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Ethics News Prayer Rabbis

No Text is Worth a Life: A High Holy Day Pledge

As we turn to thoughts of a new year and a new start, here is a pledge to refrain from texting while driving. Texting while driving is responsible for a quarter of all car accidents today, and is six times more dangerous than drunk driving. Please share this pledge from the High Holy Day pulpit, or make it part of your personal Rosh HaShanah spiritual preparation. Perhaps be making this verbal oath in a sacred space amidst a community of witnesses, we may contribute to saving lives.

 

Whoever destroys a single soul destroys a complete world.

Whoever preserves a single soul preserves a complete world. – Talmud Sanhedrin 37a

 At this season we ask: who by fire and who by water?

Today we also ask, who by texting while driving?

An epidemic is sweeping our country.

DWI, Driving While In-text-ified causes 1.6 million accidents a year.

Driving While In-text-ified causes 330,000 injuries per year.

Driving While In-text-ified causes 11 teen deaths every day.

75% of teens say Driving While In-text-ified is common among their friends.

Half of young drivers have seen their parents Driving While In-text-ified.

Driving While In-text-ified makes you 23 times more likely to crash.

Driving While In-text-ified slows your brake reaction speed by 18%.

Driving While In-text-ified is the source of nearly 25% of all car accidents.

Driving While In-text-ified is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.

Driving While In-text-ified is the same as driving after 4 beers.

Driving While In-text-ified is the same as driving blind for 5 seconds at a time.

At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field completely blind.

Who by fire, who by water? Who by texting while driving? On this holy day, as we reflect on our deeds and resolve to better ourselves and the world, we invite you to put your hand on your heart and join us by repeating this sacred pledge:

 

We will not Drive While In-text-ified.

We will use only hands-free devices in the car.

No text is worth a life.

No text is worth a life.

No text is worth a life.

We will not Drive While In-text-ified.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ. שֶׁתּוֹלִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַצְעִידֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם.וְתַדְרִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתִסְמְכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם.

וְתַגִּיעֵנוּ לִמְחוֹז חֶפְצֵנוּ לְחַיִּים וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְשָׁלוֹם

 Yehi ratzon milefanecha Adonai Eloheinu veilohei avoteinu v’imoteinu shetolicheinu leshalom vetatzideinu leshalom vetadricheinu leshalom vetismecheinu leshalom vetagi’einu limechoz cheftzeinu lechaim ulesimchah uleshalom.

May it be Your will God of our fathers and mothers that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace. Amen.

Rabbi Zoe Klein serves Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA.

Categories
Ethics Immigration News Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

High Holy Day Inspiration from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis

As we enter the month of Elul, we are aware that Tishrei is almost upon us. Sitting in front of our computers, we might think to ourselves “Stop mulling and just write the sermon!” But writing High Holiday sermons really does require that we ponder what to preach. Every year, we ask ourselves the same questions: what message will resonate with our congregants, what are we passionate about saying, and what wisdom do our texts and tradition have to offer us.

This year, there is a new question to add to the list. In the past, I did not think much about what my colleagues were saying in their sermons. I might check in with a few friends, or bounce ideas off some people, but I was never speaking as part of the North American Reform Movement. This year, it will be different.

In 5774, like many colleagues, I will be speaking about the topic of immigration reform. This issue calls to us as Jews. We are immigrants. We fled slavery in Egypt to journey into freedom. More recently my great-grandparents fled the pogroms and mandatory military service in Russia to find a better life here in the United States. We know what it is to wander and to be treated as outsiders.

We also have a chance to make a real difference. The Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The House will be debating moving a bill to the floor in September, perfect timing for us to have an impact. Imagine what hundreds of rabbis can do together as we preach or teach about immigration reform this High Holidays.   

I’m going to be honest and say that while immigration reform is not my issue, justice is. Acting together powerfully is vital to who I am as a rabbi and who we are as Reform Jews.  At the CCAR Convention in Long Beach, we asked the question: Do we want to act together as a Reform Movement? The answer was a resounding yes, as hundreds of colleagues across the country joined the efforts of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, a project of the Reform Movement’s social justice initiatives: the Justice and Peace Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations.  Since then, we have worked on passing legislation through the Senate. Teams of colleagues in seven states met with key swing senators and their staffs. Many of us gathered in Washington DC for a lobby day, or participated in a national call-in day. Nearly 400 of us are staying connected through the Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Facebook group. We have worked together to amplify the rabbinic voice for justice, but there is more work to do.

Now we have another chance to act together to make a real difference in the debate in the House. In the weeks to come, we’ll share more with you about which legislators are crucial to the passage of compassionate, common sense immigration reform. But in the short term, there is something that only we as rabbis can do: speak from the heart to our congregants about this defining issue of our times.

So, will you join our effort and make preaching and teaching about immigration reform part of your High Holidays this year? To make it as easy as possible we have compiled text resources and sample sermons. If you willing to join the effort please share your thoughts and plans on the Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Facebook group so we can log your participation. And, it never hurts to reach out to another colleague or two to ask them to join us as well.

As we move into Tishrei we have the opportunity to begin our year by speaking out for justice. Join us in showing our legislators, our congregants and ourselves what it means to be part of a national movement and to put justice at the center of the Reform rabbinate. 

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Books General CCAR Machzor News Prayer Reform Judaism

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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Books Machzor Prayer

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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General CCAR Machzor News Prayer Rabbis

Machzor Blog: What’s in a Name?

L’chol Machzor, yesh shem…

MHaNefesh webWe finally have a name to call our new Machzor!  Mishkan HaNefesh.  As we turn each year to our prayerbook for the High Holy Days, we want to ensure the name would and could reflect not only its contents but the experience of these days as well.

The title of our Shabbat, Weekly, and Festival Prayerbook, Mishkan T’fila led the way.  The choice, years ago, of “mishkan” captured the desire to move beyond the “gates” into the sanctuary, the inner circle of prayer.  It gave access to the many voices and layers of the liturgical experience and reminded us of the centrality of the communal experience within sacred space, even when that space is a prayer book.

Yet, as we have learned, the prayer book itself cannot guarantee the efficacy of prayer or any worship.  It will take the individual within the context of the community to find meaning and value.  Thus, when what name should be linked with mishkan arose, the idea of hanefesh which connects to one’s inner life and what we call a human being became a fitting complement.

The Editorial Core Group made up of the editors:  Rabbis Eddie Goldberg, Shelly and Janet Marder, and Leon Morris; along with our Cantorial colleague, Evan Kent, as well as Hara Person, Peter Berg and me; unanimously supported by the CCAR Board, sought to capture what these Days of Awe seek:  t’shuvah, celebration, renewal, personal challenge and reflection, reaffirmation of communal connection to the Jewish story, among others.

As the introduction to our High Holiday Prayer Book notes: “We hope that this Machzor will be a “place” where the spiritual lives of individuals and the religious framework of the community meet….The focus of the Days of Awe is the inner life, each person’s sacred core—the divine essence breathed into us, which the Bible calls nefesh (Genesis 2:7).  Jewish tradition gives us tools for helping the nefesh (soul) grow and improve: t’shuvah (repentance) and the work of cheshbon hanefesh (accounting/taking stock of the soul).  Our Machzor guides and celebrates this personal journey of transformation and renewal…” while it also recognizes the profound significance of the communal experience.

It is our desire that within every community and congregation, each nefesh can find him or herself within this Machzor just as we hope this particular Machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, will be found within our community and congregations as a means to give voice to our heartfelt aspirations and sacred work we engage in throughout the holiday season.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher is at Temple Israel in Boston, MA, and is the Chair of the Machzor Advisory Group.

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

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General CCAR Machzor Prayer Rabbis

Machzor Blog: Am I Really This Bad? Am I Really This Good?

Once, while prepping for the High Holy Days at a student pulpit, I had the following conversation with a well-meaning cantorial soloist:IMG_0361

“I want to write a new melody for Unetaneh Tokef,” the soloist began. “It’s such a dirge!”

“Well, actually,” I said. “This prayer is about God sitting on the Throne of Glory, deciding who shall live and who shall die.”

“Oh,” the soloist said. “I guess that’s okay then.”

In that moment I realized, not only the importance of educating our lay-leaders, but also our own reluctance to say or do anything in the synagogue that might drive people further away from Jewish life. This is particularly challenging during the High Holy Days, when we are supposed to be engaged in rigorous self-examination.

Given that the High Holy Days are also that small window in the Jewish calendar when we have our community’s undivided attention, both clergy and laypeople are uncomfortable with the discomfort that the liturgy of the High Holy Days is supposed to arouse. However, I firmly believe that the season of cheshbon hanefesh and the call to teshuva are also part of Judaism’s balanced spiritual diet.

Strangely enough, one of my primary concerns during my involvement in the creation of Mishkan HaNefesh has been limiting the discomfort of a new machzor. Given the steep learning curve my congregants encountered with Mishkan T’filah in weekly Shabbat worship, I am concerned with how they will adjust to a new format when they only use it twice each year. As a member of the Alternative Readings Sub-Committee, I sought out texts that were thought-provoking but also “readable.” Our congregation’s pilot group was vigilant about pointing out sections that were difficult to follow.

However, if our mission is really to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” we need to retain some of the spiritual discomfort that is endemic to the Days of Awe, so that we might strike a balance between recognizing our flaws and realizing our potential.

The tension between these two elements is beautifully played out in the Vidui in the new Kol Nidre service. As we recited the short confession, my pilot group noticed the shift from the more abstract, “Some of us kept grudges, were lustful, malicious or narrow-minded,”  (Gates of Repentance p. 269), to the harsher, more specific “We corrupt. We commit crimes. .. We are immoral. We kill” (Mishkan HaNefesh Kol Nidre draft p. 45a). Some worshippers were actually offended by the direct accusation of crimes they did not commit.

“Why does it say, ‘We kill,’” one man said. “I don’t kill!”

Just as jarring was the iyyun (readingencouraging us to praise ourselves al ha-tikkun she-tikanu l’fanecha (for the acts of healing we have done). Set up like the al cheyt, this reading states lists a number of acts of tikkun olam we may have committed in addition to our sins,  “For the healing acts by which we bring You into the world, the acts of repair that make You a living presence in our lives” (p. 49b).

It is a brilliant and beautiful reading, but for us it was just as spiritually troubling as the Al Cheyt. Just as we didn’t like being accused of wrongdoings we had not done, we didn’t want pat ourselves on the back for righteous acts we had failed to do. We felt that the reading should be written in a tense that made it sound aspirational rather than congratulatory. In a way, however, this text also allowed us to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh, serving as a reminder of all we may have failed to do on that list!

Engaging with this Machzor in its formative state was an incredible opportunity to think about the messages we need to hear—or are uncomfortable hearing—during the High Holy Day season in order to inspire us to perform teshuva. Both the confessional texts and the congratulatory texts allowed us to ask ourselves the same essential questions: “Am I really this bad?” “Am I really this good?”

It also made me think about the messages my congregants hear from the pulpit. I’m told that rabbis give the same High Holy Day sermon, over and over again. I’ve realized that mine is not “you are good” or “you are bad,” but “you can change.”

Leah Rachel Berkowitz is the Associate Rabbi at Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, NC.

She served on the Alternative Readings Sub-Committee of the Machzor Committee. She blogs at thisiswhatarabbilookslike.wordpress.com.