Liturgy class 10 - 4.22.09

One piece left over from last week - in speaking about the issues around Holocaust observance day. [Cynthia's presentation on Megillat ha-Shoah will be put on the wiki for us to read -- it's an actual book, sung to the tune of eikha trop, and feels very much like a stranger/non-survivor standing up and talking for 45 minutes! Will email presentation because has no voice.]

All of you should know: what to do when this happens to you on Y"K and you have maybe 12 minutes of voice to ration out over the day! Reb Zalman tells the story, somebody went to the rebbe to say, what is the purpose of the various instrumentalities of modernity? The telephone is to instruct you on what is to be said here can be heard there. The telegram is to teach you that every word is counted. The railroad is to teach you that everything could be missed, just for the sake of one second. So: limited voice stamina teaches you to ration your words.

Wrap-up reflections on Yom HaShoah observances?

- timeframe, needs of the kahal -- Simcha went to an observance that went really long. Started section 2 an hour and 25 minutes in, e.g. The length of time was overwhelming and decreased the overall effectiveness.

- refreshments and coffee afterwards, psychologically important

That discussion has come up more than one in regard to Yom HaShoah v'haGevurah. L'havdil, for the kind of ecumenical Thanksgiving gatherings we've spoken about also. For Yom haShoah, do we want to establish it as a fast day? In that case we would not even enter into serving food or refreshments. But the Jewish world has not gone that way. Except for the communities which have added observances connected w/ the Shoah to 9 Av, I've seen almost nothing in advocacy for making Yom HaShoah to be a somber fast day. Given that for whatever reasons that has not been collective yearning... the issue of kiddush, oneg, role of food in congregational life is a big one.

R' Ellen Lippman built her shul in Brooklyn entirely around food. They started out having meals together. Then a little Torah study. Then a little davening. This is the shul that eats. Building chevreschaft around their gathering to eat. When you bring different communities together, the gathering usually has more than one function. Even an observance for Yom haShoah, or a gathering for Thanksgiving: the shared liturgy/ritual is part of the purpose, but there's also a less-explicit purpose of building relationships, bringing people together. Doesn't matter how stale the coffee or what the food on offer is. Gives people an excuse.

At the end of 9 Av there's a tradition not to schmooze at all. And that's a powerful experience because it's so different.

If there are survivors there, they might want to schmooze, to be approached, to share the gratitude.

- to some of us, a big spread of food can seem odd in the face of the Holocaust remembrances

- to me it's a relief that we haven't turned it into a fast day, because fasting implies mipnei chata'einu, we have sinned, and that's not a comfortable position vis-a-vis the Shoah


- regalim different from yamim nora'im -- HHD are a more vertical mode, different relationship to agricultural year

- pieces of the full trad liturgy for regalim don't really cohere, whereas HHD the davening is multifaceted and long but the themes are very unified and interwoven throughout

- needs to be a unity from erev R"H to ne'ilah; one long phrase w/in which smaller phrases ebb and flow; really extending through end of simchat torah

Because of the timing of this class, our field trips will not be able to encompass R"H and Y"K. Can a few of you share any one single compelling image or moment from a high holiday observance that has stayed with you?

[sharing stories - Simcha Daniel's story of the shofar by the Seine in Paris, + the Arthur Miller play which resonated; Shoshanna's story from Hebrew University as a visiting grad student, singing avinu malkeinu; Yafa's story abt getting there at the beginning of the services when she was a kid in Vermont; my story about my first E"C Y"K where there was joy and I was blown away, Deb who began attending HHD services 18 years ago, harmonic shift between nuschaot; Shulamit, the fact of sitting next to mother on that one day in shul, "this is part of me and I am part of this." Melissa used to associate HHD with getting dressed up & being bored, but HHD with Reb Zalman changed that -- and at this point I stopped note-taking & kept just listening, sorry :-)]

Reb Sami - grew up in what in England is called a Reform synagogue. Think back over many years/places, the image that stays with me is a musical image. Not a niggun or anything from the world we usually look to. It's from a source I would not normally commend. Frankie Armstrong runs voice liberation workshops, believes that everybody can sing, but...the congregation I belonged to hired 4 non-Jewish singers and put the music in front of them phonetically. One was a baritone. Will never forget his rendering of the Levandovsky m'chalkel chayyim. Because he wasn't Jewish he wouldn't sing the chatimah. Though he didn't speak Hebrew, somehow he really got it.

Stories help us collectively as we move forward. To know where powerful & compelling experiences have been, and how different they are.

Understand how diverse this experience is.

Don't be surprised if over the years someone passes out during HHD services. Could be that they're so moved by the heights of your davening, or could be that the air-con isn't working! The way in which you will be able to function in all of these circumstances -- I am ecstatic that every one of you has a mashpia. Work with your mashpia from beginning of summer through Elul to know, what must you do with your own soul/being not only to be who you are but to prepare for the leadership role you're most likely stepping into.


"Strong, Loving, and Wise: Presiding in Liturgy" by Father Robert Hofda, a Dominican priest.

Obviously the chapter on the Eucharist is not so useful to us, but otherwise it is brilliant and I read it every year. My strongest single recommendation. You know that I love Larry Hoffman's work, which is intricate, elliptical, scholarly, broad, and infinitely analytic.

Metaphor that Steinsaltz uses -- days of awe -- goes back to the story of Yakov and his vision of the ladder. "Hamakom hazeh." How awesome, how norah is this place. He speaks about this in parallel to the norah of shirat ha-yam. Rather than shying away from it, as a lot of textual commentators do, it's typical of Steinsaltz that he doesn't run away from that metaphor. Many of these experiences we've just shared are experiences of how many different ways they are for those words to be real for us.

Also very taken with "The Eternal Journey: Meditations on the Jewish Year" by Jonathan Wittenburg. Opens with achat sha'alti, and then meditation on seeing wild deer.


[had to duck away for a few moments, sorry]

Do you understand piyyutim, do you write things out, what to do when the shofar-blower doesn't show up; we'll talk about all of those things. Sustaining the big vision in atzilus when you're in the middle of assiyah.

- moadim l'simcha w/ Elliot; text about miracle of crossing the see, and seeing therefore the miracles of every day

If you're working w/ a community and can begin the work of prep at the start of summer, harei zeh tov. One week in early summer is worth two weeks in late August. It's critically important.

For a lot of communities there are a lot of issues. Your capacity to work with those issues may have to do w/ your capacity to work with the community in general; if you're hired just as a HHD rabbi your influence and leverage are limited, e.g.

Les Bronstein -- his metaphor is, when you come newly to a place as rabbi or hazzah you get a quiver full of arrows and can shoot them with a goodly measure of success at whatever you like. But it's a finite set and they don't replenish quickly. You can usually do a couple of things new & get away with them, but you want to think carefully about what those things are.

What are some of the important logistic/organizational things for communities to think about:

- chairs

- enough machzorim, the version you're using, w/ handouts inserted

- an answer to the question about whether/how people have to pay to attend, how to manage that dynamic, how to relate that payment to annual membership if at all

- on the kibbutz our sanctuary is our common room; for several years I would hang white cloths on the front wall, to transform the room

- place, itself; many places have to move to accomdoate crowds

- mechanics: light, air-con, sound system etc

- recruiting and training volunteers

- at Kehilla we have a theme woven through all of the services, so: working with appropriate committees/individuals to involve people in that, structure of lead-up and follow-through opportunities for study etc

If you go to some other space: our congregation used to rent a movie theatre, called it "cinemagogue" -- but whether or not you're in the place where you live all the time, that's still no guarantee that heat/cooling/sound systems are dependable! So even if you're staying home you have to pay attention to those.

- babysitting! many grownups who have little kids can't come to shul unless you offer childcare

- avodah and yizkor service: may require things, stones e.g.

Think about family needs as a whole.

- tallesim and kippot

- make a list of duties, and make sure someone is overseeing all of this

Chain of command. If you are the bride or groom, make sure you are not the person in charge of details on the wedding day, e.g. Logistics: put them in someone else's hands.

- accessibility; scent-free; spaces for people to take medication and/or eat/drink

If you're using mobile seating, have integrated open spaces for wheelchairs rather than assuming a row of wheelchairs at the back. Niches for wheelchairs distributed through the space.

People who don't need wheelchairs but can't sit comfortably in seating that doesn't have support on the sides as well as the back: have some bigger, comfortable chairs.

Induction sound system -- backup system for people with auditory challenges. Scent-free zone is also important.

A quiet-ish area for those with sensory integration disorder.

- rabbi, cantor, poss ritual cmte, need to go through the liturgy and decide what to do, what to cut, etc

How you plan/manage/coordinate the liturgical experience is critical. We'll speak more about this later.

A couple of other big-picture things:

Publicity, evangelism, outreach to wider community & the reasons behind it. For some communities yamim nora'im are a good opportunity for community growth. Outreach.

Parallel programming: people think of various kind of child-focused things. But other important constituencies: some of us work in towns where there's a diversity of approaches to Jewish life. Market segmentation. But for many of us, our shuls are the only manifestation of organized Jewish life for 15 miles in any direction. If you are in any way part of a community serving a diverse constituency, there's an important reflection. Is it the wish of the community to hold everyone together for the whole of the experience or are there moments to go different ways?

e.g.: do you do a trad Avodah service for people who seek the integrity of the full matbeah tefilah? for others it may be totally meaningless.

There are also people who won't come to any kind of liturgical gathering because that's not their thing. A place for reading, conversation, meditation for parents/kids/those who are present but don't want to be davening.

Will these alternatives run concurrently? We hold meditative gatherings after Kol Nidre, early in the morning on R"H, on afternoon of Y"K.

- make sure you have water for the leadership

- if you meet in a church: what to do about crosses

- shomer at the door who would greet people, tell them when to come in or not come in

There's the issue of security, and the issue of how you welcome people in. What literature do you have to put in people's hands? What book do you hand to them? When people walk in, does somebody smile at them?

All of these are important. Most of them we'll come back to.

A few words about books, and then about money.

Books: I urge all of you to make sure that you have access to traditional Orthodox text, Artscroll or Koren. To Gates of Repentance, which is still the most current text of the American Reform movement; to Harlow, Conservative movement; Machzor Chadash as well; to Kol HaNeshamah for yamim nora'm; and to any of the versions of the machzor which have been prepared in the Renewal movement.

- Deb will post links next week when Deb/Rachel/Melissa do the presentation on poetry

The machzor edited by Ronald Aigen in Montreal is a superb piece of work.

My teachers in the Reform movement in England edited a machzor which is a little chaser in matbeah tefilah but in creative areas is the finest piece of work to accompany the yamim nora'im; I've prepared an extensive supplement based on it.

Goldschmidt: best commentaries to piyyutim. Larry Hoffman's commentary, published by CCAR ("Gates of Understanding, Volume 2") is outstanding.

Agnon's book Days of Awe or Yamim Nora'im, published by Shocken. Hilkhot Teshuvah is useful to have in the background.


What are the issues about money?

- some people don't want to pay

Take a step back. What are the meta-issues?

- on the one hand, this is a fundraising issue; shuls are strapped for cash, want to bring in income, and OTOH some folks will say that being asked to pay before they enter feels spiritually uncomfortable

- some communities do Tishrei membership drive, after chagim

- some shuls urge a donation but make clear that we're happy to have anybody come

- people pay to eat, to go to the doctor, to go to therapy; and yet when they seek to nourish their soul they don't think that the professionals that are serving them should be paid, and I'm so troubled by that!

- working on reconfiguring membership (includes HHD) as a brit

- in my community the notion that there is value in the non-material is anathema; it's hard to put resources behind the spiritual

This is scratching the surface of a very deep area. For some people this is inconceivable; churches do not charge people to come to Easter or Christmas services, and they struggle with balancing the books just as we do.

Karen did a focus group with 20 unaffiliated people, aged early 20s to late 40s who do not belong to synagogues. Some grew up very active. Some had been to day schools. Some were rabbis' kids. Many of them who could afford it said they chose not to. Many of them had approached synagogues and the visceral anger and distaste in the room about being asked to pay to come to HHD services, whether it's called a donation or a ticket, was palpable. Whether or not it's right or wrong, there is a palpable distaste for this. A lot of the impression out there is that the deal is pay-to-pray.

To the extent that we can coalesce, redact, our consciousness or our sense of this -- that doesn't mean that this altered consciousness is going to be easily communicated to the people we want to have joining us.

Twice in my career I've lobbied the board to have an approach of: the doors are open, join us, pray with us, eat apples and honey with us. In each case, the flow to the community of new members/donations had not ben significantly less than what the synagogue had received via ticket sales but the good will out on the street has been substantive. My personal urging is -- I would like my congregation to be able to pay me! I'm very conscious of the budget needs of our communities, and the need of rabbis and educators for parnassah. It behooves us to think about the messages that we give, and how we can bring people into our circles so that they will become active, giving, generous people.

- Q re presentations

Shulamit's presentation on megillot still needs to happen. Cynthia's will be emailed/wikified. The next session should be presentations on poetry and slichot.

Whoever has not signed up for a d'var tefilah, email Reb Sami in the next few days and he will propose a few options.