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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
Books CCAR Press

Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer

This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer completes Alden Solovy’s trilogy of books with CCAR Press. In the introduction, the author discusses the meaning of his work in a time of pandemic.

Jerusalem, Nisan, 5780/April 2020: I’m sitting at my desk, sheltering in place due to the coronavirus. In fifty years, when the coronavirus is a distant memory, please God—or perhaps by then all disease will have been wiped off the globe—some readers won’t know what I’m talking about. You do. Many of you, perhaps most, are doing the same thing in this precarious and surreal moment: protecting the preciousness of all human life—yours, your family’s, your neighbor’s—by drawing back from the world outside into the world within the walls of your own home.

The walls of my writing studio are covered with Jerusalem stone. My desk is a rickety home-office model, a put-it-together-yourself wood-simulation item purchased before IKEA was a thing. One wall of the study is lined with Jewish books, mostly siddurim, Torah commentaries, and other books of Jewish wisdom. Half of the bottom shelf is Hebrew-language books, a testament to my continued and only partially successful efforts to learn the holy tongue. The window faces east, my view through a tree-lined alley to a busy street that follows the 1949 armistice agreement line. The Old City is to the north. To pray, I swivel my chair ninety degrees to the left. The art on the wall behind me is Jewish, including a framed, hand-crocheted “Shalom” made by my Grandma Ida z”l, and a blessing for the home purchased with my wife, Ami z”l, too long ago to remember. My window ledge is full of family photos. As of this moment, everyone is healthy. Let it stay that way.

Some of you may have been sick or seriously ill with coronavirus. Some of you might be ill even now as I write or will, God forbid, become ill soon. Others may be grieving the death of a friend, a family member, or dear one. Some of you are walking into harm’s way to serve us: doctors, nurses, health-care professionals, police, fire, public safety, sanitation, food-chain workers, and more, all of the people in vital services. Each one of us is being asked—perhaps required—to consider what gives our lives meaning. What we value. Our connections. Our contributions. Our legacy. The past. The future. This very moment. This precious life. The place in which we encounter the Divine.

This is a book of prayers, poetry, and meditations inspired by divine encounters. The first half of the book draws from divine moments in our sacred texts, mostly Torah, but also the Prophets and the Writings. Written using a modern voice and a contemporary imagination, the text invites you to enter into these holy moments as experienced by our ancestors and to reclaim them as our own. The second half of the book focuses on holy moments in our daily lives, divine encounters that occur simply because we are human beings imbued with divinity. Divine encounters that occur because we’ve been given souls.

This book is a testimony to the preciousness of life. In the first half of the volume, you’ll walk with God in the garden, calling out to Adam and Eve. You’ll stand as witness to the moment of Creation, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Jacob’s ladder, and the Golden Calf. You’ll hear the voices of Abraham, our father, and Sarah, our mother. You’ll leave Egypt, dance with Miriam by the sea, build the Tabernacle, and experience prophecy. You’ll encounter the Divine through experiences of our forebearers.

In the second half of the book, you’ll also be asked—perhaps challenged—to experience the Divine in your daily life. You’ll be asked to imagine flying between two horizons, step inside the light, and ride the river of life. You’ll encounter spiritual vandals. You’ll be asked to find the ethics in your eyes, the ethics in your hands, the ethics in your arms, and the ethics in your heart. You’ll experience the Divine in the poetry of living.

This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer is the third book in a trilogy with This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings and This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day. This Grateful Heart focuses on time and seasons, providing prayers and meditations for our days, both the holy and the mundane. This Joyous Soul turns to the siddur, the prayer book, offering alternative readings for our classic liturgy. This Precious Life examines divine encounters in sacred texts and in our daily lives. This Precious Life is intended for personal meditation and communal prayer, as well as religious and spiritual counseling. As a book of meditations, it offers depth and breadth of emotion. As a spiritual guide, it brings intimacy and tenderness, humility and gratitude, supported by a foundation of strength, faith, and hope.

My goal in writing This Precious Life is to open you, the reader, to deeply experiencing moments of divine encounter using the liturgist’s hand and the poet’s eye to illuminate holy connection, to help you uplift your prayers and sing in praise. Along with those lofty ideas, there are practical uses for this volume. Use these offerings in your daily prayers, in writing divrei Torah, and in learning about and discussing the weekly parashah. Clergy and Jewish educators might consider using them as part of adult, teen, and Hebrew school education, as well as in Torah classes, sermons, conversion programs, counseling with congregants, and interfaith dialogue. Most importantly, my hope is that you are inspired to write new prayers in your own voice, based on your experiences of the Divine.

From here, sitting at my desk in Jerusalem, sheltering in place due to the coronavirus, it’s impossible to know what the state of the world—or the state of our worldview—will be when we return to the world or when you hold this book in your hands. What will happen to our trust, social interactions, the economy, our lives? How will we move through the world, day by day? How will the generation of children who sheltered at home be shaped by these precarious times?

This much is clear: This is a precious life. Your life. My life. Our lives. All precious. May we all live with a grateful heart and a joyous soul, sanctifying this precious life.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist and poet. He is the author of 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.

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.

Categories
Books Prayer

A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings

As wildfires burned in California, hundreds of missiles rained down on Israel from Gaza. Fire on the ground and fire from the air, with people I know and love in both places. Just a week before, 12 people were murdered in a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. A week before that, the largest-ever U.S. antisemitic massacre was perpetrated at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation, Pittsburgh. All this occurred against a backdrop of growing anti-Semitism world-wide and contentious U.S. mid-term elections.

My pen has been grieving, the ink pouring out prayers with titles like these: “Missiles from Gaza,” “As Fires Rage” and “Taharot in Pittsburgh.” In those 2.5 weeks, I wrote a baker’s dozen of ‘responsa prayers,’ dealing with immediate concerns in the wake of news events. Writing ‘responsa prayer’ is one of the roles of a modern liturgist, to give our shared experiences a voice of prayer.

There’s a reason why these pieces resonate. Our prayer book, the siddur, has tuned our ears to the many voices of prayer. We know the voice of grief and the voice of yearning. We know the voice of joy and the voice of hope. We have been praying some of these prayers for more than 1,000 years. The prayers call out to us, as they did to our fathers and mothers.

There can also be a disconnect. While the siddur gives us the spiritual foundation to connect to our inner hearts of blessing, at times the language doesn’t fit.  Another role of a modern Jewish liturgist is to bridge that gap, opening doorways back into the prayer book. The goal is to capture the familiar cadences and themes – and at times the familiar idiom – in a way that is true our current sensibilities and language.

The Reform siddur, Mishkan T’fillah, addresses these opposite forces with a faithful, contemporary translation of Hebrew texts, as well as a broad set of alternative readings on the left-hand page of two-page spreads.

This is the goal of my new book, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings. Structured to reflect the morning service found in Mishkan T’filah, this collection provides a new set of ‘left-hand pages’ to enliven our worship. The prayers in This Joyous Soul invite a deeply personal prayer experience that strengthens our connection to Jewish tradition. It’s written to inspire each of us to make the traditional daily liturgy our own. So, my hope is that it will be used both by individuals as part of their personal prayers and will be adopted for use in congregations throughout the Movement.

For generations, the siddur has given voice to our deepest desires. Every generation has left a mark on this great book that spans centuries, continents and cultures. This Joyous Soul is one contribution to that great endeavor: keeping the prayers of our ancestors vital and alive, with a new voice for these ancient yearnings.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist and teacher. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, published by CCAR Press in 2017, and This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearningsnow available for pre-order from CCAR Press and available by Thanksgiving 2018!

Categories
Books Prayer spirituality

Modern Voice, Ancient Yearning

Contemporary liturgy is a response to the call of the siddur and the call of our hearts.

The siddur carries the weight of history, the wisdom of our ancestors, the yearnings of humanity, the fears and the glories of our existence, and the resounding call of the shofar still beckoning from Sinai. The voices of the bereaved, the exalted, the confused, and the faithful, the voice of exile, the voice of redemption, and the voices of our parents, blend in the siddur’s unshakeable faith in God and the Jewish people.

So, too, our hearts desire modern language to capture our yearnings, ancient yearnings as old as humanity. Instinctively, we seek to pray with a contemporary voice, while understanding that our hearts’ desires are as old as life itself. In our time, some question both faith and history. Many struggle with concepts of God.

The call of the siddur begs for a response. Classic t’filah – the prayers written and redacted by rabbis and scholars in our time and for centuries before – require present-day voices to unpack new meaning from the old verses and to give them renewed power. Jewish prayer is reaffirmed and reestablished in each generation with a dialogue between our siddur and our hearts.

This is one of the goals of Mishkan T’filah, with ‘left-hand’ pages offering alternative readings and interpretations to the classic prayers that appear on the right. Essentially, the prayers in Mishkan T’filah  are in dialogue with themselves, inviting each of us into the conversation. The words of contemporary liturgy sing with the ancient words of prayer.

My forthcoming book – This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings – is the latest addition to that conversation. It is, essentially, a new set of left-hand pages for our siddur.

This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings,now available for pre-order.

This Joyous Soul provides a modern expression to classic prayers: from Birkot Hashachar to the Shema, from Amidah to Aleinu. It’s organized around the weekday morning service. Although it can be used with any prayer book, it’s structured to fit Mishkan T’filah, with many of the section heads matching that volume.

Many of the themes of the weekday morning service recur in the afternoon and evening services, as well as Shabbat and holiday services. So, this volume provides a versatile tool for daily, Shabbat and holiday prayer. Prayers specific to Shabbat and the holy days can also be found in the previously-published companion volume, This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day.

This Joyous Soul is a natural follow-up to This Grateful Heart. This Grateful Heart focused on days, times and seasons. Essentially, This Grateful Heart, is about the prayer needs of individuals in their daily lives. While many of the prayers in This Grateful Heart have been incorporated into communal worship by synagogues across North America and the U.K., the focus is on our individual prayer lives.

This Joyous Soul is about the prayer needs of individuals in our communal Jewish lives; in particular, in our worship services. Of course, many of the prayers in This Joyous Soul can be used by individuals in their daily lives, as well.

My hope is that congregations will place copies of This Joyous Soul alongside their regular siddur—in the pews or on the rack of prayer books—either as a supplement to communal worship or for congregants to use in moments of silent contemplation.

Deeper still, I hope that it serves as an invitation for each of us to explore the siddur with fresh eyes, that it opens curiosity – of both clergy and congregant – about the themes and intentions handed down for generations.

Even deeper, I hope that This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings becomes a source of inspiration for you to write your own prayers, for you to actively enter the dialogue between our hearts and our prayers, between our souls and the soul of the siddur, between our voices and the voices of ancient yearnings.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day (CCAR Press, 2017) and This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearningsnow available for pre-order from CCAR Press. 

Categories
Books Gun Control Prayer Social Justice

The Relevance of Prayer in the Face of Tragedy

The morning after the Las Vegas Massacre, several identical posts appeared on Facebook, many from rabbis, declaring that ‘Prayer is not enough.’ As I was reading them, I received a note in my message box from a long-time anti-gun activist. She asked: “Do you have a prayer to help give us energy and hope as we fight this battle?”

The contrast was stark. Faith leaders were deriding the importance of prayer while an anti-gun activist – crushed with the enormity of the work ahead – turned to prayer for hope and inspiration.

Clergy said it after the Las Vegas massacre. Clergy said it after the Pulse Massacre. Clergy said it after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. After each horrific tragedy – natural or not – a handful of Jewish clergy said: “Prayer is not enough.”

Yes, prayer must be accompanied by action. Tikun olam comes from our involvement in bettering the world. Yet as a liturgist and pray-er, someone who works every day to help people connect to prayer, I worry that stating that ‘prayer is not enough’ minimizes the importance and the impact of prayer. It perpetuates a simplistic understanding of prayer.

What I want to say to my beloved rabbis is this: Be brave in demanding action. Be direct. Tell your congregants this: Get up out of your seats, do something that will make a difference. But in the process, don’t intimate that prayer is irrelevant.

Prayer can give strength to activists. Prayer can remind us of our best selves, helping to galvanize action. It can comfort the wounded and the newly bereaved. Prayer can remind us – when the moment of tragedy has passed – to continue our work. Prayer can unite faith leaders and political leaders with one voice.

Prayer helps us bury the dead and provide solace to their kin. Prayer gives our grief a voice and that voice should be a call to engage in bettering the world.

It’s true that our prayers will not stop a bullet. They won’t keep automatic weapons off the streets. Prayers will not clean up in the aftermath of a natural disaster. They will not build homes. They will not pass legislation. But we have no business believing that about prayer in the first place.

I’m concerned about the conflicting message that we may send by  one day declaring that ‘prayer is not enough,’ the next day leading worship services in synagogue and the next representing the Jewish people in interfaith prayer gatherings. It’s strange to think that one can minimize prayer one day and the next day expect a congregation of worshipers to arrive at your synagogue ready to pray. The question is not when we need prayer and when do we not, but rather, how can we enable prayer to go hand in hand with meaningful action.

Prayer can be a potent and important part of the solution. We shouldn’t expect more of prayer. But we shouldn’t expect less, either.

This is the prayer I sent my friend, the anti-gun advocate: Against Gun Violence

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher. He has written more than 600 pieces of new liturgy, offering a fresh new Jewish voice, challenging the boundaries between poetry, meditation, personal growth, and prayer. Solovy is a three-time winner of the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. He made aliyah to Israel in 2012, where he hikes, writes, teaches, and learns. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, from CCAR Press, now available as an eBook.

CCAR Press has created unique programs for you to host at your congregations, schools, libraries, and Jewish Community Centers. Want to host a Grateful Heart Event? Click for details. Contact us with questions at info@ccarpress.org or (212) 972-3636 x243.

 

Categories
Books Prayer spirituality Torah

A New Amen

The Talmud asks, what is the meaning of the word ‘amen’? Rabbi Ḥanina responds: “It is an acronym of the words: “God, faithful King.”[i] In fact, the first letters of the Hebrew phrase El Melekh ne’eman spell out ‘amen.’[ii]

Perhaps it is time for a new ‘amen,’ an amen of action.

The Talmud asks: Which is preferable, saying a blessing or answering amen? According to Rabbi Yosei, “the reward of the one who answers amen is greater than the reward of the one who recites the blessing.” But a few lines later, the Gemara notes that Rabbi Yosei’s view is disputed by another teaching. Here, the Talmud leaves the question unresolved. Clearly, however, saying ‘amen’ is a critical part of prayer.[iii]

Another section of the Talmud also discusses the importance of saying amen. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says that answering a prayer with a deep and heartfelt ‘amen’ has the power to annul punishment, even traces of idolatry. Reish Lakish says: “One who answers amen with all his strength, opens the gates of the Garden of Eden.”[iv]

Hearing a prayer, it seems, requires a response. Yet we must ask: After major natural disasters, after gun massacres, vehicular slayings and the general rise of hatred, is saying ‘amen’ to a prayer for peace enough to open the gates of Eden?

We are a people of deeds, a people who value the nitty-gritty work of tikkun olam. Our forbearers said ‘Heineini’ – ‘here I am’ – when God called their names. In these times, we need a new ‘amen, an amen of action.

We can start with a new acronym for amen. In Hebrew, amen is spelled ‘aleph,’ ‘mem,’ ‘nun.’ Taking the ‘aleph’ from the first letter of the first word – and the ‘mem’ and ‘nun’ from the first and last letters of the second word – I propose that Ani Muchan, ‘I am ready,’ as the amen that will open the gates of Eden.[v]

We are expected to be God’s partner in perfecting creation. We are expected to use our individual actions and financial blessings to improve the world.

Perhaps our prayers are, in part, a set of questions. Will you work for peace? Will you feed the hungry and cloth the naked? Will you fight injustice and pursue peace?

Ani muchan. I am ready. Thus, ‘amen’ becomes a commitment to take our prayers out of our synagogues and out of our hearts and move them onto the streets and into the world with dedication and love. To answer a prayer with ‘ani muchan’ is to make a pledge that can only be fulfilled when we’re done praying.

Click here to read “To the Streets” by Alden Solovy.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher. He has written more than 600 pieces of new liturgy, offering a fresh new Jewish voice, challenging the boundaries between poetry, meditation, personal growth, and prayer. Solovy is a three-time winner of the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. He made aliyah to Israel in 2012, where he hikes, writes, teaches, and learns. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, from CCAR Press, now available as an eBook.

CCAR Press has created unique programs for you to host at your congregations, schools, libraries, and Jewish Community Centers. Want to host a Grateful Heart Event? Click for details. Contact us with questions at info@ccarpress.org or (212) 972-3636 x243.

 

[i] Shabbat 119b; Sanhedrin 111a

[ii] The Nehalel Siddurim translates El Melekh ne’eman as ‘God, Loyal Sovereign.”

[iii] Brachot 53b

[iv] Shabbat 119b

[v] Thanks to Asher Arbit for his help with the acronym.

Categories
Books Prayer

Heroic Prayer: Climbing out of a Pit of Sorrow into Vitality

“Why pray? And what is prayer, to you?” Rabbi Don Goor asked me as I sat in front of the crowd at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem last week. It was the evening of the Israel launch of my new CCAR Press book, This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, and I was talking about my own recovery from trauma by writing prayers.

I began writing new prayers as an act of self-preservation. It was an effort to understand and to redirect my pain and grief after my wife passed away from traumatic brain injury eight years ago. I was looking for a way to climb out of a pit of sorrow into vitality. Prayer has been a doorway back to the love of life and the love of God. Each prayer I write strengthens my sense of God in the world. Writing brings me closer and closer to myself, our people and our God.

with Rabbi Don Goor at the book launch for “This Grateful Heart” at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.

To pray is to be spiritually brave; to have faith in a power that operates beyond our basic senses. A force is created when the energy of words and emotions are combined with the intention of reaching out to God. We participate in this remarkably daring and courageous act because we believe prayer matters.

To continue to pray even when one doubts the connection between heaven and our prayers is prayer heroism. I’ve been in that place. Thankfully, by writing prayers I reconnected with my love of t’filah. For some, this place of struggle can last a lifetime.

Once, after teaching at a Limmud event, an elderly woman approached me. She explained that once she loved to pray, until her son died. She was in her mid-20s at the time. “I’ve been mad at God for the last 55 years,” she said. “Can you help me?”

“Perhaps only with an observation,” I replied. “You’ve been mad at God for a long time, yet you just attended a session on finding meaning in prayer. You might be mad at God but, apparently, you haven’t given up. You haven’t abandoned God or prayer, have you?”

“No,” she said. “But I’m not sure why.”

“And here you are, hoping to reclaim that joy,” I continued.

“Yes, but I’m not sure why.”

“Maybe,” I said, “That young woman who once loved to pray still has a voice left inside you.”

When one falls in love with prayer, that love often survives, somewhere inside, but the pain of loss can block the way. We pray side-by-side with these prayer heroes all of the time, those who keep praying in spite of their losses and their doubts.

To pray is a brazen spiritual act; to pray is to suggest that God desires our prayers, perhaps even needs them. It is to have faith that our words have an impact on worlds, the world of heaven and the world of earth. To pray is to declare that our words can ascend to reach divine realms and that they will be heard. Nothing short of sheer audacity.

This yearning for God to hear our prayers is echoed in Psalms: “When I call, answer me… be gracious to me and hear my prayer” (Psalms 4:2); “Hear my words, Adonai… Hearken to the sound of my outcry… at dawn hear my voice…” (Psalms 5:2-4); “Oh God, hear my prayer, give ear to the utterances of my mouth” (Psalms 54:4). The Psalmist prays to be heard.

This is the only promise of Jewish prayer: that God hears us. Perhaps, at first, it seems like a narrow promise. Simply that we will be heard.

God witnesses our lives. God witnesses our joys and sorrows. The eternal divine Soul of the universe bears witness to our brief time on earth. Even our suffering. This is a spot where it is easy to fall into a trap. ‘Hearing’ and ‘answering’ are not the same.

When we share our deepest desires with God, we offer a kind a praise. It’s the praise of desire to be in relationship. It’s the praise of knowing – or at least wanting – God’s loving presence. When we share our heartbreaks with God, God offers us a profound blessing: the blessing of being heard.

Perhaps this is the only reason to pray through a wall of grief.

Pray bravely. To be heard.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher. He has written more than 600 pieces of new liturgy, offering a fresh new Jewish voice, challenging the boundaries between poetry, meditation, personal growth, and prayer. His writing was transformed by multiple tragedies, marked in 2009 by the sudden death of his wife from catastrophic brain injury. Solovy’s teaching spans from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem to Limmud, UK, and synagogues throughout the U.S. The Jerusalem Post called his writing “soulful, meticulously crafted.” Huffington Post Religion said “…the prayers reflect age-old yearnings in modern-day situations.” Solovy is a three-time winner of the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. He made aliyah to Israel in 2012, where he hikes, writes, teaches, and learns. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, from CCAR Press, now available as an eBook.

CCAR Press has created unique programs for you to host at your congregations, schools, libraries, and Jewish Community Centers. Want to host a Grateful Heart Event? Click for details. Contact us with questions at info@ccarpress.org or (212) 972-3636 x243.

Categories
Books Convention

Collecting Rabbis

I collect rabbis.

As a young boy, it seemed to me, being a rabbi was a profound and precious use of a Jewish soul. To inspire Torah into hearts and into the world, oh my! So, at the age of 18, when I asked my own rabbi about going into the rabbinate, I was crushed.

My rabbi told me that I was already behind in Torah studies. That it would take me twice as long as the other students to catch up. Even then, my Hebrew was so bad that I wouldn’t begin seminary with my peers. If I made it – if I made it, he said – I’d always be a rabbi, that the entire Jewish world would constantly judge my actions, that the entire Jewish world would be represented me always. He asked if I had the strength to do that.

What I heard, as an insecure and uncertain teen, was this: “We don’t want you. There’s no place for you in Rabbi-World.”

He was a brilliant Torah teacher. I still reread his books. I remember sermons he gave decades ago. I remember the joy of our Friday morning Talmud class. He gave me my first glimpse of the depth and beauty of diving into Torah. Since then, I’ve considered the rabbinate several times. Even at 60, there’s still a wound in my heart with the words: “Not a rabbi.”

So, I collect rabbis. What does that mean? That I still allow my heart to be open and vulnerable to rabbis. That if you touch my heart, you’ll always be my rabbi. The balm on the wound is to collect the vibrant golden hearts of Torah teachers, tikun olam leaders, healers, blessings in the flesh. The balm is to add a bit of your heart to mine.

You were at my wife’s deathbed and comforted my children at her shiva. You taught me Torah. We stood together at the Kotel defending women’s prayer rights. You taught me how to say the Shema with my entire being. You’ve encouraged my writing, challenged it to get better. You’ve brought me to your synagogues to teach. We made music together. You call yourselves Rabbi, Rav, Rabba, chaplain, educator, pastoral care counselor, editor, coach, friend.

Here I am, early on Monday morning at the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention. Some of my rabbis are here, some didn’t make it. Most are Reform. Some Conservative, Orthodox, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Havurah, Haredi, defiant of labels. Some are AIPAC and some are JStreet. Some are men, women, trans, gay, lesbian. Writers. Teachers. Scholars. Activists.

Last night here at CCAR17, I was blessed to hear many kind things about my writing and my new book, ‘This Grateful Heart.’ I confess: part of me – the ‘not a rabbi’ part – doesn’t know what to do with these words, so I put them into the box of inspirational fuel for my work as a liturgist.

I’m still collecting rabbis, so this is the place for me to be.

It appears that some rabbis are also collecting liturgists. This Grateful (sentimental) Heart is touched.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher. He has written more than 600 pieces of new liturgy, offering a fresh new Jewish voice, challenging the boundaries between poetry, meditation, personal growth, and prayer. His writing was transformed by multiple tragedies, marked in 2009 by the sudden death of his wife from catastrophic brain injury. Solovy’s teaching spans from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem to Limmud, UK, and synagogues throughout the U.S. The Jerusalem Post called his writing “soulful, meticulously crafted.” Huffington Post Religion said “…the prayers reflect age-old yearnings in modern-day situations.” Solovy is a three-time winner of the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. He made aliyah to Israel in 2012, where he hikes, writes, teaches, and learns. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, from CCAR Press.

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Books

There is No Moment Too Small or Too Large for Gratitude

We are surrounded by holiness. By beauty. By wonder and awe. At the same time, we must live life as it’s offered to us, sometimes messy, sometimes challenging, potentially painful, potentially traumatic, a mixed bag of joys and sorrows. No matter what, our lives are enriched by prayer. Prayer gives our hearts a voice. There’s no moment too small for a prayer. Or too large for that matter. A single petal of a rose. A field of wildflowers. A birth. A death. And there’s no moment too small or too large for gratitude.

Composing prayers is a natural expression of my desire to move closer to God. In response to various life tragedies I began a spiritual journey of prayer, meditation, daily journaling and making gratitude lists. This writing evolved into a regular practice of composing prayers. The practice was a large part of my healing from those tragedies, including the loss of Ami z”l – my wife of 27 years – from catastrophic brain damage.

The act of creating a prayer is healing. One aspect of that healing comes in recognizing the yearning, the deep desire that needs a voice. Another element of healing is the writing itself, which attaches those yearnings to language – often lyrical, but sometimes blunt – evoking a prayer of the heart. I recommend it.

In our Siddur, whether it’s Mishkan T’filah or any other Jewish prayer book, we say that God is the one shomeah t’filah, the One who hears our prayers. The faith that our prayers are heard gives prayer power. We don’t have to be alone in grief. We have a witness, perhaps the ultimate Witness, to both our troubles and our triumphs. Our extraordinary times will be heard by the One who hears.grateful-heart

The core of This Grateful Heart, my newest book from CCAR Press, however, is bringing prayer into the routine flow of our lives. Waking in the morning. Going to sleep at night. The change of seasons. Holy days. Regular days. Shabbat. We recognize that the regular practice of gratitude in prayer will enrich our days and help us get through the tougher times.

To create this collection I reread every one of my pieces, more than 600 liturgical works. As you might imagine, with such a large body of work I’d lost my connection with some of these prayers. Creating This Grateful Heart gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my own prayers, to remember the love that went into each piece. To remember why I wrote each one. That was a real gift.

This book is aimed at both personal and communal prayer. That was a key challenge in creating this anthology. By design, most of the pieces in This Grateful Heart can do ‘double-duty.’ While individuals and families will find voice for their hopes and aspirations, rabbis will find prayers and readings that engage us in t’filah – in worship – as well as a rich resource for counseling congregants.

The flow and organization of the prayers, matching the rhythms of our lives, gives This Grateful Heart a unique warmth and charm. The experience is much different than reading a classic anthology organized by topic. This Grateful Heart connects deeply into the flow of time and seasons. It can be used in private prayer and in communal worship. As a book of prayers, it’s versatile. As a spiritual guide, it brings both intimacy and tenderness, as well as a sense of strength.

Prayer and gratitude elevate us. Prayer and gratitude light our way. This is not always easy. My own love affair with prayer has had rocky moments, moments when I resisted prayer, moments when I resisted my higher gut instinct that prayer would guide me to healing. That’s one of the reasons that this book moves with the cycles of our lives. Any day a prayer is needed, any day someone decides to say a prayer, or to deepen a personal prayer practice, there’s a doorway here, in this book.

We pray in joy, fear, sorrow and loss. We pray to celebrate, to mourn, to create a connection with beauty, hope and love. Prayer is an expression of our inner voice. We pray as an expression of gratitude. I hope that people will see This Grateful Heart as a prayerbook, a resource kit, a spiritual practice, an inspiration, and a source of hope.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist and teacher. His writing was transformed by multiple tragedies, marked in 2009 by the sudden death of his wife from catastrophic brain injury. Solovy’s teaching spans from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem to Limmud UK and synagogues throughout the U.S. The Jerusalem Post called his writing “soulful, meticulously crafted.” Huffington Post Religion said “…the prayers reflect age-old yearnings in modern-day situations.” Solovy is a three-time winner of the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. 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 Day, now available from CCAR Press.