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Machzor Blog: Liturgy with a Coat of Many Colors

Several years ago one of my congregants captured the essence of a discussion about a future Reform Machzor by saying, “I would like the liturgy to be like a coat of many colors.”

All of us present for the conversation understood.  This congregant was referring to the way in which the standard High Holiday liturgy mostly presents a single image of God.  “He” is enthroned on high; God rules, decides, and forgives a very frail humanity.

Before Mishkan Hanefesh had taken shape, my congregants and I were hoping for a Machzor that went beyond the “black and white” theology presented in the historic liturgy.  We were hoping to move, you might say, to “full color,” to the multi-faceted way in which Jews of the past have explored divinity, prayer, and life as well as the ways in which contemporary Jews continue that process.

The good news from my perspective is that, on the whole, my prayers and those of my congregants are on their way to being answered.

Back on a chilly Sunday morning in April, we used the new pilot service for Yom Kippur Morning and found much of what we experienced moving, challenging, and relevant.

Opposite Mi Chamocha, we encountered a reading based on the Mechilta’s assertion that the mighty God can sometimes be a silent God.  Later in the Viddui another text began with these words, “It is not easy to forgive God…The human suffering that surrounds us feels utterly unforgivable.”

There was sweetness too among other readings.   A beautiful poem on the page facing Ki Anu Amecha played with the metaphors of God as a Shepherd or Master.  The text invited worshipers to imagine God was a caring Gardener (1) and to consider what it might be like to experience love and tenderness from such a divine source.

From my perspective, several translations also elegantly reframed the connection between God and humanity.  “Avinu, Malkeinu, enter our names in the Book of Lives Well Lived.”  “For all these wrongs, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, help us atone.”

As you can tell, I liked this new presentation of the Yom Kippur liturgy.  Perhaps because my congregants have spent so much time with me considering and reconsidering faith and theology, they too were intrigued.  There was less formality in this proposed Machzor.  God isn’t as high.  Then again, we humans are not as low.  Both parties play a more balanced and significant covenantal role.  Both parties are where they need to be in order to have the kind of encounter that can make the High Holidays as meaningful as they really ought to be.

Mark Shapiro is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email machzor@ccarnet.org.

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Machzor Blog: Rosh HaShanah Morning and Torah Reading Options

The most traditional texts for the Torah reading on Rosh HaShanah morning are Genesis 21 and Genesis 22. In many congregations that observe two days of the holiday, it is most customary to read 21 on the first day and 22 on the second day. Genesis 21 begins with the notion that God remembered our matriarch Sarah and enabled her to have a child. The idea of remembering is tied to a name of Rosh HaShanah in the Bible: the Day of Remembrance. This is the lesson: God remembers us as God remembers Sarah. To paraphrase a very different cultural artifact: “God knows when we have been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.”

Genesis 22, the famous Binding of Isaac story, may be read on the second day for the prosaic reason that it is the next part of the Torah, and thus no Torah scroll maneuvering is needed. There are also connections between the ram in the story and the sounding of the ram’s horn. In addition, there are a multitude of sermonic challenges, explaining why God would test Abraham in such a way. But then maybe that is the point of Rosh HaShanah: we are all being tested.

When Gates of Repentance was adapted more than thirty years ago from the British liberal machzor, the committee decided to omit Genesis chapter 21, perhaps due to its negative treatment of a non-Israelite, but also because of lack of space. Space was lacking because Genesis 1 was added. Rosh HaShanah is considered by the ancient Rabbis to be the birthday of the world, so it follows that reading about the birth of the world is apt.

Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor, will include all three of these three choices, enabling congregations to have more options about what to read on Rosh HaShanah.  In addition, the editors wish to also add a fourth option: chapter 18 of Genesis. Why? Genesis 1 is beautiful but offers no human narrative. Genesis 21 and 22 feature the founder of what will become Judaism acting in ways that modern readers easily find questionable, i.e., casting out his son Ishmael and her mother and then readily agreeing to kill his beloved Isaac. On the other hand, Genesis 18 features Abraham questioning God, like a loyal but confident subordinate might question his or her boss. When God chooses collective punishment for all the inhabitants of Sodom, Abraham asks God, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth not also act in a just manner?” We the editors feel that a story showing the positive side of Abraham’s development as a leader is inspirational for all of us who aspire to act with righteousness, even if at times that means questioning authority.

We hope that the Torah choices included in the new machzor will prompt many years of conversation about important topics and lead as well to chesbon hanefesh, a searching of our own souls for the good and the true.

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg has served as the senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Coral Gables since 1996. In July he will begin serving as the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago. Rabbi Goldberg is the coordinating editor of the forthcoming CCAR Machzor and is the author of five books including, Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most and Love Tales from the Talmud. This post also appeared on http://www.reformjudaism.org. 

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email machzor@ccarnet.org.

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Machzor Blog: Thoughts on Torah Readings

Our congregation, Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York, has been worshipping with a draft copy of Mishkan HaNefesh for three years now, on the second day of Rosh Ha-Shanah.  About four hundred congregants and members of the community-at-large show up for this service, and we have taken the opportunity not only to pilot the new machzor from the pulpit, but also to invite the participants’ feedback.  In general, opinion about the machzor is positive, with many praising the dignified, uplifting, and poetic English prayer-renderings and meditations, and others appreciating the opportunities for study and reflection built into the machzor.

Because the draft copy we have been piloting does not feature a Torah service, we have jumped back into Gates of Repentance for the Torah Service and we have produced our own one-page handout for the Shofar Service.  The Torah service, however, prompts a fascinating question about which our congregation and clergy have been wondering aloud for a couple of years:  what Torah readings will Mishkan HaNefesh propose for reading on First and Second Day Rosh HaShanah?

This spring I taught an eight-week adult education course in midrash using Akedat Yitzhak (The Binding of Isaac, Genesis 22) as our primary text.  While many of the students feel spiritually and emotionally drawn to the Binding of Isaac and recognize its importance within Judaism–an importance that led to our Reform Movement proposing it as the reading for First Day Rosh HaShanah, instead of on Day Two, where it is found in Orthodox and Conservative circles–many agreed that the time has come to re-locate Akedat Yitzhak on Day Two, and replace the Torah reading for First Day Rosh Ha-Shanah with the traditional Scriptural passage, Genesis 21, which not only sets up the drama for day two (Genesis 21 details the birth of Isaac and his place in Jewish genealogy), but also beautifully meshes with Rosh Ha-Shanah themes of birth and hopefulness.

I would warmly support the re-introduction of this text.  It would embrace the value of Klal Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish People, by bringing us into common practice with other streams of Judaism.  It would also invite the rabbi to explore new and varied preaching topics on Rosh HaShanah morning, and offer new discussion topics for congregants.

Knowing our Reform Movement, and the format of Mishkan T’filah, I suspect that choices will be offered, including the choice of reverting to Genesis 21.  Readers, what do you think?

Rabbi Jonathan Blake serves Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY.

 Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email machzor@ccarnet.org.

 

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Fish Forks and Beer Mugs: Choosing the Right Technology for Publishing

The nature of the book has changed dramatically in recent years. From the old standard of signatures of paper, in multiples of 16, 24,or 32, bound between covers and filled with typeset text, we now have ebooks, and PDF’s, and audiobooks, and apps – and that’s just for starters.

There are so many choices about how to produce a book. And yet, the essence of a book in many ways remains unchanged. They remain transmitters of ideas, containers of human experience and expression.

As a publisher, I’m often asked about how we will use technology with any given project. My answer is very simple: In as many ways as possible. For while it’s true that the technology presents us, a publisher using Hebrew text, with real challenges, and while it’s also true that we also have real financial limitations, our goal is always to create as many different versions of a book as we can, taking into account what makes sense for that particular content. For even with all the options we have available today, publishing should not be driven by technology, but rather by content development.

Publishing is no longer focused on the physical manufacturing of objects. But just as has always been true in publishing, content has to be developed carefully, thoughtfully, and creatively. That is our central goal at the CCAR Press. First we need an idea that is right for our core market, an approach that aligns with our mission, and the right team of editors and/or writers. Each project has different specifications and uses, and so allows for different formats. There are technological options we can consider today that weren’t possible last year. Surely that will be the same next year as well, and so on. Some projects, like the Daily Blessing App, are not physical books at all. Some projects, like Mishkan T’filah, exist as a physical book, an App, and in Visual T’filah, and we will continue to develop other versions as technology and finances allow. Mishkan R’fuah: Where Healing Resides, is both a physical book and an ebook. And so on.

iT'filahThere’s a lot of talk in the publishing world about how people are choosing to read today. Publishers carefully study stats about how people are reading, and which demographic is doing what in which medium. But I’m not convinced it’s a competition between formats. Rather, it may be that the more formats, the more we can customize our personal reading experiences.

The other day I was listening to a book on Audible and the voice in my ear said, “In this audiobook you will learn…” which I found rather jarring. For me, the experience wasn’t about listening to an audiobook. I had simply chosen to listen to this specific book, rather than read it. I hadn’t shopped for an audiobook, I had shopped for this particular title. The fact that it was an audiobook was insignificant. The audiobook aspect of the experience was a doorway to step through, on the other side of which was the content of the book. What mattered ultimately was the content, not the format.

Growing up I learned that salad is eaten with one kind of fork, and the main course with another. Dessert might be eaten with yet another. Later I learned that fish has its own kind of fork, and even later was introduced to such specialty items as pickle forks and olive forks.  Think too about glasses – this kind for water, this kind for white wine, this kind for red, and a frosted mug for beer. Each was created to best serve the experience of imbibing that particular food or drink, but in the end, the purpose is all the same: to convey the food or the liquid to your mouth.

So too with different book formats in this age of multiple choice. As a reader, I find myself choosing different formats depending on the content and context. I prefer printed books for poetry, for Torah commentaries, and for cookbooks. Yet I read fiction almost entirely on my iPad. I listen to non-fiction business books on my phone. It’s not a competition between the formats, but rather a matter of which one I prefer for the particular content.

The questions about how to best use technology in publishing are challenging and enormous. Publishers of all shapes and sizes are required to constantly keep learning new skills, and consider new options. But the core of publishing is still about content. For publishers, technology is not the goal, it is merely the means.

Rabbi Hara Person is the Publisher of CCAR Press

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Books General CCAR Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

Mishkan T’filah for Children: Creating a New Siddur for Families and Schools

I have always wrestled with the siddur.  However, I thought I had reached my peace with it, until I was asked to write Mishkan T’filah for Children.

My HUC year in Israel was the first time that my Hebrew was good enough to actually understand the prayers that were ingrained in my memory.  The first time I read the familiar Hebrew words and understood their translations, I found myself unable to pray.  The God that I believed in wasn’t the all-powerful “Male Sky God” that the rabbis seemed to know – a God who is “King of the Universe,” who is “High and Exalted,” and who we beseech to “rule over us in steadfast love and compassion.”   This was not my God.

Like many of us, I would decide that the words didn’t matter as much as the people and the places.  I wasn’t the first Jew to not believe the words in every prayer, and I surely will not be the last.  I teach prayer and encourage students to grapple with the words.  I lead prayer and find ways in my introductions and chosen melodies to explain and add meaning to the text.  And I pray, often turning off my mind to let my spirit soar.  And for me, it worked.

That was, until Rabbi Hara Person reached out to me and asked if I would consider writing Mishkan T’filah for Children, a siddur intended for grades k-2 and me.   Though I teach prayer, and lead prayer, writing a movement prayer book was a very different prospect.  I had read enough Sasso and Kushner to know that children’s books could provide diverse images of God, but could a children’s prayerbook successfully do the same?  Was there a way to show those varying theologies while still staying true to Reform Movement prayer?   What was the balance between keeping the words of our tradition, and encouraging different ideas and concepts to emerge?

I have to give credit to my husband, Rabbi Joel Abraham, for his help at this point.   “Why does God have to be the “Creator of Peace,” he asked.  “Why can’t God just be the “Peace”?   Indeed why not?

How many different classes and programs have I taught where we explore the many different images of God that are part of the Jewish tradition?  Why can’t a prayerbook for children share that variety?  Indeed, a key component of the “regular” Mishkan T’filah is its inclusion of different English readings that give a variety of God images.   Even the traditional siddur, with in the limitations imposed by the culture that created it, reaches for diverse images of the Divine.

And so, I began to work.  We would still refer to God as “Ruler of the Universe,”  but find places where God was also the Light, the Peace, or the Artist.  I added images of God “tucking us in” and “helping us be strong and brave,” and kept images of God as “Creator of Miracles” and “Giver of Live.”  We would praise God for being holy, and also recognize the Holy Spark with in each of us as God as well.

It is an incredible gift to have your theology challenged.    The process of writing Mishkan T’filah for Children was just that for me – not only my own voice, but the voices of parents, children, and clergy loud in my mind, questioning each word that I chose.  Did this image of God to too far? Should I be more daring and go farther?    I teach my students that we are Yisrael – the Ones who Wrestle with God. It is an incredible gift to be invited to engage in the struggle.

Michelle Shapiro Abraham, RJE, is the Director of Education at Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains, NJ.  She is also the author of numerous Jewish curricula and children’s books, and works extensively as a consultant for a variety of Jewish Summer Camp grants and projects.  Most recently she served as the Jewish Educational Consultant on the Foundation for Jewish Camp Specialty Camp Incubator.  

Order Mishkan T’filah for Children by July 15th to receive a special pre-publication discount of 25%. Also forthcoming from CCAR Press is Mishkan T’filah for Youth, intended for grades 3-6.

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Machzor Blog: Unetaneh Tokef

IMG_3635I was asked to serve on the core editorial for the new Reform Machzor in November of 2009.  Our first actual meeting was in January, 2010.  I was flying early Monday morning from Miami to NYC.  Because of terribly high winds in New York the plane could not land and we finally arrived in D.C. instead.  At first I was miffed that I had not been able to make the first meeting on time.  Then I understood that the very essence of the Days of Awe was reflected in my experience.  As Unetaneh Tokef reminds us, “you just never know”.    Fortunately the matter involved a plane landing elsewhere, as opposed to a plane not landing at all!

Unetaneh Tokef is one of those aspects of the machzor that are frustrating.  On the one hand, scholarship proves that the declaration was composed somewhat like a jazz variation, a “one-off” used to introduce the Kedushah at a particular service.  Somehow it became Keva instead of Kavanah.  And then of course there is the troublesome theology.  It is very tempting to avoid Unetaneh Tokef in the machzor, but then how can we say it is reflective of the High Holy Days?

I believe a better approach is to include it – along with some alternative readings that stress a less Deuteronomic view of God – because the theological “elephant” in the room should not be ignored.  We humans have a tendency to combat uncertainty by offering difficult theology.  All the wishing away of such a human response will not rewire our make up.  I know that the words of Unetaneh Tokef can be hurtful.  But then again, so is life.

One of the most powerful things we have done in my synagogue for the last couple of years, thanks to drop down screens, is to present Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire.  The screens mean that the actual words are right there for everyone to see and sing.  Not only does Cohen’s version attract a certain subset of hipper congregants; the power of his words capture the emotional intensity of our uncertain future in a way that transcends the ancient words.

And who by fire, who by water,

Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,

Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,

Who in your merry merry month of may,

Who by very slow decay,

And who shall I say is calling?

 

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,

Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,

And who by avalanche, who by powder,

Who for his greed, who for his hunger,

And who shall I say is calling?

 

And who by brave assent, who by accident,

Who in solitude, who in this mirror,

Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,

Who in mortal chains, who in power,

And who shall I say is calling?

 

Were I to write a High Holy Day prayer book reflective of only my personal theology, I would leave out Unetaneh Tokef.  Nevertheless, I am glad that we are including the traditional version in our new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, and I would hope that it, along with other resources, will be the beginning of the conversation, and not the end.

After all, at its heart the High Holy Days are about questions as well as answers.

And who shall we say is calling?

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg is a member of the Machzor Editorial Team.  He is the senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Coral Gables, FL, and will become the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom in Chicago, IL, this summer.  

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email machzor@ccarnet.org.

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Machzor Blog: A Personal Vision

photo-36For the last three years I have been privileged to serve on the core editorial team of the new Reform machzor, to be called Mishkan HaNefesh.  From the beginning of the process of creating a new machzor, the first one from scratch by the CCAR since 1894, I sat down and created a personal vision statement for the machzor.

Here is what I wrote:

 PERSONAL MACHZOR VISION STATEMENT

EDWIN COLE GOLDBERG

 There is an old joke that says baseball is a Jewish sport because, in the end, the point of the game is to head home.  There is something Jewish about returning home, remembering who we are and seeing the world not so much in a new way but rather with lenses that take in the new while restoring the old perspective.  For most (post) modern American Jews I think this metaphor works well: once a year we return to a familiar place for a rehearsed routine.  Most congregants, I would imagine, are content with efficient services and a sermon that tries to move them.  Wonderful music is a huge part of the equation, and these days an eclectic mix of stirring and participatory is usually best.  The architecture of the building, too, plays a role in the effectiveness of the worship.  Like baseball, the rules stay the same, the old rites comforting.  But no one minds a little well-paced drama.

And then there is the machzor.  For me, a good machzor is somewhat like a business suit on a man: if it calls too much attention to itself, it is not a good thing.  The machzor should facilitate effective (and affective) worship; it should not be the star.  As we create a new machzor, we should remember that what we create is one component in a large array of factors that contribute to a meaningful worship experience.

The unique challenge of a machzor, as opposed to a siddur, is the theological “elephant” in the sanctuary that cannot be sent to the side.  That old “Deuteronomic” view of God as the great Judge and King cannot be taken out of the machzor without the risk of turning the Days of Awe into merely Days.

And yet, I believe our machzor should focus primarily on the human experience of cheshbon nefesh.  Through accessible poetry and well-written translations, our focus should be on the possibility of change and the potential for human growth.  Our prayers and poems should reflect the reality that people are facing, living in a world of moral temptation, dizzying choice and 24/7 bombardment. 

I imagine, then, a machzor that speaks to amcha, not ignoring the role of God in our lives, but focusing primarily on our journey homeward, enabling us to rediscover the values we hold dear, the promises we made when younger, and the challenges before us that, if met, will lead us to lives of holiness.

Reading this statement over three years later, I am pleased that so much of our efforts have reflected the difficult challenge of inviting God into our lives at this critical time of year while at the same time not losing our own sense of personal responsibility for the choices we make.

There are going to be many theological views of God presented in the machzor, just as there will be diverse perspectives on our humanity.  Ultimately, I hope that our machzor will privilege the unique relationship between ourselves and God in bringing more holiness into our lives.

Even the title, Mishkan HaNefesh, evokes the work upon us, the Cheshbon HaNefesh, that will determine whether or not our Days of Awe live up to their pontential.

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg is a member of the Machzor Editorial Team.  He is the senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Coral Gables, FL, and will become the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom in Chicago, IL, this summer.  

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email machzor@ccarnet.org.

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Machzor Blog: Cosmic Forgiveness

Somewhere between the tablet and the Tablet, there was a primitive invention known as the Etch A Sketch. You could take your mistakes, give them a hearty shake, and they were gone. A clean slate; you could start over. Unfortunately, all the brilliant, artistic work that you had created was also gone.

Teshuvah involves a certain amount of being shaken up. I do not imagine that I can keep all the neat lines of my life in place and just reset the one wrong turn. But, I do get to create another sketch of my life, another map of where I want to go.

We all understand that there is a limit to how much shaking a person can take. If you smash the Etch A Sketch on the ground, you won’t be able to make anything with it. Oh, but most of us are much more likely to think, “I don’t have to shake it that hard. Just a little nudge. Maybe I can just move that one line of my life…”

Real change requires a stronger push. Which leads me to wonder: just what are we asking God to do when we pray for forgiveness? What does it mean to say “S’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kaper lanu?”

One thing I am pretty certain of is that it does not mean three different things, as if God subjects us to three different processes. We relate to the expression “s’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kaper lanu” as a kind of collective statement of our longing. It is poetic, not descriptive of God’s actions. It is three shakes, because one will not do.

In fact, I can’t accept that God actually “does” anything, in a transitive sense, to us. Just what do we imagine is happening in this selichah-mechilah-kaparah process? That God resets something? That we hand over the Etch A Sketch of our lives to God on an annual basis and plead “Please be gentle when you shake us?”

 The translation “forgive us, pardon us, help us atone” seems to be an attempt to modify the traditional theology, but only partly. Where Gates of Repentance said “grant us atonement,” a parallel to God forgiving us and pardoning us, the draft Machzor asks God to “help us atone,” implying that the real action is being done by us. At least, the action in the third verb, because the first two verbs still frame the action as taking place on God’s side.

 I have no objection to the translation; just an observation about the direction toward which the language points us.

When the rabbis wrote “kaper lanu,” they must have been thinking about the atoning power of sacrifice, and asking God to apply that same grace to us, even though the sacrificial altar is gone.

That’s just not how I think of God. I embrace the poetry of “s’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kaper lanu,” but not because it describes an action that God undertakes vis a vis us.

I long for cosmic forgiveness. What’s more, I believe it is possible. Not an insincere forgetfulness of the past, but an honest return to the position of possibility. If anything, teshuvah ought to mean that we do not forget what we have done. Rather, we have learned from it, and, as a consequence, no longer attach emotional weight to our past errors. I remember where I drew that line, and I won’t make that same mistake again.

 Longing for cosmic forgiveness is not the same as a plea to God to remake us. I would like to say that this is somehow rational, but I know that it is not. Rather, it is a question of the starting point of prayer. Laying words upon words is itself a kind of sketch; not a request for God to shake it all clean, but the careful beginning of a new drawing of our lives.

I am willing to live with the ambiguity of outward-directed prayer for what I know must ultimately be an inward process. But forgiveness seems to me to be among the most transcendent, precious and rare experiences we can know. If I am fortunate enough to acquire a clean slate, I experience that as a gift. It is the way that we experience transformative moments in our lives that imparts meaning to our prayers. Prayer is not an assertion about reality, but a way of giving expression to our deepest hopes. God may not actually forgive, but I know what cosmic forgiveness feels like.

 Rabbi Laurence Elis Milder, Ph.D., is the Reform rabbi of the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, NC.

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email machzor@ccarnet.org.

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Moving Trucks, Pallets, and the Jewish Future

Things I never thought my rabbinic school education would prepare me to do:

  1. Study sales figures on spread sheets
  2. Spend time considering the merits of 50 # or 60# paper
  3. Ask questions like “how many pallets will fit on the loading dock?”
  4. Regularly use terms like kerning, analytics, DRM (digital rights management) or FOB (freight on board).

As rabbis, we all have similar lists, even if the details are different. In the course of our careers, we’ve all acquired practical skills for which our pastoral and text-based educations did not prepare us.

Right now CCAR Press is in the process of a move from one warehouse to another. Carefully moving hundreds of pallets holding thousands of books, as well as all the associated customer and sales data, is no small task. The move itself has been preceded by months of planning, preparation and negotiations.  As you can imagine, there have been many meetings. Many, many meetings. We are eternally grateful to our wonderful, pro-bono lawyers from Proskauer and Rose.

The level of detail involved is staggering. Luckily the CCAR is blessed with a great team of staff members working hard to track all the details and put everything in place, from the categorization of customer types to the transfer of AR data to establishing the discount schedule to writing the wording that will go out on order confirmation emails. Like all of us, there are those moments when I jokingly say: and for this I went to rabbinic school?

photo-30Yet just like any rabbi who spends time rearranging chairs in the sanctuary, there’s a bigger end goal here. It’s not about the chairs or the trucks or the spreadsheets, it’s about what we do in order to fulfill our mission and plan for the future.  The point of this warehouse move isn’t to become a specialist in sales, fulfillment, and distribution. All of this work of transferring pallets and boxes and data is really about providing rabbis, cantors, educators, chaplains, congregants, and students with the material they need.  What drives all of this is the core mission of the CCAR:

The CCAR enriches and strengthens the Jewish community by empowering Reform Rabbis to provide religious, spiritual and organizational leadership as it:

      • Fosters excellence in Reform Rabbis
      • Enhances Reform Rabbis’ professional and personal lives
      • Amplifies the voice of the Reform Rabbinate in the Reform Movement, the Jewish community and the world in which we live.

The CCAR Press supports the overall mission of the CCAR buy providing high quality publications for our members and for the Jewish community. Moving to a better, more up-to-date, efficient warehouse is thus one piece of the How, not the What.

We all know change doesn’t happen in an instant – there will surely be some bumps on the road as we transition to new software and processes. Converting to a new on-line ordering system is going to take some time.  But we are sure that once it’s all properly in place, we will be able to serve our customers much better than we have been able to do up to now.

We also know that the balance is shifting from traditional p-books (printed books) to newer forms of content transmission.  There is much we are doing everyday to meet these ever-changing needs.  We now offer e-books for various devices, PDF downloads and apps, and will continue to offer more and more every year.  In the meantime, many people still want p-books, especially for liturgical purposes, and so we must house them somewhere and ship them out somehow.

All of us in the Jewish world are thinking about the Jewish future.  How can we best prepare for the needs of the future?  How can we meet the challenges of the future?  What skills should we be learning?  What questions should we be asking?  What changes should we be making?  Here at the Press, this warehouse move is one way that we’re working on building the Jewish future, by improving the way that we provide you with the resources that you will use to strengthen, teach, unify, and inspire the Jewish community.  This is especially important as we begin to plan for the printing, ordering, and shipping of Mishkan HaNefeshthe new CCAR Machzor.  As our trucks load up and pull out onto the highway, taking Mishkan T’filah and all our other publications to their new, state-of-the-art home, they’re carrying our future on those pallets.

 Rabbi Hara Person is the Publisher of CCAR Press

Find some good bargains at our Clean-Out-the-Warehouse Sale, 3 days only!

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Books Machzor Prayer Reform Judaism

Machzor Blog: Controversy For the Sake of Heaven

IMG_3949What do you we think people should want to hear rabbis speak about on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur?  Do they want to be comforted and soothed – reminded of the power of hope, the possibility of happiness or finding the means to peace? Or do they wish to be aroused and challenged by the brokenness in the world, the myriad needs of the Jewish community and the wrongdoing in their lives?

 The insight of one of my teachers in rabbinic school was that a rabbi’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  Most people I’ve met are fine with the first half of the dictum, but every year I hear from people who don’t want to come to services to be disturbed.  It reminds me of a joke about a new rabbi who sought advice from the synagogue Board about what she should talk about for her first High Holy Days.

 The president said, “Talk about something to do with being Jewish.”

“Great,” the rabbi replied, “I’ll talk about Shabbat.”

“Maybe not,” one Board member offered, “A lot of our members don’t observe Shabbat. They might take offense.”

“How about talking about Israel?” the rabbi offered.

 “What?!”, said several on the Board, “Do you want to create controversy the first time you speak? We have people here with such different ideas about Israel.”

“All right, I’ll talk about why people should study Torah more for themselves, not just send their children to Religious school,” said the rabbi.

“I don’t know,” some trustees said, “Why make people feel bad about what they don’t do.”

“In that case, what should I talk about?”

“Rabbi, just talk about being Jewish.”

IMG_4029Each person has different yearnings and needs for what they seek during the Days of Awe. Every one of us seeks both comfort and challenge, to be put at ease and goaded to action.  It is likely that at some point on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur you will hear a prayer, music or teaching you do not like, troubles you or challenges what you believe.  Instead of lashing out against those who offer a different point of view, use the strong feelings you have as a motivation for further reflection, conversation and respectful debate.

You do not need a rabbi or prayer to provoke you. Indeed, this is a time when our souls should be stirred. The weeks before and during the Days of Awe are a time for deep, inner, spiritual reflection. Honest self-appraisal (חשבון הנפש) cannot help but confront us with challenging questions. Have I been honest about my faults? Have done all I could for others?  Am I the man or woman I want to be? Is the person others see truly the person I am? What do I hide from others – and why?  Indeed, if you come to the synagogue expecting to be moved, but take no time before or during services for true self-reflection, the point of these days will be lost.  The goal is not to feel that we are bad. Rather, the purpose of these days is to become the best we can be and to seek a world that ought to be.

The Days of Awe, then, are inherently meant to trouble and disturb, to uproot and challenge. This is not, however, controversy for its own sake, but for the sake of Heaven. Such debate, our sages teach, will endure (Pirkei Avot 5:17).  May it be a time of good and blessing, but also one that forces us all to face the hard truths and unmet needs of our lives, our families, our people and the world. 

Rabbi Irwin A. Zeplowitz serves the Community Synagogue in Port Washington, NY.

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email machzor@ccarnet.org.