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Books Prayer spirituality

Delve Deeper into the Siddur

Upon three things, our tradition says, the world stands:  upon Torah, upon worship, and upon acts of loving-kindness. Of the three, worship is often the most challenging, least accessible component of Judaism today.

Worship is all about our yearning for transcendence:  it attempts to both express and address the inexpressible—to commune with the Ultimate—through poetic speech, music and gesture.  It is about giving voice to our human-all-too-human needs, fears, and hopes; about reaching in, reaching out, and reaching up from the depths of our beings; about enacting community and, through collective ritual performance, energizing our commitments to our ideals and to bettering our world.

Prayer as a form of address can be difficult if we have doubts about the addressee of our prayers (God? To whom it may concern?), but prayer as a deep and even spontaneous response to our human situation—to its needs and vulnerabilities—may be easier to access since, when we are honest with ourselves, we are all needy and vulnerable.  Those same concerns and human realities are expressed in our historical Jewish liturgy, although it may sometimes be difficult to connect the private stirrings of our hearts with the public words on the page.  This book attempts to make that connection easier, at least cognitively, by showing how the words on the page did not come down to us full-blown in every minute detail from Sinai, but were composed by human beings and elaborated in response to the changing needs and situations of Jewish communities over time. This observation pertains both to the traditional prayers and to their modern, Reform adaptations and paraphrases, for in this sense, all liturgy is creative liturgy.

In every generation, in every place, we struggle with both universal human questions and particular issues rooted in our specific cultural and physical space. Our prayers have always been adapted to unique human moments and hold the tension between the authenticity of tradition rooted in our history and the our changing situations.

Ten years ago, Mishkan T’filah was published as the most recent contribution of the North American Reform movement to this ongoing dialectical process.  A survey of Reform congregants indicated, among other things, that, when it came to role of a prayer book in communal worship, they wanted to understand what they were saying in Hebrew – particularly now that so much of the traditional Hebrew text has been restored in Reform worship. They also wanted to understand the logic of the liturgy itself: the structure, historical-contextual background, and meanings of the various services and the individual prayers. How can the prayers on the page become the prayers of the heart? How can the historical prayers of the community become also my personal prayers?

A first step in that process is iyun t’filah – contemplation, study, and learning about those prayers of the community – and how they might be personally internalized, even when that requires some interpretation. To supplement and provide some context to these Jewish prayers, the Reform Movement’s Commission on Worship, Music, and Religious Living, on which I sit, generated a series of essays about the prayers that were distributed once a week between May, 2008 and January 2013 in the URJ’s daily “Ten Minutes of Torah” e-mail blasts.  I wrote the pieces that dealt with the development, structure, and historical meanings of the prayers, including their various Reform adaptations.  Divrei Mishkan T’filah: Delving into the Siddur is an updated, revised, and enlarged compilation of those pieces.

Divrei Mishkan T’filah: Delving into the Siddur is not a spiritual-religious meditation and commentary on the prayers.  Some of that kind of reflection can be found at the bottom of each page of Mishkan T’filah and in a number of other contemporary books on Jewish prayer and worship.  Instead, this book is an accessible account of the historical development of the prayers and the ideas behind them, in both their traditional and Reform contexts (including the variety of ways they have been adapted and paraphrased in major Reform prayer books over the past two centuries). Understanding how our prayers originated and have been adapted over time in different contexts gives us a deeper appreciation of where we have been as a people. My hope is that this understanding will also contribute to readers’ greater personal connection and eventually to a sense of ownership, as we bring our own experiences to the mix.

My own connection to Jewish liturgy, ritual and music was sparked early, though my experiences at Temple Emanu-El in suburban Detroit in the 1950’s and 60’s, singing in children’s and adolescent choirs at Shabbat and festival services and learning Hebrew liturgy through the variety of its musical expressions. This continued throughout my undergraduate years at Brandeis University, during which I also studied in Israel for the first time, and then in rabbinical school at HUC-JIR, Cincinnati, where I studied Jewish liturgy with Rabbi Jakob Petuchowski, who had a deep appreciation for liturgical aesthetics. The expressiveness and emotional quality of Jewish prayer—both Hebrew text and music—were impressed upon me through all of those experiences, and remain essential to both my teaching and worship leadership today.  Compiling Divrei Mishkan T’filah: Delving into the Siddur, and writing the individual pieces that it brings together, was a labor of love for me.  I hope that love and enthusiasm are conveyed in the book itself and will inspire readers to connect—to delve yet deeper into the Siddur and to explore what the many facets of Jewish worship might mean to them.

Rabbi Richard S. Sarason is Director of the Pines School of Graduate Studies, Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought, and The Deutsch Family Professor of Rabbinics and Liturgy at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, OH, where he has been a faculty member since 1979. He is also the author of Divrei Mishkan T’filah: Delving into the Siddur, a commentary on Mishkan T’filah from CCAR Press.

 

Categories
Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

The Hebrew Types of Mishkan HaNefesh

Ismar David in his New York studio, 1980s.
Ismar David in his New York studio, 1980s.

We are pleased to share a post from guest-blogger Scott-Martin Kosofsky, who was the designer of Mishkan HaNefesh.

Type design in the 20th century has often been a tug-of-war between two graphic impulses: the typographic style, based upon letterforms that grew out of the metal-casting tradition, and the more freewheeling calligraphic style, based in the ways of the pen. In no script is this more evident than in Hebrew, especially during the years following the founding of the State of Israel.

The original Hadassah type by Henri Friedlaender.
The original Hadassah type by Henri Friedlaender.

The two greatest exemplars of this dichotomy, Henri Friedlaender (1904–1996) and Ismar David (1910–1996), each contributed landmark designs for types, each modern but in different ways, that have been part of our daily Hebraic lives ever since their creation. These are the types “Hadassah” (1959, .named for the Hadassah-Brandeis School of Printing, in Jerusalem, where Friedlaender taught) and the eponymous “David” (1954). Both men were Europeans, David born in Breslau and Friedlaender in Lyon, both were trained calligraphers, and both worked as book designers. Friedlaender’s work experience was, however, more in the direction of typefounding than was David’s, working for a time for the Haag-Drugulin foundry (whose offerings included some very popular Hebrew designs of the 19th century), in Leipzig, and at the Klingspor foundry, in Offenbach, where he came under the influence of the renowned craftsman type designer Rudolf Koch, whose Jewish disciples included the renowned designer Berthold Wolpe.

The David type appeared first in a 12 pt. metal version for the Intertype Corporation, American makers of a linecasting machine that was the rival of Linotype. Several years later it became available on the Photon, the earliest commercially viable phototypesetting system. The design did not include diacritics (the vowels and trope), but it did have a very special feature: a left-slanting “italic” of a singularly gracious design. The idea of a companion italic had ever existed before in Hebrew, though many medieval Ashkenazic scripts were left-leaning. (David also drew a monoline “sans serif” version, though it was not issued commercially in his lifeteime.) For a version of the David types released by Stempel in 1984, for one of its early digital typesetting machines, Ismar David created a limited set of diacritics.

Title page by Ismar David.
Title page by Ismar David.
The original Intertype version of Ismar David’s font “David.” Note the “italic” in the running head.
The original Intertype version of Ismar David’s font “David.” Note the “italic” in the running head.

David, the type, marked a radical break from any Hebrew font that had ever been made before. It is highly calligraphic, light in weight, with finely nuanced strokes. Israeli designers took to it slowly, but one event gave it a hechsher that propelled it into extraordinary popularity: its use by Dr. Moshe Spitzer for the 1960 Tarshish edition of S.Y. Agnon’s Kelev Chutzot (“A Stray Dog”), one of the most beautiful books ever made in the State of Israel. Overnight it became the choice for belletristic works and, especially, poetry. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, David would become available in a variety of digital forms, of varying degrees of fidelity to the design. What made it truly universal was its inclusion, for free, with Microsoft’s Windows software, making it a default choice for many uses. Sadly, the italic was not included with these versions; Israelis have preferred, instead (and oddly), to use the automatic “italic” button on various applications to create an artificially inclined letter—to the right, the default setting for the Latin alphabet. The Microsoft version (which is licensed from Monotype) includes all the nikkudot and taamim, though their positioning does not function properly. Moreover, the design of David, which was conceived for Modern Hebrew, has some particularly narrow letters (typical of Modern Hebrew), such as gimel and nun, which make the fitting of biblical diacritics very difficult. The design isn’t well-suited to setting very small type. Where the electronic versions of the David types often fail is in overly tight, poorly balanced spacing, with word spaces that are far larger than they need to be.

David was the type used by the CCAR for its Mishkan T’filah siddur. When I was approached by the CCAR to design the new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, one of the first discussions was about the Hebrew type. The CCAR wanted something distinctive, something its own, but a type that would relate somehow to the David type, so that the new machzor would retain a familial similarity with the siddur. Two other facets of the Mishkan T’filah design were to be retained, as well: the navigation bars on the outside margins and the fundamental layout of Hebrew texts and translations in mirror columns. The narrow gimel and nun aside, the David font is too wide for this kind of setting—it needs space to work well A narrower type, one with fewer idiosyncrasies, would be preferable, though it would have to be wide enough to accommodate the full battery of diacritics, as there would be Tanakh segments in the book.

David, as it appears in CCAR's Mishkan T'filah
David, as it appears in CCAR’s Mishkan T’filah
The six weights of Shlomo
The six weights of Shlomo

No such type existed, so I would have to make a new one, as I had done for the Conservative Mahzor Lev Shalem, which I also designed and produced. (It was published in 2010.) Beginning with some of the letter shapes of David, it occurred to me right away that the new type should be called “Shlomo,” the Hebrew name of Solomon, son of King David. As often happens with such inspirations, the new work quickly took a form of its own. The majority of Hebrew letters are square and it is for that reason that its print form (i.e., non-cursive) is called m’ruba (“square”).

How much narrower could it be made and still have space for the diacritics? About 85% is what I determined after a series of experiments, though the nikkud and taamim would have to be on the small side if decent proportions were to kept. That seemed to be a reasonable compromise, as most people who read liturgical and biblical Hebrew use the diacritics as mnemonics. The key to making any typeface easy to read is its internal spacing, and in the case of Shlomo great attention was given to this important aspect of its reader-friendliness. I made Shlomo in several weights and in versions suited to specific sizes. This allows it to be read clearly in the small versions used in the notes at the bottom of the page and in the navigation bars at the right margin of right-hand pages.

The Hillel type by Scott-Martin Kosofsky, as used in Mishkan HaNefesh.
The Hillel type by Scott-Martin Kosofsky, as used in Mishkan HaNefesh.
Ashkenazic letterforms.
Ashkenazic letterforms.

Shlomo, like David, should be classified as a Sephardic design, the general typology that dominates the majority of Hebrew types, and has dominated it since the earliest Hebrew types were made in the 15th century. The Ashkenazic style, with its greater differentiation of thick and thin strokes (the result of its origin as a letter drawn with a quill pen as opposed to the Sephardic predilection for reed pens) came to the fore only in the 19th century, as exemplified by the types made for the Vilna publishing house of Romm, publishers of the editions of Talmud that are still regarded as the standard. But these were as much a product of the prevailing European fashion for Latin types with exaggerated thick and thin strokes (the so-called “Classical” style, as exemplified by the types of Giambattista Bodoni) as they were a reference to the Ashkenazic letters of old. It was during the late Middle Ages that Ashkenazic letterforms reached their apogee, when they were a Hebrew counterpart to the Gothic Latin letters of Europe. The Hadassah type and its offspring Milon, the type I made for the Rabbinical Assembly, are Ashkenazic designs, even though the lack the thick-thin characteristic. This lessening of contrast while keeping the basic Ashkenazic shapes was the essence of Henri Friedlaender’s contribution.

The Milon type by Scott-Martin Kosofsky, as in Siddur Lev Shalem.
The Milon type by Scott-Martin Kosofsky, as in Siddur Lev Shalem.

I have a great fondness for Ashkenazic letterforms, so when the CCAR was looking for a contrasting type for special headlines in the machzor, such as the recurrent Sh’ma and the shofar blasts and the section titles, I suggested that we use a type I made some years ago, a classic Ashkenazic letter based on 14th-century manuscripts. I called the type Hillel, in honor of Harvard Hillel, for whom I first made a version of it for use as titles in The Harvard Hillel Sabbath Songbook (1992). For Mishkan HaNefesh, I reworked the design considerably and made for it a full set of diacritics, including the cantillation trope. Not only is Hillel used for these

back cover of the Harvard Hillel Sabbath Songbook, which shows the earlier version of the Hillel type. (Note the odd form of bet.)
back cover of the Harvard Hillel Sabbath Songbook, which shows the earlier version of the Hillel type. (Note the odd form of bet.)special purposes within the machzor, it is also used on the cover. I hope to one day have the opportunity to make a text version of these noble letters.

special purposes within the machzor, it is also used on the cover. I hope to one day have the opportunity to make a text version of these noble letters.

 

 

Scott-Martin Kosofky designs, produces, edits, composes, writes, and makes types for books in Lexington, Massachusetts, where he is a partner in The Philidor Company. His specialties are complex typographic books, advanced typography for liturgical and biblical Hebrew, and interesting image-based books, with occasional forays into music, art, and graphic design.

Categories
Books Prayer

Bringing Mishkan T’Filah for Youth into the Classroom

About three years ago, when we started working on creating Mishkan T’Filah for Youth, I casually mentioned to my students that I was editing a new siddur for kids like them.  I had no idea at that time how invested they would become this project.  About once a month someone would ask, “Is it finished yet?  When do we get to use your siddur?”  In their minds it was “my siddur” but in my mind it was really “their siddur.”  As I had pieces, new English readings, sections finished, we would pray them together at our Wednesday afternoon religious school tefillah.  I would try to gauge how the English readings worked for them.  Were they easy to read?  Did they understand all the words?  The ideas?  Would they help them to engage in tefillah on a deeper level?  Did the notes at the bottom of the page reflect the kinds of questions they would ask me?  Were they the kinds of questions they would wrestle with?  Would the notes at the bottom of the page clarify the rituals and emphasize key Hebrew words that they were learning in class?  And about once a month they would ask, “Why is it taking so long?  When is the siddur going to be ready?”

MT Youth copyA few months ago the finished siddur arrived and the first people I wanted to show it to were not my parents, my husband, my friends or even my own children but my students, because they had taught me so much about creating it.  Through the generosity of our Brotherhood and Sisterhood we were able to buy 250 copies for our congregation, and this past Friday night we used it for the first time.  But the real joy came today as we used it in Wednesday afternoon religious school tefillah for the first time.  One of the teachers told me that the kids in her class were playing a game, and they did not want to stop playing and go to tefillah.  Then one of the kids said, “Wait, we get to use the new siddur today!” at which point they all dropped the game to go to the sanctuary.

The truth is, we did not get very far.  They needed time to hold the books, to flip through the beautiful art work, to even SMELL them!  They have that new book smell, several of them told me.  We sang an opening song and we did the Bar’chu.  I looked down at the notes on the page with Ma’ariv Aravim and asked the question at the bottom.  Many hands shot up.  It was a great discussion.  When we opened to the page with the Sh’ma their eyes almost popped out of their heads.  The art work is so beautiful.  I asked them, “Why do you think the artist made the page like this?”  They told me about the large Shin covered with m’zuzot and the bright colors on the page.  The answers flowed.    We turned the page.  I asked them how the art work there was connected to the V’ahavta.  We only got as far as the Mi Chamocha when our half hour was over.  Fortunately, we have the rest of the year to explore the siddur, the prayers, the creative readings, the notes at the bottom and, of course, the art work.  All of it encourages them to dig a little deeper into their hearts and their souls.  I feel so blessed to have been a part of creating Mishkan T’filah for Youth.  I am so grateful to Hara Person and the incredible committee who made it happen.  Most of all, I am so proud that all of our students will have a siddur that will help them engage in prayer and grow closer to God.

Rabbi Paula Feldstein serves Temple Avodat Sholom in River Edge, NJ, and was the editor of Mishkan T’filah for Youth.

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Books General CCAR Prayer Reform Judaism

Where Has This Week Vanished: Thoughts on Mishkan T’filah

I don’t remember when I first came across David Polish’s reading that now appears in Mishkan T’filah at least twice:  once in the Kabbalat Shabbat service and a second time in the Shabbat Morning service.

Most of us must have encountered the text many, many times.  “Where has this week vanished?  Is it lost for ever…Shabbat, abide.”

I have always liked it.  I have liked the feelings it evoked.  I have liked the way it suggested the core Shabbat opportunity:  “Help me to withdraw for a while from the flight of time…Let me learn to pause…Let me find peace on this day.”

At one point in the last several months, however, something about the reading began to disturb me.  Although I like the image of Shabbat peace offered by the piece, I began to feel uncomfortable with the opening lines.

“Where has this week vanished?  Is it lost forever?  Will I ever recover anything from it? …Will I ever be able to banish the memory of pain, the sting of defeat, the heaviness of boredom?”

The words are too sad.  Am I really that tired and out of sorts when the week comes to a close?  Are the six days of my week regularly painful or so difficult that I need the Sabbath as a respite?

Maybe sometimes.

But much of the time not at all.

That is why I tried an experiment with a small Shabbat morning minyan a few weeks ago.  When we got to the prayer, I indicated that we would read it aloud and then pause to absorb its meaning.  I also continued by saying we would then come back at the prayer to see if we could reframe it.

So we read the prayer together as written in the siddur.  We paused.  And then I said something along these lines,  “What if we use these Shabbat moments to look back on the week we have all had?  But let’s change the approach from what we’ve got here.  What if a modified Sabbath prayer asked this new question…Not ‘how has this week vanished,’ but ‘how has this week brought me blessing…what can I carry forward as I pause on this seventh day?’

The responses to the “new” prayer were moving.

One congregant immediately volunteered that she had traveled to another city in order to help nurse an old friend back to health.  She had come home the day before and felt energized by knowing how much her presence had helped her friend heal.

Another congregant told us about a blessing that had come her way in the form of a note from a grandchild thanking her for being her grandmother.

Another worshiper was a physician who had literally saved someone’s life that week.  Someone else had read a great book.  Someone else was building a ramp on the house of a handicapped neighbor.

Best of all:  We had all come together at the end of this productive week and this pause in our service allowed us to share these blessings.

I still plan to read the “vanished week” prayer with the congregation, but every once in a while I also want to lovingly turn it on its head:  not to sigh at what was lost but rather to smile at what was accomplished.

After all, if we start its week wishing each other a “shavua tov,” why not “end” the week by considering how (at least sometimes) the week really was “tov” or even better.

“How has this week brought me blessing?”

Shabbat shalom.

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

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Books General CCAR News Prayer Reform Judaism

Mishkan T’filah for Children: Interview with Artist Katie Lipsitt

We’re very excited about our new release, Mishkan T’filah for Children, edited and with texts by Michelle Shapiro Abraham with art by Katie Lipsitt.  We took this opportunity to speak to the artist about her work.

CCAR Press: Let’s start with an introduction.  Tell us about your background.

Katie Lipsitt: I was born in NYC and raised in Brooklyn. I went to Saint. Ann’s School (a private, secular school) and then Barnard College in Manhattan, where I truly discovered my love of making art!  After college I moved to Los Angeles to study fine art at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena and to be with my then-boyfriend/now husband. But after a year I found myself production designing student films at USC, and before you knew it, I left art school and was working full time as a set decorator in TV and Film! After having children, I became an elementary school art teacher, then became an art teacher at Environmental Charter middle school here in LA, and made more time to create my own collage art!

CP: How did you become interested in art?

KL: There was never a time that I wasn’t interested in making art! I grew up surrounded by artists and creative people. My mom was a fashion designer and is an artist. My Dad was a creative director of an ad agency. Being interested in art is just in my blood!

CP: Tell us about being chosen to do the art for MT for Children

69-weekday_Amida-t'filat_HaLevKL: When I was chosen to illustrate the Mishkan T’filah for Children, I was just THRILLED! My personal Jewish journey has been so enriched by sharing in my children’s experiences at Jewish preschool and later, Hebrew School. It felt so significant that I would get to make images for OTHER children to enjoy during prayer at religious school and family services.

 CP: What did you learn in the process?

KL: For the first time, I learned something about what the prayers actually MEAN. Now, when I’m in synagogue, I imagine my own illustrations and understand the services more deeply.

CP: What do you think is important about art in a prayerbook for children? What does it add to their prayer experience?

KL: I think that artwork in a prayerbook for children needs to be simple, bold and graphic. It needs to bring the essence of the words to life in a way a child can comprehend.

CP: It’s interesting to note that the people all have different skins tones and looks, and there aren’t any “traditional” families. Why did you choose this approach?

KL: I wanted the depiction of the children to reflect the more diverse Jewish community that one finds in the Reform Movement today. I wanted no child to feel excluded.  I wanted it to represent the reality of the families who belong to synagogues and are raising Jewish children.

CP: How did being a mother and a teacher impact on the choices you made in creating the art?

KL: Both of those helped me to truly imagine how a child would experience this prayerbook. I could imagine my own children’s reactions and associations to imagery, as well as those of my students.

CP: Can you describe the technique that you used to create the art?  And who are your artistic inspirations?

IMG_1391-1KL: The technique I used to create the illustrations was collage and where needed, a bit of watercolor, colored pencil and pen.  The simple, fluid lines of Henri Matisse’s late collages and the layered, bold cut paper technique of Romare Bearden were my artistic inspirations.

CP: Which is your favorite image and why?

My favorite image is the image of the girl reading a prayerbook. She looks so much like my daughter, Lucy, and she has the same intensity and focus that Lucy has when she is in T’filah!

 Katie Lipsitt is available for projects, workshops and programs in the Los Angeles Area: ktlip01@gmail.com

Mishkan T’filah for Children is available at a special discount of 25% through July 15th.

 

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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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Books General CCAR News Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

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!

Categories
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.

Categories
Ethics General CCAR News Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

Coming Together in Times of Crisis

As we all try and process the horrors of the Boston marathon bombing, we must remember to stop and appreciate the good works that often gets overshadowed by the seemingly endless parade of horrible we read about each day.

Volunteers removing the flooring at West End Temple after Superstorm Sandy.
Volunteers removing the flooring at West End Temple after Superstorm Sandy.

Almost six months ago almost the entire east coast was rocked by Superstorm Sandy.  While many of us have picked up and moved on, two New York-area congregations, Temple Sinai in Massapequa and West End Temple in Neponsit, are still picking up the pieces.  Like many coastal-area homes and businesses, the synagogues suffered severe storm damage which included extreme flooding and loss of property.

We are proud to announce that the CCAR has donated over 400 new copies of Mishkan T’filah, the Reform Movement prayerbook, to the synagogues to help them to continue to move forward in their rebuilding process.

“We were heartbroken when we saw how the storm had ravaged these synagogues and uprooted the lives of people in their communities,” said Rabbi Steven A. Fox, Chief Executive of the CCAR. “We donated these prayerbooks to help individuals and congregations heal.”  He continued “As creators and publishers of Mishkan T’filah, we understand the important and powerful role that prayer can play in bringing a community together and allowing them to feel whole again.”

Colleagues helping colleagues - Rabbi Margie Slome surrounded by, l to r,  Rabbi Hara Person, Rabbi Amy Ehrlich, Cantorial Intern Amanda WInter, and Rabbi Steve Fox.
Colleagues helping colleagues – Rabbi Margie Slome surrounded by, l to r, Rabbi Hara Person, Rabbi Amy Ehrlich, Cantorial Intern Amanda WInter, and Rabbi Steve Fox.

Rabbi Marjorie Slome of West End Temple was thrilled to receive the new prayerbooks, as extreme flooding destroyed her synagogue’s entire library. “We are so grateful for the CCAR’s generous support and donation to our temple,” said Rabbi Slome. “Receiving these books is truly a blessing as we rebuild.”

The CCAR facilitated the donation of the prayerbooks with funds donated by Rabbi Jonathan Stein, Immediate Past President of the CCAR and Senior Rabbi at Shaaray Tefila in Manhattan.

For Rabbi Stein, supporting these synagogues in their time of need was a given. “When I heard about the storm’s destruction; it was almost a visceral response,” he said. “I instantly committed myself to make this gift happen.” He continued “This is the kind of thing we do for each other in times of crisis.”

“During the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, as we at Temple Sinai reached out for help and there were many who embraced our wet hands.  As our community helped us we helped our community.  It is was not easy for us to say: “We need help”.  But, we soon learned that there are two sides to tzedakah – to give and to receive, both with dignity and humility.  Temple Sinai has been blessed to receive help/tzedakah from individuals, synagogues, and non-profits near and far.  One such is the CCAR.  With the CCAR’s contribution of Mishkan Tefila (prayerbooks) a renewed sense of worship has been given to us.  Knowing that the CCAR responded to our need, our members have a sense of connectedness which never before existed.  We are eternally grateful to the CCAR for their contribution,” said Rabbi Janise Poticha of Temple Sinai.

Flooding at Temple Sinai after Superstorm Sandy.
Flooding at Temple Sinai after Superstorm Sandy.

The CCAR’s donation is just one of the many ways that the Reform Jewish community has come together to support one another in times of need.  In the days and weeks after the storm, CCAR member rabbis, who serve both congregations and community organizations, galvanized their memberships to provide on-the-ground support and supplies to those in some of the hardest hit areas. The Union for Reform Judaism and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism have also played a leading role in the Jewish response to Sandy, including raising more than $750,000 for disaster relief efforts and coordinating donations of essential supplies to synagogues, community centers and families.