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Books Prayer spirituality

Modern Voice, Ancient Yearning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Books 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.

 

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Books

Aspiring to Shabbat: Gates of Shabbat Revised

I think Shabbat is an aspiration.

I think Shabbat is also a brilliant, healing, gracious gift from our tradition.

But for most modern Jews, Shabbat is also not a given.  They/we “aspire” to the possibility of a day set aside.  They/we pretty much know what the world might feel like if we could enter the “Gates of Shabbat,” but it somehow doesn’t quite happen as much as we might wish it to be so.

All this is why I’ve taken a journey over the last few years along with several colleagues and friends to revise the book, Gates of Shabbat, which I helped create back in 1991.Gates of Shabbat Revised Edition Cover Image Final

To be honest, when Rabbi Hara Person first asked if I wanted to revisit Gates of Shabbat, I wasn’t sure what else to say about Shabbat that wasn’t already in the existing text.

Then I began to think and I realized that, although Shabbat remains Shabbat, the world around Shabbat has changed substantially in these last 25 years.  A changed world has to inspire new ways to engage the seventh day, and that is what emerged as Gates of Shabbat, Version 2.0…Version 2016 took shape.

Here are a few of the developments that my committee and I responded to as we developed the new book.

First, we noted that technology has transformed our lives in ways we couldn’t have anticipated years ago.  If we were “busy” in 1991, we are busier still today.  We are plugged in 24/7.  We are bombarded with news and connections to the world that have a life of their own.  Is it for good or is it all for bad?  I won’t tell you how we resolved the issue, but the new Gates of Shabbat does address the critical intersection of Shabbat and electronics.

Here’s a related development.  As a result of the Internet, we communicate differently.  A new kind of “literature” has developed.  People blog.  People tell stories.  People share first-person narratives about their experience in ways that were not a part of our lives earlier.  The new Gates of Shabbat will do the same.  We have assembled fourteen original reflections from both laypeople and rabbis.  Each small essay offers readers a new and personal way of encountering Shabbat.

And, of course, the world has changed insofar as new family constellations have become part of the landscape.  As expected, the new Gates of Shabbat will speak to those who are married with children, but it will also speak to households without children, to same-sex couples, to singles, and to a new growing population – those who are retired.  Here is a question that just didn’t occur to us 25 years ago:  What does Shabbat mean for retirees who are more less “free” every day?

Finally, these last 25 years have seen a new dimension of Jewish life emerge.  Or to put it more accurately, during these last few decades our liberal Jewish world has shown renewed interest in classic matters like spirituality and faith.  Meditation and mindfulness are part of our new vocabulary.  As a result, the new Gates of Shabbat introduces texts from Chasidic literature.  Readings from Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav and Rabbi  Zalman Schachter-Shalomi are part of the mix.  You can even find several places in the new book entitled, Creating Holy Moments.  They are designed to help readers slow down and cultivate a deeper sense of k’dushah in Shabbat.

****

All in all, I hope Gates of Shabbat 2016 brings something refreshing and important to the search for Shabbat.  I believe the book can speak to vatikim because it contains what was best about the earlier volume along with the innovations mentioned above plus some wonderful new texts and readings.  I believe too that the book will read well for those who are considering the seventh day for the very first time.

Personally, I love the book because, among its many offerings, I continue to be moved by two very brief poems that capture my sense of Shabbat’s magic.

 a day

stillness

 

Mark Shapiro is Rabbi Emeritus of Sinai Temple in Springfield, MA.  He is the editor of Gates of Shabbat, which is now available for pre-order and will be ready in time for Fall Classes.

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News

Bringing In Mishkan HaNefesh

Two years ago, Temple Beth Sholom had a fire that forced us to rebuild. Along with the destruction of our building, our prayer books, including our Gates of Repentance, were deemed unfit and we buried them in genizah, under the foundation of our new chapel.

This tragedy afforded us a very unique opportunity; without any committees or genizalengthy conversations with the congregation, we chose to immediately purchase Mishkan HaNefesh. The congregation was not totally unfamiliar with Mishkan HaNefesh as we piloted the Yom Kippur Afternoon Service the year before. The Afternoon Service was unique, so it did not give us the full flavor of what Mishkan HaNefesh had to offer.

I spent the three months leading up to the High Holy Days sharing personal articles about transitioning to our new machzor, along with articles from colleagues. My hope was to build anticipation and excitement within the congregation.

Our congregation’s practice is for every person to purchase and bring their personal copy of the machzor for the High Holy Days. We have some available, but ideally we hope our congregants will Mishkan HaNefesh Cover Picture (Light) 10_14_2014invest in their own copy. Many pre-purchased the book and we provided personalized bookplates. We had a number of copies for congregants to borrow and on Rosh HaShanah, all of the books had a card inside. I invited the congregation once again to purchase their own copy. I asked them to fill out the card that evening, give it to a greeter, and then take the book home. The next week, we had the Yom Kippur edition and personalized book plates waiting for all those who purchased them on Rosh HaShanah and the days between. The response was greater than we expected and we had boxes of books waiting for pick up on Yom Kippur. The personalized plates allowed us to then confirm which books were ours and which belonged to congregants.

On Erev Rosh HaShanah, I used the sermon as an opportunity for us to explore our High Holy Days liturgy, its history and in it’s present form. I encouraged the congregation to make the prayer experience their personal experience. “Explore the text, get lost in the readings, don’t worry, we will call out the page numbers and let you know where we are when you’re ready to rejoin the communal prayer. There are no italics, therefore, if you want to read along, then please, read along!” This meant I needed to be aware of my pacing and not only have the congregation follow me, but allow me to follow the congregation.

My goal was to not be the leader of the service, but a participant along with them—to be a guide as we trekked through our High Holy Days experience together. “Guest readers” were not included in the service in order to maintain the flow. Instead, people were invited to participate in the Torah and Haftarah service. And my Cantor, David Reinwald and Cantor Shannon McGrady Bane took us on a completely different journey with Jonah on Yom Kippur Afternoon. They chanted the book of Jonah in English!

The experience of these first High Holy Days with Mishkan HaNefesh was greater than I expected! The congregation was grateful for the opportunity to pray at their pace and to be active participants. I appreciated hearing all the voices from the congregation throughout all the services. The prep work leading up to the services was greater as I needed to maintain the momentum of the service and not go on automatic pilot. The exploration of the text was well worth it and enhanced my personal preparations.

If you can, take the plunge into Mishkan HaNefesh. It will be worth the investment of money, time, and the heart.

— 

Rabbi Heidi Cohen serves Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana, California.

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 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.

 

Categories
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.