Categories
Holiday Poetry Prayer

Three Weeks of Sorrow, Seven Weeks of Consolation

Sorrow and joy meet on Rosh Chodesh Av. Rosh Chodesh—the first of each new Hebrew month—is a minor festival of rejoicing. We take note of the cycle of the moon, the grandeur of creation, and the gifts of God by signing Hallel Mizri, the Egyptian Hallel. At its core are Psalms 113 through 118.

There’s a jarring contrast between the joyous and often raucous singing of these psalms with the general mood of the period. Tishah B’Av, our national religious day of mourning, commemorates the destruction of both temples in Jerusalem. It’s a day of tragedy so profound in the eyes of the rabbis of the Mishnah that they went to great lengths to attach other disasters to this date.

In Masechet Taanit 4:6, we read: “On the Ninth of Av it was decreed upon our ancestors that they would all die [in the wilderness] and not enter the land; and the Temple was destroyed the first time [by the Babylonians], and the second time [by the Romans]; and Beitar was captured; and the city [of Jerusalem] was plowed, as a sign that it would never be rebuilt.”

The tradition of linking catastrophe to Tishah B’Av continued in later periods. Some say that the Jews were expelled from England on Tishah B’Av in 1290 CE, that the deadline in 1492 on which Jews in Spain needed to leave or convert was Tishah B’Av, and that the First World War began on Tishah B’Av.[1] Perhaps most startling: The Hebrew date that Treblinka began operations as a death camp was Tishah B’Av.[2]

The Talmud decrees: “Not only does one fast on the Ninth of Av, but from when the month of Av begins, one decreases acts of rejoicing.”

Even before Av begins, some Jews observe a three-week period of mourning, called “The Three Weeks,” from 17 Tammuz until Tishah B’Av. The Mishnah relates that on 17 Tammuz five catastrophes also befell the Jewish people, and the day is observed by some as a minor fast.

Right in the middle of the three weeks, Rosh Chodesh is observed, as always, with song and praises. “Hallel in a Minor Key”—an alternative Hallel that I created with music by Sue Radner Horowitz—was written for moments like these, when joy and sorrow meet.

This liturgy began with a question last winter: How can we sing God’s praises fully as we move into the second year of COVID-induced, socially distanced Passover seders? In the writing, the question expanded: How do we sing God’s praises after a profound personal loss? How do we praise God when our spiritual calendar places joy and sorrow side-by-side? How do we find a voice of rejoicing when our hearts are in mourning?

My personal experience with this contrast still informs my writing. My wife Ami, z”l, died of traumatic brain injury just before Passover. The religious expectation of our calendar was brutal. After two days of shivah, we were expected to shift into the spiritual joy of Pesach, celebrating our liberation from bondage, singing Hallel as part of the Passover Seder and then again at services. Although it was twelve years ago, that experience of contrast was a core motivator for creating this liturgy (read more about the creation of “Hallel in a Minor Key” on RavBlog).

After Tishah B’Av, the rabbis have given us seven weeks of healing, seven weeks in which special haftarot of consolation are chanted. Here are several prayers for the season:

  • 17 Tammuz: “The Temple
  • Rosh Chodesh Av: “Hallel in a Minor Key” (A PDF published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, including the sheet music, can be downloaded here.)
  • Tishah B’Av: “In Sorrow” from This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day (CCAR Press, 2017)
  • Seven weeks of consolation: “Tears, Too Close: A Prayer of Consolation” from This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer (CCAR Press, 2021)

It is said that God permitted the destruction of the Second Temple because of sinat chinam, the baseless hatred of one Jew against another. Throughout this season, let us pray for the well-being of all of the people of Israel, and everyone, everywhere. “Let Tranquility Reign,” from This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, includes a line from Psalm 122: “For the sake of my comrades and companions I shall say: ‘Peace be within you.’ For the sake of the House of Adonai our God I will seek your good.”


Alden Solovy is a liturgist based in Jerusalem. His books include This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New DayThis Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, and This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer, all published by CCAR Press.


[1] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/946703/jewish/What-Happened-on-the-Ninth-of-Av.htm

[2] https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/7-tragedies-that-befell-the-jewish-people-on-tisha-beav-598199

Categories
Holiday Passover Pesach Poetry Prayer

Hallel in a Minor Key

We face another year of pandemic Passover. Most congregations are still shuttered, and Pesach worship will be remote and online. Seders will be small or socially distanced, a far cry from our usual crowded, joyous gatherings. Nevertheless, we will still sing Hallel, our liturgy of praises, as part of the Haggadah.

Hallel (praise), Psalms 113 to 118, is sung or recited in the synagogue on all festivals (including intermediate days), as well as on Rosh Chodesh (the first day of a new month), on all eight days of Chanukah, and, in recent years, on Yom HaAtzma-ut (Israel’s Independence Day). Hallel is also recited on the eve of Pesach during the seder.1 

On these sacred days of communal rejoicing, we are asked to set aside our sorrows to praise God. But how do we sing God’s praises during a time of catastrophe or pandemic? How do we sing God’s praises after a profound personal loss?

Depending on personal practice—what one chooses to include in the seder, how often one goes to services, whether an individual participates in two seder nights, and how many days are observed—Hallel can be recited as many as ten times during the festival period.

This raised a hard question for me as a liturgist. How can we sing God’s praises fully as we move into the second year of COVID-induced, socially distanced Passover seders? Could I find a liturgical response? Personally, I know how difficult this can be. My wife passed away the Shabbat before Passover twelve years ago, and the shivah ended abruptly after only two days.

I began by rereading all my prayers written about COVID and came across a line in a piece called “These Vows: A COVID Kol Nidre.” A line from it reads: “How I wish to sing in the key of Lamentations.” From there, the idea for “Hallel in a Minor Key” was born.

As I started writing, it became important to me to create a liturgy that was robust enough to stand as a full alternative Hallel, reflecting praise in the midst of heartbreak and sorrow. To me, this meant two things. First, I wanted to make sure that each psalm in the classic Hallel was represented by at least one Hebrew line in this liturgy. Second, I wanted to include the sections for waving the lulav in this liturgy, to ensure that it could be used on Sukkot by those with that practice.

Still, something was missing—music specific to this liturgy. Song is a vital part of the public recitation of Hallel, and it serves to create a personal connection with prayer. So, I adapted the opening poem into lyrics—carrying the same name as the entire liturgy—and began searching for someone to compose the music. I listened to a lot of Jewish music online, starting with my small circle of musician friends. When I heard Sue Radner Horowitz’s Pitchu Li, my search for a musician was over.

“Hallel in a Minor Key” begins in minor, but mid-chorus, with words of hope, it switches to a major key. In discussing the music, we both felt it was important to follow the tradition of ending even the most difficult texts with notes of hopefulness. Indeed, the shift reflects our prayer that sorrows can be the doorway to greater love, peace, and—eventually—to growth, healing, and joy.

We also talked about drawing on Eichah trope—used to chant Lamentations on Tishah B’Av, as well as the haftarah on that day—as a musical influence. This idea follows the tradition of bringing Eichah trope into other texts as a sort of musical punctuation. Many will recall its use in M’gillat Esther on Purim. Eichah trope is also traditionally used during the chanting of Deuteronomy 1:12, as well as in selected lines from the associated haftarah for Parashat D’varim, Isaiah 1:1–27. Sue wove hints of “the trope of Lamentations” into the chorus melody of “Hallel in a Minor Key.”

A PDF of the liturgy, including sheet music, can be downloaded here. You can hear a recording of the music here. Sue’s rendition of Pitchu Li, written prior to this liturgy, is also included as part of “Hallel in a Minor Key.” That music can be found on her album Eleven Doors Open.

This is our gift to the Jewish world for all the many blessings you have bestowed upon us. We offer it with a blessing. We encourage you to add music or additional readings that would add meaning to your worship. If you use the liturgy in your worship, we’d love to hear from you. You may reach Alden at asolovy545@gmail.com and Sue at srrhorowitz@gmail.com.

Portions of “Hallel in a Minor Key” were first presented during a Ritualwell online event, “Refuah Shleimah: A Healing Ritual Marking a Year of Pandemic.” Portions were also shared in a workshop session at the 2021 CCAR Convention, held online.


Alden Solovy is a liturgist based in Jerusalem. His books include This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, and This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer, all published by CCAR Press.


1 Rabbi Richard Sarason PhD, Divrei Mishkan T’Filah: Delving into the Siddur (CCAR Press, 2018), 190.

Categories
News Poetry

Against Domestic Insurrection

As Reform rabbis, we unequivocally oppose the tragic insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol and on American democracy. We pray for peace in our nation’s capital, for the safety of all, and for an end to the treacherous and divisive demagoguery that threatens our precious democracy and is a rejection of our foundational American values.

Here, Alden Solovy shares a poem reflecting upon this terrible event.

Oh, my people,
What have we become as a nation?
And what will we become,
In the wake of violence and insurrection,
In the face of armed assault against our democracy?
Rioting. Criminality. Attempted coup.
Domestic terror fomented
By the lies, fear, and anger of a president.
Death and destruction in the Capitol.
This doesn’t happen in the United States.
But it did.
And it can again.

Woe to the land that teeters on the brink of fascism.
Woe to the people who stay silent.
Woe to the politicians who cannot stand against this outrage.
Woe to us all as the tide of history turns against our Republic.

Shame on those who have hardened their hearts,
Shut their eyes,
Closed their minds,
And empowered those who
Attempt to banish justice
And free elections from our midst,
Those who bring swords and guns
Against our sovereign land.

Source and Shelter,
Grant safety and security
To the people and democracy of the United States of America.
Protect us from violence, rebellion, intimidation,
And attempts to seize our government.
Save us from domestic terror.
Save us from leaders who cannot say no to attacks
On our legacy and our future.

God of nations and history,
Let truth and justice resound
To the four corners of the earth.
Let the light of freedom
Shine brightly in the halls of power,
As a beacon of hope
For every land and every people.

© 2021 Alden Solovy


Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher wbose writing offers a fresh new Jewish voice, challenging the boundaries between poetry, meditation, personal growth, and prayer. He made aliyah to Israel in 2012, where he hikes, writes, teaches, and learns. He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New DayThis Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearningsand, most recently, This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayerall published by CCAR Press.

Categories
News Poetry

A Post–Election Day Prayer for National Healing

On November 4, 2020, Americans woke up to an uncertain outcome of the U.S. presidential election. People across the political spectrum are experiencing a roller coaster of confusion, fear, and hope. In response to this difficult moment, Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar shares “Grace in the Wilderness,” a prayer for national healing.


Grace in the Wilderness
God, creator of light and goodness,
may we find grace in the wilderness. (Based on Jeremiah 31:2)

Help this great nation emerge from chaos and fear to
healing and tranquility.

We ask our leaders to act with insight and honor,
to carry authority with humility and compassion.
Righteousness exalts a nation. (Proverbs 14:34)

And as for me, Holy One of Blessing,
may this be my prayer:

Still my troubled being,
for I yearn to emerge from darkness and confusion.

Lift me, carry me, set me upon a rock
that I may feel safe within the storm.
I have sat in the valley of tears long enough. (Based on L’chah Dodi)

Strengthen my resolve that I may be a force for good,
a light when there is darkness.

Help me be guided by acts of love and kindness,
compassion and understanding.

May I find the way to transcend my inclination for strife
and be a bearer of hope and righteousness.

Though I have fallen, I rise again;
though I sit in darkness, God is my light. (Micah 7:8)

Guide me, comfort me, grant me strength.
May this be my prayer.

—Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar, November 2020

__

Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is Senior Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, IL. She is the author of Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry, and Mindfulness Practice and Omer: A Counting, both published by CCAR Press.


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.

Categories
Poetry Prayer

A Prayer of Courage and Consolation

Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is a poet, spiritual counselor, inspirational speaker, and author of CCAR Press publications Omer: A Counting, published in 2014, and Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry, and Mindfulness Practice, published in 2019. In this unprecendented time of senseless racist killing, violence, and unrest, she shares a prayer for courage, originally published in Amen.


Holy One of Blessing,
grant us the courage and resolve
to speak when there is hatred,
to act when there is confusion,
to join with others in building a world of safety,
understanding, and acceptance.

Because there is hate, dear God,
help us heal our fractured and broken world.

Because there is fear, dear God,
grant courage and faith to those in need.

Because there is pain, dear God,
bring healing to the shattered and wounded.

Because there is hope, dear God,
teach us to be a force for justice and kindness.

Because there is love, dear God,
help us to be a beacon of light and compassion.

As it is written:
Be strong and let your heart have courage. (Joshua 1:6)
Depart from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:15)


Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, Illinois.

Categories
Poetry Social Justice

‘I Can’t Breathe’ and ‘A Psalm for Our Cities on Fire’

As we watch with heavy hearts the events of late May and early June and witness innocent Americans exercising their right to protest fall victim to police violence, we pray for an end to racial injustice and power structures designed to silence, suppress, and kill people of color. We pray for healing, and we remain aligned with Black and Brown communities in the fight to end injustice. In the words of Rabbi Paul Kipnes, who shares a psalm here, “It’s time for action; we’re way past time of debate.” 

Encouraged by the teachings of Pirke Avot, which teach us that “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it,” we remain committed to social justice, and we remain committed to teaching and promoting anti-racism. We encourage you to read the CCAR’s statement on racist killings.

Here, we share a poem, written by Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, and a psalm, written by Rabbi Paul Kipnes, in reaction to these tragic events.


I Can’t Breathe
By Rabbi Lance J. Sussman

I can’t breathe,
The knee of oppression
Is on my neck.

I can’t breathe,
The air of my city
Is filled with tear gas.

I can’t breathe,
I am filled with rage
And the smoke of burning buildings.

I can’t breathe
Because the air is filled with contempt for people of different colors.

I can’t breathe
Because my country is suffocating
And the air of democracy is getting thinner and thinner.

I can’t breathe
Because I am grieving for America
And praying its dreams aren’t dying
In the streets of our nation tonight.

A Psalm for Our Cities on Fire
By Rabbi Paul Kipnes

A Psalm for our cities on fire
Aflame with the fires of fear
With anger burning ‘bout brazen brutality:
From a kneed neck Floyd’s breath snuffed out over there

A Psalm for our cities on fire
Veering vigorously toward violence and hate
Preventing protests that promote another vision:
Of justice that we all must create

A Psalm for our brothers and sisters
Who fear for their lives, black and brown
When they jog, shop, go to church, or go bird watching
With their hands held up high, or when lying down

A Psalm to remind us ‘bout justice
And the debasement that threatens their lives
Because our silence can no longer silence
The real pain of widowed husbands and wives

So Pray for our cities on fire
And sing out songs of protest ‘gainst hate
But since lives, they are holy and matter
It’s time for action; we’re way past time of debate


Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D., is the senior rabbi of Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Rabbi Paul Kipnes is leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California.

Categories
Poetry spirituality

Rabbi Karyn Kedar on Faith, Courage, and Wisdom

Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is a poet, spiritual counselor, inspirational speaker, and author of CCAR Press publications Omer: A Counting, published in 2014, and Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry, and Mindfulness Practice, published in 2019. In this challenging time, she shares her poetic reflections on faith, courage, wisdom, and resiliency.


“Leave the door open a bit,” I said. 

He looked at me as if he heard only soft sounds, vowels and breath. The sun seemed stuck on its way down beyond the horizon. There was an early evening afterglow. “Don’t close the door,” I said, “I like the sound of the rain, and the color of the trees and the thickness in the air. Just leave it ajar.” 

The rain was falling fast and constant, straight down. It made the sound of the nighttime pitter patter that comforts the restless soul which is unwilling to settle down. The trees were bright green, defiant, and proud to line the lane in beauty.

It had been raining all day. I followed the loud alerts from my phone and television warning of flooding. The Des Plaines River was already swollen, each day certain trails were impassable. This was going to make things worse. For sure. 

Why does every word sound like a metaphor, every thought symbolic for a greater truth?
The river escapes beyond the banks, 
the path impassable. 
The sound of rain, 
the bloom of trees. 
The beauty. 
The out of control nature of things. 

This morning I got dressed. White leggings and flats with a bow that no one will see. I put on a moss green tunic I bought several years ago in Jerusalem from a young woman. She was skinny and artsy with a tattoo and a nose ring and curls that had a mind of their own falling this way and that way. Her tattoo said “Jerusalem” in Hebrew. She told me how much she loved the city and though all her twenty-something friends were all moving to Tel Aviv, she would never would leave this beautiful city and how amazing this tunic looks on me and I could wear it this way or that. But I never do. I barely wear it at all. 

This morning the rain has stopped but I am still speaking in vowels which must be why Ezra keeps saying, huh or what? The fog settles and the morning abounds with dampness and all paths are flooded. 

The one thing I know for sure. Living takes faith, courage, and wisdom. 

I know this with every fiber and sinew of my body. I know this with my broken heart and with my unbreakable spirit and with every vowel-ladened breath. FCW is the great truth of the resilient soul, it always has been, and it always will be. 

We are living a ricochet of emotions: a wild bouncing between fear and hope and denial and confusion and peace and blessing and guilt and anger and secret joy and despair and existential astonishment. And mortality. And impermanence. And the perpetual question of the soul that asks why, and how, and huh?!

So,

FCW. 
Living takes Faith. Courage. Wisdom.
Because that is the one thing I know for sure.


Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, Illinois.

Categories
Healing Poetry

“We Shall Prevail”: A Poem for Unprecedented Times

When I was an undergraduate, I took a summer class in Shakespeare. My professor started every class by reciting a sonnet. When teaching a play, he admonished us to pay attention to the songs. Our tradition embraces the same wisdom – witness the Song at the Sea, the Song of Deborah, or all 150 Psalms. Here is my poem, my song, for these challenging times.

We Shall Prevail: A Poem for Unprecedented Times


We are living in a strange moment.
Nothing we have ever experienced before..
Some of us have seen war.
And pressed hard on the muddy floors of foxholes..
Some of us have faced illness.
And watched the drip of IVs restore life in our veins..
Some of us have lost our life savings.
And wondered if just enough will still be enough.
To live our lives..
All of us have lost loved loves.
And felt the finality of death sting our souls.

But now we are in an unprecedented moment.
Not some of us but all of us.
Not a recitation, a Passover plague,
Or a lesson about a 14th century catastrophe.
With the Angel of Death leading rats.
Through the streets of dying medieval cities.
We are not in the Philadelphia of the Yellow Fever.
Or the pandemic of 1918 during the First World War.
Which viciously cut down young lives like a silent machine gun.
With bullets forged from bacteria.

We are living in a strange, unprecedented moment.
Unfortified by the Olympian fortresses of modern science.
Which has yet to create a synthetic shield to a microscopic virus
That penetrates all human armor.

We are living a moment of growing, personal isolation
Increasingly instructed to self-isolate,
To withdraw from society and sports and entertainment
And even simple, familiar acts of faith.
No one is saying it out loud but the message is clear
“You must be strong alone,
You need to be disciplined and smart,
And cautious and vigilant.”

Tradition teaches to live with a pure heart,
Science says to live with clean hands.
Now is the time to collect our inner selves
And to be strong alone
Until the time comes again When we can be strong together.

Until then
Until that day
Let us resolve that we shall prevail.

Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, PhD

March 13, 2020


Rabbi Lance J. Sussman Ph.D., is the senior rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA, and the Chair-Elect of the Board of Governors of Gratz College. A historian of the American Jewish experience, Sussman has taught at Princeton, Binghamton University (SUNY), and Hunter College.

Categories
Inclusion inclusivity Poetry Prayer

In Unity and Hope

This prayer was written by Alden Solovy and Rabbi Ilene Harkavy Haigh at the 2019 URJ Biennial in response to the many conversations around politics, policy, and the many challenges facing Jews in America and beyond. As we enter into Shabbat during the largest gathering of Jews in North America, we come together physically and spiritually in unity and hope. 

How fair are your tents, O Jacob,
When we stand together,
In unity and love,
In the the name of hope and harmony.

How fragile are our tents
When our fears divide us
When we allow outside winds
To blow within.

Who but You,
Ruach Elohim,
Can define who we are?
What keeps us strong.
What keeps us whole.

Who but us,
Klal Yisroael,
Can shield us,
Carrying each other
As one against the storm?

How fair are our tents, O Israel,
When we stand together,
In the name of unity,
In compassion, in strength,
For our children,
And for our children’s children.

Ken yihi ratzon.


Alden Solovy is a liturgist and poet who has written five books including This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day and This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, both from CCAR Press. He is currently the Liturgist-in-Residence at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Rabbi Ilene Harkavy Haigh is the rabbi at Congregation Shir Shalom in Woodstock, Vermont and has been the recipient of the Bonnie and Daniel Tisch Leadership Fellowship, the Michael Chernick Prize in Rabbinic Literature, and the Weisman Memorial Prize in Homiletics, among others.