Tag Archives: prayer

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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism

The Siddur’s Healing Power

By Paula Jacobs (Framingham, MA)

It looks like any ordinary prayer book: blue cover, plain lettering, traditional Jewish prayers, and printed in the USA. While the prayer book has bound Jews throughout the world for centuries, I never imagined that an ordinary siddur would transform my pain to healing, while teaching me the real meaning of connection and community.

When I was reciting kaddish for my father at my synagogue’s daily minyan many years ago, the prayer book became my daily companion as a source of solace and cherished memories. During my kaddish year, the siddur linked me to generations past throughout the Jewish calendar cycle. As I prayed, memories flowed, reminding me of family holiday dinners, Chanukah parties, Purim celebrations, and more.

Through the prayer book, I gained a profound, lasting appreciation for the value of a prayer community. Granted, when I began attending minyan, I initially struggled with some of the communal customs: rapid-fire recitation aloud of certain prayers, calling out the page number before the Aleinu prayer, and light bantering during the services. Sometimes I lost patience with leaders who davened too slowly or too fast, made Hebrew mistakes, or chanted off key.

But the siddur taught me what truly counts, what community is all about, and how to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual created in the image of God. By praying in community, I learned the invaluable lesson to appreciate fully the humanity of those with whom we pray and the intrinsic value of participating in something greater than ourselves.

Once I understood that important lesson, I began to heal. I also decided to help other community members heal by creating a ceremony to mark the end of kaddish. This ceremony features the presentation of a siddur signed by minyan members, symbolizing the community’s support role during the year of aveilut or mourning.  

As I continue to conduct this ceremony 18 years later, I am grateful that the siddur keeps me connected to community. It’s something I think about whenever I present a siddur to a community member and whenever mourners share their personal stories or photographs and memorabilia with the entire minyan community after receiving their siddur.

I am also grateful that the siddur has connected me to a story greater than my own. As I reflect upon the more than 200 stories I have heard, I recall the nonagenarian who died surrounded by his loving children and grandchildren; the father who sent his young children alone from Cuba to make a new life in America; the 20-something widowed mother who became a successful business-woman; the first-generation American who became a judge; the Holocaust survivor who built a new life and family in America; the elderly father who fulfilled his lifelong dream of making aliyah; and other family members who left behind a legacy of treasured memories.

I look at the signatures of those who signed my siddur when I finished saying kaddish. I see the faces of those who stood beside me as we recited the Mourners Kaddish: the young woman mourning her mother, the elderly man reciting kaddish for his late wife, and others who have since moved away or passed on. We were once strangers but through death our lives have become intertwined. And it is the ancient Jewish prayer book that has bound us eternally together and enabled us to heal.

Paula Jacobs writes about Jewish culture, religion, and Israel. Her articles have appeared in such publications as Tablet Magazine, The Jerusalem Post, and The Forward.  If you’d like to read more about the ceremony that she created to mark the end of Kaddish, visit  https://www.ritualwell.org/ritual/traveling-mourners-path

1 Comment

Filed under American Jewry, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism

Prayer, Anyone?

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

When the fate of the world
lies not in our own hands,
when chaos is loosed upon the land,
can the power of prayer
move mountains and men?

Can appeal to the heavens
restrain madmen from their fury?

Would that the weight of all prayers,
Jewish and otherwise,
tip the scales in favor of sanity.

When bombs rained down in WWII,
when people were herded into camps,
when others in charge carve our destinies,
when disasters, man-made or natural, strike now,
the only recourse in our own hands comes
when those hands clasp together in prayer.

I may be the paragon of doubt,
a stranger to formal ritual,
but when catastrophe throws its thunderbolt,
I am the first to utter, “Oh, my God!”
and proceed to direct my prayers skyward.

Do you not do the same?

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/

1 Comment

Filed under American Jewry, poetry

Yahrzeit

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

In my changing neighborhood
the Asian dollar store has replaced
the old Woolworth five-and-dime.
I go in and ask for a Yahrzeit candle.
The owner quizzically looks at me.
“A memorial candle,” I explain.
He finds one on the back shelf.
It’s the anniversary of my father’s death,
and I have bought the candle to say Kaddish.
Is one candle enough to honor
the man who helped raise me?
Pluses and minuses, Dad, if you must know.
I have trouble lighting the wick;
I struggle over the Hebrew words.
Shouldn’t there be more
in the way of ritual and remembrance?
Light a candle, just one candle, they say.
As I stand over the flame,
I am still debating whether one candle
is wholly insufficient or entirely too much.

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/

Leave a comment

Filed under Brooklyn Jews, Family history, Jewish identity, poetry

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/

1 Comment

Filed under American Jewry, Brooklyn Jews, poetry

Sitting Shiva

by Leslea Newman (Holyoke, MA)

Mirrors are covered
Wooden benches are set out
Have a good mourning

Where’s the coffee pot?
I ask my father, who knows
my mother would know

Welcome. Please come in.
Sit anywhere. Except there!
That’s my mother’s chair

Ancient Hebrew prayers
cannot bring my mother back,
so what good are they?

My aunt spills her tea
when I speak to her softly
in my mother’s voice

White coffee cup smeared
with my mother’s red lipstick.
Don’t you dare wash it.

Chocolate rugelach
my mother and I both love
clog my throat like mud

My mother’s old friend
cups my face with both her hands
Fingers wet with tears

My aunt stands to leave.
“Call if you need anything.”
I need my mother.

Lesléa Newman is the author of 70 books for readers of all ages including the poetry collections, I Carry My Mother and October Mourning: A Song For Matthew Shepard (novel-in-verse) and the picture books A Sweet Passover, My Name Is Aviva, and Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed.

If you’d like viewing the book trailer for I Carry My Mother, visit:

“Sitting Shiva” copyright © 2015 Lesléa Newman from I Carry My Mother (Headmistress Press, Sequim, WA 2015). Used by permission of the author.

2 Comments

Filed under American Jewry, Family history, poetry

Healing Service, Working?

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Families come
to pray, to heal.
God, I am asking you for help.
Please hear me now.
Cries heavenward,
cast on a rising tide.
Will they be received?
“My friend has cancer.”
“My sister has Lyme Disease.”
“My mother’s at the beginning of Alzheimer’s”
“My brother just discovered a lump.”
“My husband just died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
“My brother is not well.”
Everyone’s equal in the eyes of God,
equal in pain and loss.
Human beings join hands today,
hoping with renewed fervor,
that their prayers will fall
on welcoming ears,
and their suffering will be eased.

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/

1 Comment

Filed under American Jewry, poetry