Tag Archives: High Holidays

A Touch of Class, Grace, and Goodness 

by Suzanne Chait-Magenheim (New York, NY)

A funny thing happened on my way to temple this past Rosh Hashanah in my hometown of Manhattan.  I arrived and the synagogue was not there! As I crossed Park Avenue directly in front of what used to be a lavish edifice, I saw it was covered with construction debris and fenced off. Some New Year!  I wanted God to put me in a good place when he wrote in his Book of Life. I did not expect he would put me in the Twilight Zone.

Let me backtrack a little bit.  My husband had his knee replaced three weeks earlier, so we did not take our usual trip to our Florida home to celebrate the High Holy Days where we are members of a Reform temple that my spouse enjoys because of the sincere warmth and musicality of the staff.  Their rhythmic swaying to the music keeps him from dozing off during the service.  Usually.

I was happy to join any temple, Reform or Conservative, as a versatile human being. Although I was raised as a child in the Orthodox tradition (not to be confused with the Chasidic with their long curls, long skirts, and joyful dancing), I could be pragmatic in this case, although the playing of instruments on the Sabbath irked me a little. Being Orthodox as a child meant not being able to cut out my paper dolls on Saturdays.  Not being able to drive to temple.  Dining from “milchig” and “fleishig” dishes (dairy separate from meat}, and using colorful plates on Passover.

Last year, due to other health issues that should not surprise normal seniors, my husband and I took advantage of the reciprocal policy of exchanging holiday tickets between like-minded denominations, a nice honored custom, and we made a contribution to the host synagogue.  So I arranged for the same this year.

I should say here that I used to find the sale of tickets for the High Holy Days offensively expensive. The first time I discovered that tickets were sold for admission so Jews could absolve themselves of sin and thank God for his goodness was years ago in Manhattan. I was 25 and still normally attended my parents’ synagogue in upstate New York on most holidays.  It was 1972, and I tried to attend a neighborhood synagogue sans ticket on Rosh Hashanah, but left sobbing and sputtering, “I can’t believe you would turn away a fellow Jew on the holiest days of the year.”

They would, and could, and did.  They could care less.  I was so financially naïve then.  To learn the greedy ways of the world on Rosh Hashanah was a shock to my young system. But I see now it is how the institutions raise funds to maintain the everyday running of a school and so many other community offerings.

So, it is the morning of Rosh Hashanah in 2017, or 5778 in Jewish years, and, having overslept, I hurriedly dressed, gave my husband his painkillers, ate a quick and proper Weight Watchers 7-point breakfast, and donned a little silk dress and low heels to honor the tradition of dressing up conservatively nice for synagogue. I walked the six blocks as quickly as possible in the slightly uncomfortable but appropriate shoes after a summer of sandals.

When I saw there was no entrance, I started to walk to the next street and telephoned my husband to ask him the address, hoping I had the wrong street. What would I do if I could not begin the year admitting my few sins and asking for forgiveness so my loved ones and I could live another year!

In another block and a half, I thought I had discovered my goal when I saw a bunch of Jews–women in black heels and suits, men in black, blue, or purple yarmulkes and matching talleisim–standing in a line and being asked for tickets.  The five security guards were a definite clue.  I asked if this was the temple I was looking for but was told it was not.  I asked to speak to someone in charge to see if they knew where my missing temple was or if I could possible go to this one.

A lovely gentleman in authority came to the rescue and said the right thing:  “Why don’t you join us? No Jew should be turned away on the High Holy Days!” Bingo! Some of the world had morally evolved in the right direction since 1972.  I thanked this “savior,” so to speak, and profusely offered a contribution, which he said was up to me, and which I mailed a few days later (as my mother had taught me that I was not to handle money on the High Holy days, which I sometimes adhere to).  He handed me a prayer book and guided me to an available seat.

It turned out this was a Conservative temple, which rented extra space for a large congregation on the Jewish holidays.   The room was certainly not beautiful, but it was in an appropriate, large room with the requisite torahs, bima, rabbi, and cantor.  I had arrived just on time to hear the blowing of the shofar, the strange mournful bellow that has many meanings:  welcoming the New Year, calling us to prayer, beseeching God for peace on earth and in Jerusalem, and, of course, welcoming me to this new experience.

As it turned out, it wasn’t so new. I had attended a Conservative synagogue following the Orthodox one at the age of six after moving away from my grandparents, thereby gaining more religious freedom (like the freedom to consume Chinese food and eventually lobster). I had been bat mitzvahed following a year of special study and five years of Hebrew school.  So I was quite comfortable adding my weak soprano voice to the Hebrew melodies I knew well.

I had previously been disappointed that the Reform services had altered the traditional melodies, even “Adon olam.”  In this temple it was back to standing a whole lot when the Torah was removed from the Ark and praying in Hebrew rather than in an English responsive reading, as was prevalent in the Reform temple.  This temple reminded me of the days I couldn’t wait to join my Dad in melodious prayer at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service as the tedious fast ended before returning home to lox and bagels, tuna fish salad, scrambled eggs, herring, and chocolate milk for me.

At this new service, people pleasantly smiled at me as we exchanged a few words.  I felt at home and quite comfortable.  As the rabbi began his sermon, he spoke of the greeting “L’Shana Tova” which means not “happy new year,” but a “good new year.”  This was his opening to discuss the importance of showing goodness and virtue to our community.  He suggested that the oldest people in the world lived in communities for good fellowship and friendship and lots of socializing.  Daily friendships are more important than large, loving families …”in another state!” Dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine and other chemicals in the body have been tested to prove this, he said.

My attendance was such a perfect example of what he spoke of, and I was grateful for the way that his little Jewish community had welcomed me into their ‘flock,” so to speak.  I read some prayers to myself in English that I found meaningful and touching.  I was comfortable in this little “shtetl.”  Sometimes Fate, your appointment in Samara, (or could it be Divine Intervention?) is a lovely thing blessed with goodness and kindness.

A few days later, so that I would know where I was to go on Yom Kippur, I walked back to the original temple that I had been seeking.  It had occurred to me that the entrance was in the back, not easily visible or accessible from the street.  And so, it was.  To which, I say: “Let there be light”…..or at least a visible sign!

Thankfully, I was not abandoned to roam the dusty streets of Manhattan for 40 years.

Before becoming a “snowbird” in Florida, Suzanne Chait-Magenheim, LCSW, lived most of her adult life in Manhattan. A graduate of Skidmore College, she became a psychotherapist with a private practice as a clinical social worker and with psychoanalytic certification.  Her recent poem, “56 Years” appears online at the Alzheimer’s Association website.  A few years ago, she wrote, edited, and photographed a monthly government newsletter, School Health Highlights.

 

 

 

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High Holy Days

By Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

It is suggested in the High Holy Day Prayer Book
you should carry two scraps of paper,
putting one in each pocket.

One paper should say:
“For my sake the world was created.”
And the other one should read:
“I am ashes and dust.”

What kind of choice is that?
Are we the sovereigns of our own planet,
or nothing but little fragments,
ready to be blown away at the wind’s notice?

On this holiday we reflect:
What is our purpose in our limited time here?
If you’re expecting some kind of answer,
I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong synagogue door.

Our purpose, it seems to me,
is not to find ultimate answers,
but to continue questioning,
with respect to our terrestrial place,
recognizing awe for what we can never fully understand.

I think I will need more than two scraps of paper.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Crosses on the Wall

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

My father sent me to Hebrew school,
where mournful prayers kept me a prisoner,
preventing me from playing first base
for my beloved Little League team.
On the High Holidays, I dreaded wearing
my wool suit which made me scratch.
I looked all around the synagogue, bored,
counting the number of lights on the memorial wall.
I kept sneaking looks at how many pages remained.
Liberated at 13, I ran free, but was slowed by guilt.
Years later, I am a speaker of literature
at a conference at a small Catholic college.
Two nuns sit in on my workshop,
and on the wall floats a giant cross.
“So boychik, my ancestors seem to be saying.
“How are you feeling these days?
See how your lack of Jewish education has cost you?
Are you now playing first base for the other side?”

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in a new YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy,  edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Me, George Herbert, and the High Holidays

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

What do I, little Jewish boy from Brooklyn,
have in common with George Herbert,
17th century metaphysical poet and priest?
A lot more than you might think,
he in italics, me in Times New Roman.
I Struck the board and cry’d, No more.
How many times have I abandoned
the temple, the service, and my God?
But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
at every word….
How many times have I rebelled
at droning words, incomprehensible to my ears?
Me thoughts I heard one calling, ‘Childe.’
And I reply’d, ‘My Lord.’
And so, when the shofar sounds this year,
for reasons I can’t fully explain,
I will be sitting in my usual seat, Row U, Seat 4,
saying “God, I am here,” despite, or maybe
because of, all questions and doubts,
looking to find the exquisite moments of
wonderment and epiphany
I suspect are there.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in a new YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy,  edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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The Power of Prayers

by Susan L. Lipson (Poway, CA)

(High Holidays 5772/2011)

So many earnest voices chant their heartfelt prayers today;
How will my words be heard then
In the swell?
Why should God even listen to the simple words I say,
When others sway and cry with
Private pain?

What if my prayers aren’t echoed by a chorus of Amens,
If my words aren’t in the books,
Held by all?
What if I sing my own tune, in my head, not the refrains?
Does God hear solo voices
In the choir?

As Master of conductors, can’t God pinpoint any voice
Amid the others joined in
Harmony?
Can’t God hear what we feel when we send our thoughts to Him;
Must we really move our lips
To move God?

I think God hears intentions, not just voices, not mere words;
And prayers are multilingual,
Not one form.
So if my thoughts fly upward, from my book, like soaring birds,
I need not feel that I’ve strayed—
God hears all.

God hears me, God hears you, God hears them,
God hears all.
God’s in me, God’s in you, God’s in them,
God is all.

Susan L. Lipson, a children’s novelist and poet, has taught writing in the San Diego area for more than ten years. Her latest books are Knock on Wood (a middle-grade novel) and Writing Success Through Poetry. She writes two blogs: www.susanllipson.blogspot.com and www.susanllipsonwritingteacher.blogspot.com.

Lipson also writes songs, including Jewish spiritual songs, some of which have been performed by synagogue choirs and soloists.

Contact her via Facebook or MySpace (Susan L. Lipson).

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What Really Happened That Day

by Rick Black (Arlington, VA)

At Dunkin’ Donuts,
I sip my coffee, bite into a chocolate-
frosted donut and mull over your fate.
Would you like a taste, Isaac?

I know: everything falls this time of year–
acorns, leaves, even knives
fall by accident,
of course.

Tell me, Isaac, you can confide in me,
“What really happened that day?”
If only you were not so
reticent.

A survivor, you figure no one
would believe you. You’re probably right.
Your father, a knife, a ram–
how absurd.

Everything falls this time of year–
spiky chestnuts, ripening apples
even knives fall by accident,
of course.

Rick Black is a prize-winning poet and former journalist who creates hand-crafted books at Turtle Light Press in Arlington, VA. You can see his work at http://www.turtlelightpress.com/

This poem was reprinted with permission of the author. It first appeared in U.S. 1 Worksheets, (Vol. 56),  U.S. 1 Poets’ Cooperative, Princeton, NJ. (http://us1poets.com)

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Finding My Place

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Standing outside the temple,
I hesitated at the door, deciding
whether I would enter for the High Holidays.
“You speakin’ to me?” I asked when
I thought I heard Him inside my head,
beckoning me to come in and pray.
I was reluctant to go inside.
Honestly, I’m just not that comfortable
with the old men chanting in indecipherable tongues,
with standing up, sitting down, repeated too many times.
But then the thought came to me, (through Him?)
religion is not a matter of comfort, but gratitude.
I thought of not being pressed into a cattle car,
thought of living three score and more,
thought of having two fine sons,
and finally, of being, at least tangentially
a part of a 5,000 year old legacy, reasons enough
to rethink a few procedural questions.
“Well,” He said, “coming in?”
“Yes,” I said, firmly, walking in, finding my place.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in a new YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy,  edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

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On High Holiday music

by Rachel Barenblat (Lanesboro, MA)

This past week I had two very different liturgical experiences. I spent Shabbat Shuvah weekend at Jewish Renewal retreat center Elat Chayyim, and I went to Yom Kippur services at the congregation I just joined here in North Adams. (Technically it’s a Reform shul, though the congregation was Conservative for a century, so they tend towards a Hebrew-intensive kind of Reform-ness.)

I’m a big fan of Elat Chayyim, in part because I really like the way they handle prayer services. Services are egalitarian and creative; they do interesting things with God-language; they often incorporate meditation into their davvening (they regard prayer as, among other things, a vehicle for becoming more spiritually awake). They also sing a lot: often chants based around one line or one phrase from a particular prayer, and always melodies that are easy to learn and follow.

My little shul uses a fair amount of song in our Shabbat services…but I learned this year that we handle the Days of Awe in a special way. We hire a cantorial soloist to lead us in song. And I didn’t like that one bit.

My problems with the cantor were twofold. First, half the time she sang for us rather than with us, and I don’t like having someone else pray on my behalf. (I’m interested in a grassroots kind of worship, in which the rabbi or chazzan is there to lead us, not to do things for us.) And secondly, she was using ornate, flowery melodies that most of us didn’t know and couldn’t guess, so even when she was trying to lead us in song, we weren’t following very well.

Because I’d just come from Elat Chayyim, where the chants and niggunim are so intuitive and everyone sings everything, the contrast was remarkable.

I know that a lot of people like having a cantor, especially for the High Holidays. And I expect my rabbi was happy to have someone to co-lead services with him; leading a congregation through the intense and intensive Days of Awe has to be exhausting, and I’m sure it’s nice to have someone to share that burden with.

I know that there are special melodies, a special nusach, for the Days of Awe. And I imagine that the cantor probably loves singing this stuff, because it’s the only time of year she gets to do so. If you train to be a cantor, and you learn all of these different melodies for different liturgical seasons, you probably want to use them all, right?

But as a worshipper, I have to say, it really put me off. Because when I’m spending a whole day in shul, I want to be involved. I want to be singing. And since I didn’t know many of the the melodies our cantor was using, I couldn’t follow along. Half the time I just sat there, trying not to be surly, looking at the words and humming the easy melodies I’ve encountered in other congregations under my breath.

Now and then we returned to a melody that everyone knew. And then our voices rang out, and it really felt like a holiday again. Which was great; but it served to highlight how frustrating the rest of the experience was.

So I want to argue against the use of flowery High Holiday nusach. I think it perpetuates a kind of disempowerment. Only the people who happen to know the special melodies can participate, and everyone else is left silenced and subdued: hardly conducive to feeling involved or even uplifted by the shul experience. And isn’t that what we’re there for?

Rachel Barenblat is beginning her fifth year as a student in the ALEPH rabbinic program, and holds an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington. Author of four poetry chapbooks, she’s been blogging as The Velveteen Rabbi (http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/) since 2003. She lives in Lanesboro, MA, where she and her husband Ethan are expecting their first child this December.

This essay first appeared on The Velveteen Rabbi in October, 2003 and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

For more information about Rachel, you can read this interview: http://faithfulprogressive.blogspot.com/2005/05/fp-interview-rachel-barenblat-from.html

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The new year cometh

by Chaviva Edwards (Storrs, CT)

Tomorrow at sundown begins Rosh HaShanah, one of four Jewish new years, also THE Jewish New Year by practical terms.  We feat this weekend and then, on Oct 1-2, we consider the trespasses of the past year; how we turned our backs in the field to a G-d so presently standing before us with openness.

I want to share a bit from my “A little joy a little oy” desk calendar. Every now and again it has something fruitful and funny. I always put my calendar a day ahead so I don’t get behind or confused when editing for tomorrow’s paper. In reality, I work a day ahead. But I was poking far ahead to see what the calendar had to offer, because I won’t be here this weekend because of the holiday. For Sept. 23, the calendar quotes Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels in his 2000 Rosh HaShanah sermon.

“… it’s time to put your hand in the hand of someone you love … and recognize that we only have a very short opportunity to be the humans upon the sand and not the pebbles. … It’s time to recognize that the real value of our lives is … experiencing the … seemingly insignificant things. It’s time to recognize that things don’t need to be the slickest … to be great … and appreciated. It’s time to repent but not wallow in repentance. … It’s time to take a stand for … what we believe. … It’s time to realize that we are as small and as very large as the pebble upon the sand, no matter how we count the years. Amen.”

I think it’s incredibly well written and speaks to the essence of the High Holy Days. I look back on the month of Elul at this point and think about a rebirth and renewal I wasn’t expecting. I’ve met someone who makes me feel alive and happy — someone who speaks to my heart without wanting to change me (Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li). As the new year approaches, I’m thinking about how life has handed me something precious, something to be truly thankful for as the new year approaches. Yom Kippur will give me a chance to consider the past year and some of the horrible, insane things that went on and that made me turn my eyes downward and away, into the dirt at my feet instead of the figure in the field. It’s funny how long and changing a year is and yet how we can catalogue its events like a shopping list. I intend to mark things off of the list and leave it in the dirt near my feet as I walk away from 5766 and into 5767.

In this week’s parshah, Moses sings to Am Yisrael, saying “Remember the days of old / Consider the years of many generations / Ask your father, and he will recount it to you / Your elders, and they will tell you” how G-d “found them in a desert land.” Moses tells them how G-d made them a people, chose them as His own and gave them a bountiful land. So I remember and give thanks for my people, past and present, not to mention the future of the Jewish nation.

Also something to consider: Ramadan begins on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. Two religions and nations in strife must share a day that happens to be holy in both spheres. I only hope that, with this in mind, perhaps the Middle East will sit still for a day, relishing in the gifts they’ve been given — the Jews for their Torah and Israel and the breath of life and the Muslims for the giving of the Koran to Muhammad. Neither religion or nation is blemish free. I’m not going to argue politics or history, for both peoples have committed crimes and acts that G-d would sooner mark us off than have to watch. But let us hope, and pray, that on Sept. 24 both groups — and all of those who live near — can calm their minds and hands to reach not for triggers but apples and honey.

Chaviva Edwards, currently residing in Storrs, Connecticut, is in her second year of the master’s program in Judaic studies at the University of Connecticut. In her past life, Chaviva was a copy editor for such publications as The Denver Post, The Daily Nebraskan, and The Washington Post. Alongside her master’s work, she is rekindling her insatiable desire to edit through special projects involving Judaism and Jewish topics. She is an avid photographer, devotee of her many blogs, and a Web 2.0 connoisseur.

This piece first appeared on Chaviva’s blog, Just Call Me Chaviva, www.kvetchingeditor.com , in September, 2006. It’s reprinted here with permission of the author.

You can find more of her work at www.kvetchingeditor.com, chaviva.yelp.com, www.twitter.com/kvetchingeditor, and
flickr.com/photos/kvetchingeditor

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