Saturday, September 29, 2012

I Can't Believe I Missed This...

Actually, I heard about the "worldwide call to prayer for Mosiach" happening around at 5 PM on September 23rd, but I thought it was a joke.  Turns out, I missed 2 million Jews davening at the same time:

I am hungry for more information about the organizers, All Jews As One and can't find much.  Much of the writing smacks of something that I wouldn't want to associate with, see some of the comments on facebook (and I am all for Jewish unity).  Sadly I think these efforts do not really help the professional development of davening for young people - as Mosiach hasn't come since the event and the (just) 35 word prayer is all about Mosiach only. Don't get me wrong, I am for brevity, but this is just overly simplistic fluff. Isn't this notion stealing from the idea of what Yom Kippur is all about?  Most Jews around the world stopping to pause, not at the same moment, but on the same day, united in fast and tefillot?  (full disclosure: I couldn't make it to the end of the video - it was that bad for me).

I am open to other perspectives on this initiative, especially from someone who participated.  But please get back to me before Mosiach comes, because once s/he does arrive, I am pretty confident that I will be shutting down this blog.

Friday, September 28, 2012


A nice quote H/T to @jefferygoldberg and Erica Brown:  "Rabbi Nahman: 'If you are not going to be better tomorrow than today, then what need have you for tomorrow?'  Fast. Pray. Change. Tomorrow."

Monday, September 24, 2012

High Holiday Seats at One Shul

Have you been to One Shul - no fees or dues necessary?   I am fascinated that people connect this way to one another to pray.  While I may like the challenge of summarizing my tefilla into 140 characters or less, I think I am just old fashioned and need a seat in IRL shul.  Hoping that wherever you pray, that it goes well for you.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Who is to Blame?

Please read this article by Devora Meyers Shuls Out for Rosh Hashana.

There is much to this piece, in its honest expression of a common experience for many shul goers, regardless of the style of synagogue they attend.  But while I like Meyers' question, "So what’s the difference between the intellectual discussion that excites me and the prayers that bore me to distraction?" I think her answer is meek.

Let me be clear that I think her answer is correct for her, argued well, and again I add the adjective honest; However, I am starkly reminded of Harold Kushner approach, "What's lacking in you?"

Are we now so self absorbed that we have to always have it our way and that we cannot strive for a communal forum? (do not mistake this as quest for an objective or uniform religious forum).  I get the frustration for prayer in general but for the 3-timers (those that come only three times a year: 2 for Rosh Hashana and once for Yom Kippur) can we justify the opt out?  Great, your bored, the service is long and its not your style - what else can the institutions, teachers, leaders and rabbis do to engage those that don't want what's being served in most tefillot...... It is a good question to ask for every classroom teacher - how do we help nurture not only individuals, but help those individuals share and join into a community of learners and shearers?

I want to end with a quote from Rav Kook from Ein Eyah:
In order to lead human beings on the path of continual improvement, G-d implanted within the human soul the incessant drive to always seek more..."
Here's hoping you have a positive shul experience this week.  

Guest Blog: Making out with G-d

The following article was published at The Times of Israel by blogger Sarah Zadok who is a Jewish educator, a childbirth professional and a freelance writer.  This is a great reflection on how and when can approach your own personal tefilla.  


I learned early on that prayer is primarily about communication. l learned this first from watching Harold and Maude, then years later in a Torah class. For the most part my M.O. as far as prayer is concerned has been to simply talk to G-d, kind of like I would to a girlfriend – only slightly more reverent.  Also with a bunch of young’uns in tow it has been way more convenient to dial-up wireless, than to show up in a house of prayer for a word.

I’m big on the shoot-from-the-hip, “G-d, please let them make the bus” “Bring her fever down now” and “Wow, thanks for that” kind of pray-er. Kind of Rabbi Nachman style, only shorter and not in a forest.

It’s not that I never pick up a prayer book. I do. It’s just that long, organized prayers, like the High Holiday variety tend to rouse the spiritual ADD in me. I got to thinking about that this past Rosh Hashana, while I was at home busy with all manner of domestic preparation. I could have been at shul with my husband and kids, but I was futzing with honey dishes instead, and as I did, a curious little notion surfaced…

I’m not not doing the Rosh Hashana service because I have to be busy with food prep… I’m not praying because I don’t want to.

Prayer is an intimate experience, like kissing on the lips and I’m not always in the mood to take that step with G-d.

Sometimes I want to sit with my arms folded hard in front of my chest, and wait for Him to woo me.
After the rocket fire we’ve endured, the soldiers and citizens we’ve lost to terror, the tears, blood and sweat that we endure – daily – to live in our land…  illness, pain, death, both personal and global… I want Him outside my bedroom window with a boom box playing Peter Gabriel.

So instead of a deep soul-baring session, I pulled a slip-out-the-back-Jack, spiritual version of “I’ve got a headache” and got busy peeling pomegranates and arranging fresh dates on the table.

It’s a justified stance, but as I watched the candles flicker beyond the table, I allowed my eyes to adjust to a wider lens, and a more generous perspective began to take hold.

In spite of my slapdash indifference towards G-d– my candles are still lit, the table is set, and I’m still thinking about Him. We have a relationship.

I don’t always appreciate the way He pulls rank. I have very little understanding about why He does what He does, but in spite of that, I’m in this for the long haul. I continue to ask impossible questions, and push for impossible answers, and search for meaning in the hot mess. I’ve learned enough from my earthly relationships to know that there is more to making it work than what I want, what I deserve and what I think I see.

Hey, it’s not always soft and fuzzy, or even screen-worthy, but it’s real, and it’s fertile ground for some steamy stuff.

You know how Jews attend Rosh Hashana and Yon Kippur services more than any other time in the year? (Ever heard of Purim people? Waaay more fun). That kind of attendance doesn’t happen because we’re looking for a soul-loofah, or because of the nostalgic melodies, or because Mom says “we have to.” That may be part of it, but mostly, we go because regardless of how disappointing our lover may be, we still have a basic human need for love and connection. It’s no small thing that after 5773 years, with all the legitimate reasons we have to be mad, and sad and broken, we (a lot of us… maybe even enough of us) still show up. 

We continue to dialog, even when we don’t want to.

That’s what lovers do – we push and pull at each others hearts until we feel something deep and honest.  That’s what a relationship is.

Even in our pain and grief, when it seems that there is very little to be grateful for… even when we’re mad at Him, He still turns out fabulous sunsets, really good mangos, and allows us to read self-indulgent op-eds if we so choose. When I’m really being honest with myself, I see that even when I don’t want Him to, He shows up all the time, arms wide open, ready to take me as I am.

And, at the end of each day, whatever my mood may be, I’d rather go to sleep at night giving G-d a lack-luster peck on the cheek than walk out of the house all together.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Finding Your Prayer Voice

So I hope that you had a prayerful Rosh Hashana and did not solely measure your davening experience on the time that your service concluded.

One of the big themes that I personally thought about was centered around the shofar and the word "קול" or "voice".  Voice and shofar are often linked in the verses cited in the musaf section and it is pretty obvious to think of voice within the entire concept of prayer.  Even the big there elements that are advised by the liturgy to remove the potential evil decree, "Teshuva, Tefilla, u'Tzedaka - Repentance, Prayer, and Charity", need a voice to enable them.  The Rambam writes that one who repents but has not verbally confessed the sin has done teshuva.   Tefilla is simply a verbal expression of one's inner most desires, whether we move our lips to our silent prayer or sing and scream aloud with the chazan.  Finally, tzedaka - giving charity gives voice to those who are needy and helps balance the burdens within a society.

I think that for parents and educators, our goal is to allow our children to discover their own voice within our value system.  Not to just mimic lessons learned in school or opinions overheard at the dinner table, I want my students to feel an authentic call to daven and know what they need to bring to this moment.  This is a mature goal and I think that a synagogue is a perfect crucible for it.

My diagnosis on why so many young people prefer to hang around outside the shul, on the playground or in the 'groups' is because they do not feel this authentic call to prayer, with or without the traditional liturgy.  It is my prayer for the upcoming year that I can share more resources and successful practices on how to engages this population.  Here's to a great year!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Happy New Year

Here's hoping that all your prayers are answered!  (Please, let me know your secret technique!)

שנה טובה

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Carlebach Selichot?

If you poll a bunch of Jews asking what is their favorite prayer service, I am pretty confident that Kabalat Shabbat would be the hands down winner.  If you similarly polled the same bunch of people what is their least favorite service - that would actually be an interesting poll to run - what would they say?

I do not think that selichot would necessarily be at the top of that second list (top 5?) - that is because for serious daveners selichot is a special seasonal addition.  However, for many people selichot can be tedious and a challenge to connect to, because of the hour it is said and the text.  When I asked an educator friend how to better infuse spirit to the Tuesday morning selichot, he replied, "do it Carlebach style".  I think his presumption was that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's music has made kabalat Shabbat so energized that perhaps that should be the approach for selichot.  (I have personally been to first night selichot in the 'Carlebach' genre and do think it was more positive than my more traditional experiences).

Towards this notion, another friend recently passed on to me the following three youtube clips of Reb Shlomo reciting selichot and I encourage you to listen and watch these tefillot.
Part 1/3
Part 2/3
Part 3/3

Here are some of my reflections:

  • The power of a unique niggun, the tunes for this season is very powerful and not only gets me in the mood for davening on Rosh Hashanah but is a great educational tool for students.  The nusach of yamim noraim transcends time and never goes out of style.  
  • Musical instruments just add to any tefilla experience.
  • There needs to be a tune to daven to, not just the silent mumbling along.  I think it gives a great deal of agency and helps one transcend the words to be in the moment, and extends the moment a bit longer; it makes the mediation important.
  • Stories - the actual selcihot help to tell the story of the path to teshuvah and forgiveness.  Reb Shlomo adds a few more metaphors and stories.  What story are you telling this year?  
My friend also added the following note - a good inspiration for your upcoming tefillot.  
Reb Shlomo said that sometimes when you go in to the emergency room you sit down and are patient to be seen. But when you have a really serious medical problem that can't wait you go right past the door and scream, "emergency, it's an emergency." Selichos is when a person cries to Hashem and says, "I'm an emergency." 
Selichos is when I realize that I can't wait to be close to You again! I can't wait to correct my ways, I need You to help me let myself be me again, right now. Please. My whole life is an emergency. Praying to G-d on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is the medicine. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Guest Post: Why Mommy Doesn't Pray

The following article was published in the Times of Israel by Shira Zewbner, a public relations consultant and writer living in Jerusalem.

We’re on the countdown to Rosh Hashanah, which for me means preparing delicious menus for our lunch guests, trying to figure out how to make vegan honey cake for my youngest (and egg allergic) daughter, writing New Year greeting cards for our family and friends in the States, and making a bunch of will-you-forgive-me phone calls. It also means a trip to the dry cleaner, possibly buying a new frock for myself, and setting aside money from our budget to give to charity before the yom tov rolls in. I look at my to-do list with excitement; the High Holy Days have always been my favorite of the Jewish holidays. With one, minor exception: the prayer part.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with my 3 1/2-year-old. We were talking about all of her favorite topics: school, friends, and fairies. And then, out of the blue, while going off on some tangent about princess dresses, and shoko, and what I’m making her for breakfast, she blurted out, “but, Mommy, you don’t daven (pray)!”

Instinctively, I looked toward the living room bookshelf, at the rows of unused Artscroll siddurim, and declared, “Of course I daven!”

She shook her tiny pigtails back and forth and insisted that I do not pray. She exclaimed, “you do not daven like Daddy does.”

And she was right. I do not pray like her Daddy does.

Funny, but when my husband and I were dating, I insisted that I wanted our children to grow up watching him daven. I told him that it was important to me, that our kids see him put on tefillin, drape himself in his tallit, and use a siddur to daven each and every morning. And, to his credit, he has done just that since the day our eldest child was born. Our children have frequently been in his arms while he davens three times a day; they have grown up playing with the tzitzit on his tallit, tugging gently on his tefillin while asking questions about his morning ritual, and sitting quietly on his lap as, together, they say the Shema.

But, as I stressed the importance of our children seeing their Daddy pray every day, I completely neglected to consider what they would think about Mommy and prayer.

Truth be told, prayer and I have a unique relationship that’s far too complicated for me to explain to our toddlers.

I don’t think I have ever connected with what I refer to as “organized” prayer. From a young age, I merely went along with the davening process. It was part of the curriculum of my yeshiva, and I dutifully did as I was told. As I got older, prayer became a burden. My parents would insist, Sunday mornings, that I daven before eating breakfast. And, dutifully, I did what I was told. But the words on the page didn’t make me feel any closer to my Maker. In fact, I didn’t feel anything!

Sure, I turned to prayer when I really wanted something. Like dance lessons (never happened), a family vacation (nope, still nothing), and a hurricane to come and cancel the final I wasn’t prepared for (you can guess the likelihood of that one panning out). I also remember davening so hard to get into the Machal program at Michlalah, for my seminary year after high school. And, when I was accepted, I realized that I had to really work on developing that connection with tefillah.

And I really worked hard. I carried my siddur and mini “Tehillim” with me everywhere. While on the bus, I would say a chapter of Tehillim. I started davening three times a day, whereas back in the States I would barely make it through morning prayers. I believed in the idea of mitoh sh’lo lishma ba lishma: that a deed, even if performed without the proper intent, may eventually still lead to a performance with the proper intent. I truly believed that, if I went through the motions, and said the words on the page, I would feel the connection.

It just never happened.

And, while at Michlalah, I took the tefillah class with Rabbi Nissel. It was an early Sunday-morning class that I was frequently late to and often missed. But what I do remember out of the class was learning thattefillah was comprised of three things: shevah (praise), bakasha (requests) and hodaya (thanks/gratitude). So, technically, if I incorporate all three of these elements when praying, then I was “doing it right.”

When seminary was over, and I was back in New York, I slowly stopped praying with a prayer book. Instead, when I wanted to have a conversation with God, I just did. In the privacy of my own room, sometimes without even saying a word out loud. I made sure to start off with praise, then put in my request, and then ended the “conversation” with my thanks and gratitude. And to this day, that’s how I pray. And it worked for me — until my daughter accused me of not praying.

As a mom, I’m responsible for educating my children and must be a role model to them. Do I want them to see me have my “conversations” with God? Or do I dust off my Artscroll siddur and, once again, go through the motions so that they see that I’m praying? I honestly don’t know what to do.

What I do know is that this Rosh Hashanah holiday, they will see me with my prayer book in hand. I will sing to them the melodies I grew up with, and teach them how to sing along.

And, during “Unetaneh Tokef” of Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I will close my eyes and say the only words that I have ever had a connection with in all of liturgy. And pray that, for another year, we are not a fleeting dream.

A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust. At risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream.

לשמוע אל הרינה ואל התפילה

This is the sentence that captures the essence of the beginning of selichot!  For me, it is as powerful as the trumpeting of the shofar.

How can we get our students to listen, to hearken and actively attach themselves to the joy and the tefilla of this season?  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Got a Mahzor?

I was sitting on a plane this morning next to a gentleman, who after settling in with his seat-belt and adjusting his pillow, removed a Rosh Hashana Mahzor from his bag.

Now for me, this was tell tale sign that this person was a chazan and was serious about preparing for what is often referred to as the playoffs of Jewish prayer.  I inquired and indeed he was in charge of helping to create the Karlin-Stolin niggunim for the yamim noraim, Days of Awe and wanted to brush up on the words, tunes, and spiritual meaning.

For some, the high holy days suddenly happen upon us and thus enter unprepared because of a hectic work schedule or the heavy logistics of a family life.  For others, especially students, time can be found to reflect or learn a special book or work to get one 'ready' for the conceptual judgment on Rosh Hashanna.

I found this gentleman a fascinating inspiration for each of us to make new time to (re)examine the liturgy before it will be chanted and preformed in our shuls.  Don't just to wait until it happens upon us, but look into a verse that jumps out for significance or context considering this year and to research more about its language and meaning.  One approach that my brother uses every year is to chooses a verse, sentence or clause that captures a thematic approach for the season.  Dust off your mahzor, or buy a new one; just don't wait until you get to shul to open it for the first time, even if you aren't the chazan.