know what it’s like to be in a congregation, but not really feel like you’re part of it.

Moving to a Reform synagogue was a huge transition – lots of English prayers, quasi-Chasidic tunes, and “creative services.” I really didn’t get to know the Reform siddurim until I was a student at HUC-JIR, and had the chance to study the Union Prayerbook and Gates of Prayer as sociological texts with Dr. Larry Hoffman. I was fascinated by the idea that one could analyze a prayerbook – including features such as typography, page design, relative size and placement of Hebrew and English, choreographic instructions for worshipers, and linguistic choices made by translators – and gain insight into the community for which the prayerbook was developed. I also began to understand the siddur as a document that both expresses and forms Jewish identity, an effort to articulate the values and self-perception of the worshipers.  Ever since then, I’ve been interested in how all the elements of worship – words, music, chanting, silence, room design, seating arrangement, lighting, choreography, style of the worship leader – contribute to the experience of prayer.

My primary focus at HUC-JIR was modern Hebrew literature, and after ordination I went to graduate school in comparative literature, specializing in modern Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. I’m fascinated by words and I love a good sentence. I read constantly (poetry, fiction, and non-fiction); I have a deep love for Hebrew, and I care a lot about cadence, rhythm, tone, and word choice in English prayers.MhN Standard - RESIZED FINAL

One formative experience for me was serving a gay/lesbian congregation in the 1980s, during the first terrible years of the AIDS epidemic, when many young people were dying and there was as yet no treatment for those who were sick. I experienced profound theological challenges as I tried to respond to my congregants’ questions and to help them find strength to endure suffering. My comfortable philosophy of “live as if there is a God” no longer felt adequate to me. Since then I’ve done a lot of reading and soul-searching, and have actually come closer to faith than I was in recent years. But I’ve also been a congregational rabbi for 26 years, and I have a lot of empathy for agnostics, skeptics, and those who don’t feel addressed by the traditional prayers.


Q: Mishkan HaNefesh is a result of seven years of team work of an ensemble of editors. What was your role in creating the new machzor?

A: I was deeply involved in choosing poetry and readings, and took special pleasure in finding some beautiful poetry that expresses profound religious yearning, doubt, amazement, and anger.  I especially enjoyed incorporating the words of contemporary scientists into the machzor, because I’m fascinated by science and love to read about it. I’m also quite interested in modern Jewish thought, so it was great to have the opportunity to draw on the writings of important 20th century thinkers and figure out how to make their work accessible in a liturgical setting. I hope that some of their most significant ideas and most eloquent phrases will come to be familiar to our community in the years to come.

It was fun to create many readings based on traditional midrashim – I love the idea of making this material more accessible and relevant to worshipers.  I also wrote quite a number of original pieces for the left-side – including some of the more theologically controversial ones and some that explore the relationship between science and Jewish mysticism. I translated some prayers and wrote many of the sublinear commentaries, seeking to make them not only informative, but also inspiring. I hope people will take time to explore them!

When I was invited to work on Mishkan HaNefesh, I was initially quite apprehensive, because my congregational responsibilities keep me very busy. I agreed when I realized that my husband, Shelly, and I could work very closely as a team. I have enormous respect for his learning, taste, and judgment, so his involvement was very reassuring.


Q: What would you like people to take away from the experience of using Mishkan HaNefesh at High Holy Day services?

A: I really wanted Mishkan HaNefesh to be a teaching book – one that would enrich the worshipers’ understanding of, and connection with, Judaism’s “big ideas.” I wanted it to provoke deep thought and questions, rather than rote recitation. I wanted it to open people up to the possibility of faith, and also to help worshipers understand that doubt and anger are time-honored Jewish modes of theological engagement. Most of all, I wanted people to feel personally addressed by the language of the prayerbook – I hoped it would speak directly to the minds and hearts of worshipers. The challenge is to offer this material in a way that is inviting and conducive to personal reflection. That’s why I hope that worship leaders will be selective when they design worship services, rather than choosing too much material and having to rush through it.  I like Heschel’s counsel: “To pray is to know how to stand still and to dwell upon a word.”

Rabbi Janet R. Marder serves Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, CA. She is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe, and a contributor to Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor.

Books Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Mishkan HaNefesh for Youth – Do Children Really Need Their Own Machzor?

Each year as we approach Elul as I become immersed in the preparing for our holiest of days, I am overcome with mixed memories of my childhood in shul during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. First I remember the comfort of family; sitting next to my father, twisting the tzitzit into braids, huddling close to find warmth from the gusting cool air, cranked higher than usual to account for the surplus of congregants. I remember looking up at my father and my mother; their lips moving rhythmically to the melody of the cantor, their eyes fixed on the rabbi as he spoke, and their hands holding tight to the Machzor in their hands.  And when I wasn’t watching them, my brother and sister and I exchanged funny faces, or fidgeted in our seats, or counted the lights on the sanctuary ceiling. Those memories bring a chuckle or a smile, but I also remember the book being too heavy to hold, the words on the page overwhelmingly sophisticated or worse the language was sometimes frightening… “Who will live and who will die?” Better to go back to the fidgeting or the counting, or the braiding of those pretty strings.

There is great value in sitting with family, having adult prayer modeled for children at the earliest of ages, and yet, we know that children harbor great spiritual selves, they too yearn to express their heart’s deepest, most sincere hopes, dreams and requests for themselves and for others. They too deserve a safe space to pray on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The newly formed committee for creating Mishkan HaNefesh for Youth (a High Holy Day Machzor) believes children need to find an authentically Jewish way to pray, learn and experience the Yamim No’raim or the High Holy Days. But where do we begin? And how can you create a Machzor that attempts to stay true to the traditional text yet provide something that is rich, meaningful and accessible to a child? The task seems overwhelming, the mountain too tall to climb, and so we began with the end in mind; we began with goal setting.


What are the goals in producing a High Holy Day Machzor for Children and their families?

Together we discussed the importance of engaging children and families with the essential themes of High Holy Day worship in an age-appropriate way. We will not omit prayers that are too challenging, but we will find words, art, poetry and music that will help children enter into these big ideas at a pace and framework that has meaning and context for them. We hope too, that there will be a diverse variety of materials from which clergy teams and service leaders can craft meaningful worship experiences for children of different ages for different kinds of services. We spoke at length too, that this Machzor must reflect our steadfast commitment to inclusivity and diversity, helping our colleagues create opportunities for communities to come together, to learn, to enrich their understanding of these important days, and to offer experiences that truly engage the child and family in Jewish learning and living.

Creating a Machzor for children and families provides access to our tradition. For the parent or grandparent who will only attend a family service, it is an opportunity to provide them with a rich and meaningful experience as well. For the parent who is new to Judaism or parenting – or both, we hope this Machzor will help them guide, and teach and engage in dialogue about the themes and meaning of our Yamim No’raim. Most importantly children are not naïve or incapable of tackling the work of Teshuvah (Repentance) or Cheshbon Hanefesh (self-reflection) – we simply need to explore ways in which a child accessible and age appropriate language invites them into a prayerful time and space.


And so we ask that you dream with us…

Imagine a Machzor that helped the child feel at home; that reinforced the prayers and ideas they may be learning during the remainder of the year, creating a comfortable prayer space where there is a balance of the familiar and the new. Imagine this prayer book introduced the rich and meaningful themes, prayers, stories, and melodies of the high Holy Days – but in a way that spoke directly to the child. In doing so this Machzor would provide participants with an inspirational and spiritual worship experience that deepens their understanding, engagement and celebration of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Imagine if this new Machzor gave us the tools to create sacred community, to connect family to family, parent to child, generation to generation and individual to tradition, heritage, and God. Imagine if the High Holy Day memories of our next generation of children were a beautiful tapestry of experiences that recalled experiences of personal prayer, prayer with parents, and prayer in community.

Perhaps the goals are lofty. Yet, my most favorite time of each Religious School day is T’filah. Yes there are those that fidget and yes the prayer book is occasionally fumbled and dropped, but when the children hear the music of Mi Chamocha – their legs dangle in chairs too big for them to the beat of the drum. When we pause for silent prayer, their eyelids close out the light of the sanctuary and their lips whisper their heart’s most cherished prayer, and when I begin to tell a story from our tradition, they scoot to the edge of their seat and lean in. Children need prayer – they need it modeled for them, and they need to see the adults engage with our most challenging and fulfilling prayers. But they too need access to their own words, their own music, their own poetry to express their hopes, to ask for forgiveness of their mistakes, to forge a path of kindness for their New Year, and they need to create a covenantal relationship of their own with the creator. Only then we imagine, hope and pray that this relationship will endure and grow with each passing year so they will enthusiastically share this incredible legacy with their children too.

Rabbi Melissa Buyer is the Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Israel in New York City. 

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

A Summer Journey with Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh

It was another blazing July afternoon in New York City. Wearing khaki shorts, sandals, and a white linen shirt, I stepped into the sun-drenched West Side of Central Park. I diverged from the path momentarily, stopping near a park bench to check the hours for the Metropolitan Museum of Art on my phone, before trekking across the park to see their Egyptology exhibits. A man seated there in a checkered shirt, jeans, and sunglasses called out to me from behind his newspaper, “That’s a great book! Have you finished it yet?” Nearly dropping my phone, I gazed at him quizzically. He smiled at me. I blinked. He couldn’t have possibly meant the copy of Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh that I had in my hand, could he? “You see, I’m a Native American, but I’m also Jewish. On my dad’s side…” I squinted my eyes in confused disbelief, trying to understand how he could know this book. His appearance, ethnicity, and religious background had no bearing for me whatsoever, but somehow he now seemed perturbed that I would doubt him. “How could you have read this book? It hasn’t been released yet,” I asked. With a slight air of indignation he said, “I’m an author. I received an advance copy from Simon & Schuster. Four months ago…” I stared him square in the eyes and slowly shook my head with an audible “Hmph.” He doesn’t know the book or the publisher and he is clearly lying to me. But why? “Hmph.” he retorted, imitating me, continuing his charade. “I am writing a blog article about the book,” I said, “This one advance copy was given to me by the CCAR, the publisher of the book. So…if you really read it, then tell me, what is it about?” The man coolly responded while returning to his newspaper, “It’s about a journey. Life’s a journey.” With that, I said, “Okay, thanks. Have a great day…” and continued down the path to the East Side.

I passed a potpourri of musicians who were busking in the shaded parts of the park. A diversity of divertissements. There was the accordion player, the classical guitarist, the jazz guitarist, the violinist, the singer-songwriter. I needed a diversion to get the strange encounter I just had out of my head, but I couldn’t figure out why he had lied about the book. As I drifted past Sheep Meadow, the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, the Loeb Boathouse, and the Conservatory Pond, eventually winding my way up to the Met, my thoughts evaporated in the hot sun. The only thing left of the conversation in my mind were his last words. “Life’s a journey.” I pondered the collective journeys of everyone who visited or worked in the park, who built the park, and who paid to preserve the monuments and buildings. And then I meandered through the Egyptian exhibits at the Met. There were so many things to see, I couldn’t possibly process it all in one day, and I left wishing I had a guide – a Divrei Mitzrayim.DivreiMhN - no crop marks

So I took a break after visiting the museum and sat in a cafe to finish reading through Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh. I finished the commentaries, the essays, and then took a look at the indexes and tables. It struck me that there was a lot of incredibly useful and even entertaining information in the book. At times I imagined it was an episode from VH1: Behind the Machzor, only with more rabbinical commentary than music. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little to myself as obscure facts about sources and rationales behind decisions became apparent. The phrases like “The God of Max Janowski is a Zealous God,” as well as naming the sources for many of the traditional prayers the  “Goldschmidt Variations,” made this cantor and Bach aficionado laugh out loud. I looked up from the book slightly embarrassed, as I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to have been laughing or not. After all, this is a clergy commentary on a High Holy Day machzor. It could have been a very dry book of useful information, but instead it revealed a very human quality.

The book made me feel as though I was in the room with the committee, deliberating over something as seemingly inconsequential as one letter, like whether we should say “HaMelech HaYosheiv” or “HaMelech yosheiv,” which in actuality can be a profound difference once it is explained. Reading the commentary and essays helped me to appreciate the incredible amount of scholarship, time, and collaboration that went into producing the High Holiday machzor, as well as the weight and intensity with which they must have deliberated over its details. I was greatly appreciative of my colleague, Cantor Evan Kent, who must have reminded the committee of the impact that changes in the liturgy have on the music and congregational participation for the High Holidays. The voice of the cantor and the importance of the music on the High Holidays was felt throughout the decision-making process. And reading the resonant words of Rabbi Leon Morris and Rabbi Hara Person brought me back to our time working together at my first High Holiday pulpit as a cantorial student in the Hamptons and at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, evoking fond memories of my personal journey.

Reading Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh also made me look forward to the High Holy Days this year. We at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue are rolling out our new Mishkan HaNefesh machzors for the first time this fall. While I was initially impatient and disappointed not to have gotten the machzor when it was published last year, in retrospect I am glad that we waited so we would have the opportunity to read Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh and be able to put more thought into our decisions, just as this machzor committee did. Like the ancient ruins of Egypt that had old blocks of granite that were reused to create the cornerstones of newer structures, the committee gave deference and respect to the old volume of Gates of Repentance while charting a new course. They recognized that the process was a human endeavor and that in the end there will likely be mistakes that are spotted and later corrected. In their long journey to create the commentaries and essays they recognized the humanity within themselves as well as the diversity of the Reform movement, and teach us lessons not only on why they did what they did, but how we too may collaborate as clergy and lay people to create meaningful new experiences that build upon the best of our past.

I never asked the man in the park why he was lying. He may have hoped to impress me. Perhaps he was lonely. Or trying to divert my attention from my phone. Or eager to connect with someone. I will never know why. But I know that the strange little journey I took that day, as if back in time to our days of captivity in Egypt, made me contemplate the journeys we all take and how the people who we encounter along the way have the capacity to alter our perspective and enrich experiences with as little as one book, one word, or even one letter.

Cantor Daniel A. Singer serves Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. He has served on the Executive Board of the American Conference of Cantors for two years. 

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

5 Things That I Seek at The High Holy Days, and How Mishkan HaNefesh Helps Me to Find Them

Following several months of service sampling in a program that engaged over 60 of our members, our congregation adopted Mishkan HaNefesh and introduced it to the whole congregation last year. The feedback was universally positive. Here I highlight five things that I seek at the High Holy Days and, with reference to the new accompanying guide, Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh, illustrate how our new machzor intentionally goes about addressing those needs.

1) I want to fully engage in the liturgical flow of the High Holy Days in ways that are spiritually meaningful to me.

I want to emerge from the Yamim Noraim feeling like I’ve been helped to engage in a process of introspective teshuvah and, when necessary, to feel spiritually driven to verbalize that teshuvah to others. As Rabbi Eddie Goldberg explains in Divrei Miskhan HaNefesh (p.61), this is what the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh consciously hoped the machzor could support, by ‘designing the best “map” possible.’ That map saw the services as building up ‘… to a climax where painful truths are realized, change is considered and adopted, and the individual leaves with a plan for self-improvement.’ (ibid).  Rabbi Janet Marder points to some translation choices, such as ‘The ways we have wronged You… and harm we have caused in Your world’ instead of ‘The sin we have sinned before You’ as just one way that the language of the liturgy could better draw us in and help us ‘to arrive at a more honest assessment of human misbehavior’ (p.70).  The use of Mussar-inspired character traits in the Yom Kippur Mincha service is another way of engaging me in authentic spiritual work. As Rabbi Marder explains, ‘The goal of cheshbon hanefesh (moral inventory), after all, is not self-condemnation but an honest, realistic assessment of both our weaknesses and our strengths, our right and wrong actions.”CORRECT-MACHZOR-NEW

2) I want a machzor where reading in English still feels like prayer.

Over the past few years, I’ve found myself whittling away more and more of the English in Gates of Repentance, replacing it with alternative readings, kavvanot, and meditations. Part of my personal challenge with the text was a sense of a universal ‘we’ in the language used that often conveyed theological or other sentiments that did not resonate with me. Instead of drawing me to a deeper place, it pushed me away.

I know my experience is not unique, because the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh intentionally created a multi-vocal text in which many more people can find themselves and their inner thoughts and conceptions of the holy mirrored back to them. There are readings that use the language of science to invoke awe or moral conviction. There are poems that convey struggle, theological ambivalence, and a search for truth (p.81).  In particular, the well-selected poetry that echoes the themes of traditional prayers on facing pages open up the prayer experience. As Rabbi Sheldon Marder explains in Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh, ‘Poems do not preach or dictate to us – they are not dogmatic; rather, they are suggestive, evocative, and open-ended. A poem can turn a statement of belief into a question for our consideration’ (p.107).  His approach to translation of the traditional liturgy was ‘faithful’ in that it aimed to present the ideas, feelings and values in the expression of prayer more than a word for word correspondence (p.87). This is one of the great successes of the new machzor.

3) My personal theology is not one that upholds the notion of a personal, judging God, in any literal way, and I want a prayer book that enables me to find a spiritually honest way to make prayer real while remaining true to my sense of God.DivreiMhN - no crop marks

Rabbi Elaine Zecher explains the way that the machzor presents an ‘integrated theology’ that ‘allows for dissonant and harmonious ideas to work together, to open up broader possibilities of what it might even mean to express a belief in a greater Power in the universe’ (p.113).   This approach enables many people to find a way to pray authentically with the new machzor.  This integrated approach does more than just reflect back the God of my imagination to me. By juxtaposing so many different theological expressions with the choice of readings, poems, prayers, and commentaries, I am able to see the partial truths in these other expressions of theology as they open up new possibilities for me.

4) I am seeking greater variety in the ways that the Torah service can more deeply enhance my High Holy Day experience.

Like many of my congregants, I find the Akeidah a troubling text, but I’ve always been particularly drawn to Genesis 21 (the sending away of Hagar and Ishmael) for the High Holy Days. Now, along with several other traditional and alternative selections, I can reintroduce it to my congregation without handouts. Exploring the emotional landscape of the characters (Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael) especially lends itself to important behavioral insights that we can really use in our lives. Watching fear, jealousy, anxiety and more play out in the narrative, and searching for hope at a life moment that seems bleak… these are themes that our people can relate to much more deeply. Last year, in our family service, we even created a modern midrashic play, with the help of some of my sixth graders, watching the story play out with the commentary of the emotional characters of  ‘Inside Out.’  But there are so many ways to read this powerful text. Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh (p.35-37) offers yet another narrative that looks at the themes of loneliness, and compassion for those who live on the margins.

5) I want to more deeply understand and be engaged by the richness of our tradition.

My congregation, geographically placed as a hub in Central Massachusetts that draws members from nearly 30 towns, consists of those who come from Orthodox and Conservative backgrounds, as well as Reform and non-Jewish backgrounds. We offer multiple services, allowing us to vary styles considerably. One morning service on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is intentionally grounded in more traditional liturgy, and more Hebrew. The new machzor enables us to conduct this service with even more integrity than we could with Gates of Repentance.  Rabbi Leon Morris describes this as a ‘hermeneutic of embrace’ that ‘… urges us to see the classic siddur and machzor as the poetry of the Jewish people.’  It is ‘… rooted in the idea that the classic text has a great deal to teach us – and that our primary task is to realize how it might be reframed, explained, or translated in such a way as to allow it to live again in our Reform synagogues’ (p. 95). By re-instating parts of the liturgy that had been removed, but doing so in ways that juxtapose those texts with new insights and alternative multi-vocal texts, we can find ways to reconnect with these traditional liturgies.

The new machzor has addressed so much of what I was seeking and yearning for as a guide to navigate my way through the High Holy Days. Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh is filled with essays and commentaries that help to articulate why it has achieved its goals so successfully.

Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz serves Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough, MA.

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Theological Dialectics: Balancing Competing Values in Mishkan HaNefesh Pt. II

In my previous entry I discussed Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh, a new commentary on the CCAR machzor. I also described some of the dialectical issues facing its editors — those tensions that arose as they navigated competing values throughout the seven-year editorial process. This time, I will focus on God.

Judaism yearns for God in endless shades of metaphor, and Mishkan HaNefesh honors that theological breadth. Rooted in sources from antiquity to modernity, the many depictions invite us into a nuanced theological conversation at a time when God can seem especially harsh and distant.

Liturgy is where the rubber hits the road for most Jews, theologically speaking. The editorial team seized the opportunity to offer new access points to worshipers. The sources they included expand notions of God and the human-divine relationship far beyond traditional prayer language. Some of these most powerful dialectics include: Faith and doubt; din and rachamim (judgment and compassion); and divine power and human agency.

Faith and DoubtIMG_0555

See Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh Index of Themes, “Theological doubt and struggle, or outright unbelief,” p. 133; “Science and scientists,” p. 132; and “Scientific language in poetry,” pp. 132-133. 

Doubt can be an act of reverence; proof that we spiritual seekers are taking our search seriously. Alongside the many pronouncements of faith, Mishkan HaNefesh makes room for serious questions about divine power and the nature of evil — questions based in Jewish tradition. Editor Rabbi Janet Marder cites the reading “Who is like you among the silent?”[1] which presents a powerful counter-text for Mi Chamocha, in which the addition of a single Hebrew letter turns eilim (gods) to il’mim (the silent [literally, mute] ones) — transforming a prayer in praise of God’s redemptive power to a cry of anguish, denouncing God’s silence in the face of human suffering.[2]

The phrase comes directly from the M’khilta, and the tone of enraged protest was inspired by medieval Jewish poetry from the crusader period. While certainly subversive, this reading is also authentically Jewish: it voices the sorrow, doubt, and sense of abandonment of generations of oppressed Jews.

Notably, the new machzor reaches out to those who struggle with faith. Some readings express skeptical curiosity; others, outright doubt. Rabbi Marder writes:

Some readings are drawn from the writings of scientists who express their own spiritual longing, sense of wonder, or moral convictions. These words… are placed in dialogue with the liturgy — a juxtaposition that conveys the clear message that science and religion may fruitfully co-exist. This machzor also includes contemporary poetry that celebrates the grandeur of creation in quasi-scientific language…Finally, many readings and poems directly articulate theological ambivalence, difficulty with prayer, anger, struggle, and the search for truth.[3]

Din and Rachamim

See Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh Index of Themes,”’Recognizing the good’ and self-forgiveness,” p. 132.

Mishkan HaNefesh urges us to consider the attributes of judgement and mercy in new ways. In particular, readings concerning hakarat hatov (recognizing the good) direct us toward the laudable deeds of the past year in addition to the regrettable ones. (See YK pp. 93, 312, 313, 424, 425, 659, and 667). These good deeds “Serve as a counterweight to the liturgy’s intense focus on scrutiny of one’s own wrongdoing. They also highlight a damaging moral failing — quite pervasive but usually not acknowledged in the prayer book: the inability to regard one’s own behavior with the same gentleness and forgiveness we are expected to offer others.”[4]

When worshipers consider the full range of their actions and emotions as part of heshbon hanefesh (spiritual self-audit), they affirm a point of connection between humanity and divinity. Like God, we have infinite potential for good, but we make mistakes. Like God, we have the ability to forgive. And for many of us, forgiving ourselves is the most difficult forgiveness of all.

Divine Power and Human Agency

See Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh Index of Themes, “Theology of human empowerment”, pp. 133-134

Many familiar liturgical metaphors of the Yamim Nora’im are quite grim: humans as sheep passing under God’s rod and staff; or as guilty children subject to the discipline of a strict parent. Mishkan HaNefesh retains these images, but supplements them with a variety of rabbinic, medieval and modern sources that reframe the power differential.

Take the iconic and terrifying Unetaneh Tokef. This piyyut (liturgical poem) envisions God as judge and arbiter of all creation, deciding (in gory detail!) the fates of every soul. Mishkan HaNefesh retains the piyyut, but includes a “counter-text” immediately opposite:

Left Side (“counter-text”) Right Side (translation)
Let us embrace the day and its holiness,

For this day is a throne of goodness and power.

When the people of Israel do God’s will,

They strengthen God’s power on high.

But when the people of Israel fail to do God’s will,

They weaken — if one might say it —

God’s great power on high.

So let this day recall Your power — and ours.

Let us proclaim the power of this day —

A day whose holiness awakens deepest awe


In truth,

You are judge and plaintiff, counselor and witness.

The right side affirms the familiar hierarchical theology of the Yamim; the left side challenges it. The covenant is still hierarchical, but humans have some agency; some role to play in the relationship and in the world. The editors of Mishkan HaNefesh deem this the “theology of human adequacy.”

It is a theology thoroughly grounded in rabbinic literature. One of my favorite examples — also from the machzor — comes from the Midrash:[5]

Said the Roman Procurator Turnus Rufus to Rabbi Akiva: “Whose Acts are greater, those of human beings or those of God?”

Rabbi Akiva answered: “The deeds of human beings are greater.”


Akiva then brought to Turnus Rufus wheat stalks and cakes, raw flax and fine linen. “The wheat and the flax are the work of God,” said Akiva, “but the cakes and the linen were made by human beings. Are they not superior?”

So our Sages taught: “All created things require refining and improvement. The mustard seed needs to be sweetened; the lupine needs to be soaked; the wheat needs to be ground, and the human being still needs to be repaired. The world that is given into our hands is still incomplete. Go forth, then, and work to make it better.[6]

In Mishkan HaNefesh, this midrash appears on the left side of the spread in nisim b’chol yom  as if to suggest that just as we thank God for the wonders of our world, we also acknowledge our roles as partners in the work of creation.

Danny Moss is a CCAR rabbinical intern and a rising fifth-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR.


[1] YK p. 197

[2] DMhN, p. 72

[3] DMhN, p. 81

[4]  DMhN, p. 71

[5] Tanhuma, Tazria 5; Genesis Rabbah, 11.6

[6] YK p. 163

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

High Holy Days Leader Experience: Being the Suffering Servant, Isaiah 53

No one thinks about the High Holy Days more than rabbis and cantors. That’s not to say that Jews as a community don’t look forward to the holidays. People enjoy being with family, eating special foods and seeing people at Syangogue. Many people also find the High Holy Days to be a spiritually fulfilling and uplifting experience. But for the most part it is the rabbis, cantors and other High Holy Day service leaders who spend months planning and preparing for the 10 Days of Awe. Everyone else just shows up.

Several years ago, I ran into Dr. Larry Hoffman just as my pre Rosh Hashanah stress load had reached its peak. He casually asked how I was doing. I recall griping about how overwhelming and even painful High Holy Day preparations always seemed to be, that there was incredible pressure to provide the congregation with a spiritually fulfilling Holy Day season and that I had little if any time for my own spiritual preparations or practice. “You know the suffering servant in Isaiah 53,” he asked? “That’s us.”

The Jewish people may be God’s servants in the Biblical text, but when it comes to the High Holy Days we serve God AND the Jewish people. Finding a way to create worship experiences that are comfortable yet creative, inspiring but also challenging can be a tricky proposition. Last year my congregation worshiped using the new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mornings in our alternative service and Yom Kippur afternoon through Neilah in the main sanctuary.  And though I had wored with several different pilot versions in the past, as a clergy team we spent hours picking music and readings, working to find a balance between the old and new, guessing at timing and hoping that the congregation would take it all in stride, which for the most part they did.

That being said, I wish I hadn’t had to wait until this summer to read Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh. Don’t be fooled, I am sure I will suffer plenty in the next few months as I revise service outlines, write iyunnim and sermons and work out all the details of volunteer participation (with my cantor taking on much of that load as well). Yet this book provides the spiritual uplift I had been missing to put it all in perspective. Not only does Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh give us the insiders view on what went into developing and crafting the two beautiful volumes of Mishkan HaNefesh, but it allows the reader to think about the greater purpose and meaning of the High Holy Days and prayer in general. In reading this volume I was also inspired to appreciate what our machzor can do. As Rabbi Edwin Goldberg so aptly reflects, “…we post moderns need a corrective,  a ‘reset’ that centers us in a context of what matters most. Life, many of us deem, is a problem. Jewish text and tradition- presented as a meaningful, relevant High Holy Day experience- can be a captivating and vital solution.” (p.1)

The explanations of how different editorial decisions have been made and the textual references at the back of the book are excellent tools. However, for me, it is the eight essays in Part Two of the book that I cherished not only for the superior writing but for the chance to engage in higher level thinking they provided me. Each essay leaves the reader with big ideas to ponder and lifts up the preparations for the holy days from a task of servitude to one of holy service.

In his essay, Translating Faith, Rabbi Shelly Marder reminds us of how the words we pray, whether they are in Hebrew or English are a human attempt to articulate the inarticulateable: what we really believe. “…[F]aith, after all, is a language that challenges us to describe  the ineffable and comprehend the unknowable. (p.85)

If all written or spoken prayers are each an attempt to “translate the non-verbal into speech,” (p.86) then the English versions of our ancient Hebrew prayers are no more than “a living bridge…[that] gives us access to the world that generated the original text- as well as a glimpse of the experience of those who first used it.” (p.87) Understanding how translation is an art in and of itself can inspire us to remember that the prayers we now say or sing so specifically and devotedly were once nothing more than a prayerful person’s best attempt at articulating their own feelings of faith. The new writings and poetry that have been added to the machzor are similar artistic reflections of faith, no less holy for their less than ancient origins. As undertake my own writing for the season I will keep this in mind.

Rabbi Leon Morris brilliantly unpacks the tension between traditional and Reform liturgy in his essay Restoring and Reclaiming tradition: Creative Retrievals and Mishkan HaNefesh. By counseling us to engage in a ‘hermeneutic of embrace’, Morris challenges us to see our fellow Reform Jews as intelligent, thoughtful and spiritually searching people. Rather than ‘decide for our community’, as rabbis and liturgists of ages past have done, this new machzor presents the opportunity for everyone to engage in Avodah on their own terms. As he writes, “the understanding of Avodah as work might be apt…when we consider the interpretive labor required of us when trying our best to bridge the gap between the inherited words of the classic siddur and our contemporary lives. It is often hard work to make meaning from these words. Simultaneously such work is a privilege, a blessing and an opportunity for connection and continuity.” (p.99)

Cantor Evan Kent reminds cantors and rabbis alike of the powerful effect music can have on the energy of a worship service, “creating living liturgical memories [that] involve the body and mind.” (p.118) His essay: Collective Effervescence: High Holy Day Music and Liturgical Memory, challenges us to think beyond the grand liturgical pieces we have all come to expect. By incorporating highly repetitive and communal singing, he suggests, we can create threads that  weave a room of strangers into a congregation while taking advantage of the liturgical themes of the season that also weave in and out of the High Holy day liturgies. As he writes: “Highly repetitive music actually adds to the intensity of the ritual as it enables maximum participation” (p.121).

This new volume is truly a treasure. Keep it as a resource, but return to it again and again for inspiration and guidance. It reminded me of how holy a task it is to prepare for and lead our communities through the Days of Awe. It can remind us all that the machzor is a tool that enables us to ask: “How do we help ourselves return to our sacred path, in a world that continually seduces us away from the work that we must do.” (p.63)

Rabbi Mara Nathan serves Temple Beth-El in San Antonio Texas. She is also currently serving on the Board of the CCAR as Dues Chair.