It Didn’t Always Rain on Sukkot

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

This year feels like a Sukkah Wash-Out… but it didn’t always rain.  Below is a 2014 Sukkot reflection from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat who has been blogging as the Velveteen Rabbi since 2003.  Her blog takes on many current issues.  She lives in western Massachusetts.

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Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 2 comments

Sukkah and bubblegum

I know English pronunciation is not my area of expertise. It is good to know one’s limitations. I’ve done so in the past but I ask you one more time to forgive me, to give me a pass with pronunciation. An “S” or a “Z” does not make a big difference in this post. Not for me, and I hope not for my readers either.

As I recall my childhood days, many were the challenges I faced. Looking at kid’s challenges from an adult perspective can be an unfair act. I remember how difficult it was for me to do the monkey bars… No I can walk under them but I couldn’t climb them!

I remember how difficult it was for me to open my eyes under water. I still don’t do it very well.

One of the biggest challenges I faced as a kid was to blow bubble gum. I still remember the day I was able to accomplish that first “balloon” as we called it in Argentina. I felt I was about to take off the ground. I could feel how that balloon elevated me. It was such a big accomplishment; I felt such happiness. I didn’t envy other kids who blew bubble gum anymore. I was relieved from the shame because I now longer felt that I was the only one in the world who did not know how to blow bubble gum.  Freedom was knocking on my own doors.

Since that moment and until today, I cannot stop making a connection between Sukkot and bubble gum. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 5 comments

Everyone is buzzing

Congregational Singing

It’s the “it phrase” for Hazzanim looking to get a good job out of school and the trend that veteran Cantors have needed to embrace in order to stay relevant.

It’s the title of a book by Joey Weisenberg, the musical director of Kehilat Hadar, a vibrant spiritual community in Manhattan. It’s also a movement that’s been around since the 1960’s, when the first Chavurah was established in Whittier, CA.

The whole idea of the Chavurah was to reject the large scale synagogue and its formalized worship with Cantor and Choir, which came to be seen as a performance and not engaging enough to the congregation. A staple of these groups was increased congregational singing.

Nearly 60 years into this paradigmatic shift, the synagogue service has become, in many places, a formalized version of the Chavurah.

Congregational melodies are central to the experience, and the Cantor usually davens without a choir, with few moments of Hazzanut, or ornamental and artistic renderings of the text.

But something in this great swing of the pendulum has been lost. What of the congregations whose musical life flourished under the traditional Cantor and Choir?

How did they “participate” before the days of commonplace congregational tunes?

It turns out they often participated without “singing” at all.  A tradition of accompanying the Hazzan with a drone of humming underneath has been practiced in shul for centuries. Dating to medieval Germany.

We did this on Rosh HaShanah. And at times, it was very very powerful. I sang long held notes, and you hummed the chords beneath me. You were the choir. A choir of 800!!

Change is good, change helps us grow. People love singing the tunes they know, I love hearing the whole sanctuary sing B’Rosh HaShanah together.

But we need all of ourselves in the communal davening. When we hum along, filling in the nusach, it’s magical and it keeps us all constantly present and engaged. Not simply waiting for the next familiar tune.

We have started something really amazing, or perhaps revived? I heard we used to do it at Beth El in the 50’s.

So as Yom Kippur approaches let us continue to buzz and to hum and tell each other, Hineni, here I am. I’m ALL IN, ready to give myself to prayer.

Shabbat Shalom

Hazzan Fradkin

Sent from my iPhone

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin in Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 0 comments

Shana Tova from the Clergy

The joke always goes ‘Rabbi / Hazzan, Rosh Hashanah is so early (or late) this year.’ Of course Rosh Hashanah is never early or late. The holiday is always the first of Tishrei. Maybe it is September which keeps moving?

The ‘early or late’ dilemma makes sense from the usual mileposts of time we commonly use – Labor Day, schools beginning, and shifts in weather. For the next four weeks though, Judaism asks us to shift how we organize time. Aware of the hectic schedules and demands of our lives, Judaism is giving us a gift of re-organizing time. In the weeks ahead, we can incorporate into our lives the spiritual moments these beautiful holidays offer. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Hazzan Asa Fradkin, Rabbi Fabián Werbin, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

Welcoming a Refugee Family

Throughout the Torah, the Israelites are reminded “you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9)  Thirty-six times in the Torah and throughout our rituals, we are reminded of our ancestors’ hardships in Egypt.  These reminders are prompts for us to extend kindness and welcome others in need.

In close partnership with our friends at Bethesda United Methodist Church and Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, we are excited to be able to fulfill this special mitzvah.  In two weeks, we will welcome a refugee family into our communities.

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Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris, 4 comments

Unicorns in the Hebraic Section of the Library of Congress

The Reading Room at the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress

One of my favorite places in all of Washington, D.C. is the Library of Congress.  My first visit was in 1981 and it has been a recurring joy and fascination for me ever since.  While on sabbatical a number of years ago, I chose to immerse myself within the riches of the Library’s Hebraic Section.  Below is a fascinating blog by Dr. Anchi Hoh, about unicorns (seriously) hidden within the library stacks.

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter.

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Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 1 comment

Visiting the Sick

There is a passage of the Talmud (Sota 14a) that always caught my attention and I am happy to share its beginning and end with you.

“R. Chama b. R. Chanina said: What is the meaning of the verse, “You shall walk after HaShem your God” (Deut. 13,5).  Is it possible for one to walk after the Presence?  Is it not written, “HaShem your God is a devouring fire” (Deut. 4,24)?  Rather, it means, follow in God’s ways:

Just as Hashem clothes the naked, as is it is written, “HaShem God made for Adam and his wife coats of skins and clothed them” (Gen. 4:21) – so you too clothe the naked;

God buried the dead, as it is written, “He buried him in the valley (Deut. 34:6) – so you too bury the dead.”

This explanation by Rabbi Chama describes the beginning and the end of the Torah. At the beginning, God acted with Chesed, loving-kindness, by clothing Adam and Eve. At the end of the Torah,  God acts with Chesed again by burying Moses.

Guess what other example is brought in this passage? Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 1 comment

And now for something completely different.

And now for something completely different….

A reflection on the High Holidays and a new RH 2nd night Mindfulness Service.

The High Holidays. The pinnacle of our yearly davening experience. It is the moment when thousands of us gather to offer our prayers to God with a communal magnitude that only happens 2 or 3 days each year.

It’s a tremendously powerful experience filled with memory, longing, fragility and loss.

On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we are to remember all that has transpired in our year while hoping that God remembers us for another year of life ( Zochreinu L’Hayyim).


We experience so much in a year, and the Yamim Noraim- the days of awe- are the only time our liturgy overtly asks us to remember and to learn from the totality of this year.

Yes, the liturgy instructs us to do tshuvah for our sins, but the holidays are more than just a plea for clemency, they are an accounting- a Heshbon Nefesh- to see how our souls are faring.

And we come before God broken, knowing that we have failed and cannot even approach the perfection of the divine.  This is reflected in the liturgy as well. ( Ki Hineh KaChomer)

But it’s also in the the fragility of our bodies, our minds and the losses we endure. We are human and we must continually strive to be holy and pursue God’s likeness.

These struggles are all contained within the enormity of our HH experience. Between the meals, the family, the kids and the long hours of davening, when do we have time to reflect on the sacred nature of the Days themselves?

I offer you the opportunity to join me this year on the 2nd evening of RH to do just that. For an hour, we will put away all that clutters our lives and spend time reflecting on the year, ourselves and finding a way to seek renewal during these days of awe.

They should indeed be that; days when we can look at ourselves, at the heavens and be in awe of it all, experiencing every emotion we are blessed to call human and knowing that in these days we have uplifted ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom

Hazzan Fradkin 

 

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin in Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 2 comments

Getting (Re)Grounded at the Ballpark

Rabbi Harris with the Syracuse Chiefs’ mascot, Pops

I am writing this blog from Syracuse, NY.  I am not visiting the Carrier Dome or participating in the 2018 US Bowling Congress Championship (yes, that is actually a thing taking place in Syracuse).  I am in the midst of a road trip visiting baseball stadiums large and small.  It is my chance to unplug for a few days, enjoy some baseball and many points of interest between the towns.  This year my trip has included Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Syracuse and will end in Hartford.  The side trips have included Deep Creek Lake, Niagara Falls, Seneca Falls, the Andy Warhol museum, a Segway tour, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, walking into a few unexpected restaurants to listen to music and lots of quiet time.  To answer your questions: yes, I have done this before and yes, I go alone. (Thank you Rebekah!)

It takes a few days on the road to quiet my mind.  I have learned to guard against overly filling my vacation schedule with too many activities, plans and schedules.  When I overschedule my vacation, the gift I intend to offer myself never materializes.  It is the gift of being able to listen and reconnect with myself.  Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris, 2 comments

“Soul-Searching After a Rabbi Was Detained in Israel” by Rabbi Daniel Gordis

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

I have spoken many times about the intertwined and complicated relationship American Jews have with Israel.  As Conservative Jews, it is no less so.  Conservative and Reform expressions of Judaism are not officially sanctioned in Israel and non-Orthodox rituals are recognized but not given official legal status.  As we continue to focus on Israel throughout the year, we will explore the internal struggles of Israel’s Jewish and national identities.  Rabbi Daniel Gordis, ordained a Conservative rabbi, is senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. Author of 11 books, his latest is “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn.”  — Rabbi Harris

 

Soul-Searching After a Rabbi Was Detained in Israel:

Is this the sort of nation Israelis want?

Rabbi Daniel Gordis

July 23, 2018 in Bloomberg

Almost a decade ago, shortly before their wedding, my daughter and her fiancé decided that the ceremony would not be performed by a rabbi associated with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. Both religiously observant, they found the Chief Rabbinate’s attitude to women and to non-Orthodox streams of Judaism reprehensible; they were determined to use the occasion of their wedding, at which numerous politically and socially prominent Israelis would be present, to make that point.

They asked me to perform the wedding. As a Conservative rabbi ordained in the U.S. (and thus not recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate), I technically violated Israel’s 1953 Marriage and Divorce Law. This can be punished with a two-year prison sentence. We made the occasional quip about my getting arrested for performing my own daughter’s wedding, but we were never worried. Many rabbis had done this before, and none had ever been arrested. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris, 1 comment