Monday, September 10, 2007

Getting Ready for the Yamim Nora'im

The High Holidays Changed forever, for me, a few years ago when i spent neilah with a friend and mentor who was fighting cancer. Stefan had taken me on to work at the ACLU while I was in high school and helped me think more systematically about the fight for justice. Still in the prime of life, he had a grim prognosis.

The neilah liturgy, like much of the High Holiday liturgy, talks about gates closing and we plead to be included in the book of life. This had always been very vague for me, but here i was, signing the plaintive melodies with a teacher whose gates were literally closing and for whom one more year of being inscribed in the book of life would be miraculous and unlikely. He was courageous; I was not. Seeing him ask for another year made me question whether I was worthy of one, what i had done the previous year, and what i would do if by some (natural or supernatural) fluke i got another year to live. Every year as I move towards the High Holidays i try to refocus and consider the tough issues of breaking myself down and doing honest repentance. Every year I have trouble, and Stefan helps me figure it out. This year was no different as This past saturday night is the night that ashkenazi jews traditionally hold selichot services.

After just over two years of steady improvements to erev Shabbat meetings, Tikkun Leil Shabbat decided to experiment with various non-Friday-night services. The first of these was a slichot service this past Saturday night. One of the founders of TLS new the nusach and taught it to another core member who was excited to help coordinate.*

After splicing together bits of several machzorim (put out by Orthodox, Conservative, and Recon coordinating bodies) and booking space in the Reform Movement’s Religious Action center, the stage was set for a trans-denominational experience.

We had a dessert potluck and then three simultaneous learning sessions framed around Tefilah/Prayer, Teshuva/Repentance, and Tzedakah/Just Action. Ethan led a musical workshop on the thirteen attributes of god text (adonai, adonai, el rachum vechanun…). Eli led a discussion /hevruta based workshop on Rav Kook’s taxonomy of teshuvah. Laura led a creative/art based workshop focused on our past and future relationships with tzedakah. Unfortunately, due to a hellish week, i had been hard at work since havdalah on finishing the transliterating and copying of the packets. i should have given them to Kinkos, but it turned out fine.

A bit after 11pm services started. Eli led them and they were a gorgeous combination of favorite tunes, haunting high holiday tunes, and tunes i hadn’t ever heard before. We sprinkled English poetry in among the hebrew piyutim (Hebrew or Amaramaic liturgical poems). The folks we shared poetry and stories from varied from contemporary poets like Marge Piercy to and 18th century Hassidic figure, The Maggid of Dubno.

I wish we could have included more but alas, the hour was late. Nonetheless the service was beautiful, haunting, and a great first move away from our normal, K”Sh/Maariv/Dvar tikkun/Potluck model.

*Full disclosure, i love slichot and co-coordinated as well.

x-posted at


At 9/10/2007 , Blogger chillul Who? said...

Hey Z

Selichot was very nice, but can I make one suggestion for next year?

(I'll even help to implement it)

Since there will be more time to prepare, we could make a 4-column booklet including more transliterations and excluding skipped paragraphs & denominational commentaries. (Kol Haneshama rubs me like Artscroll)

At 9/10/2007 , Blogger ZT said...

I'd love to see a four-column piece produced for next year, especially if it would be open source. This past year i just ran out of time. and would have preferred to do something similar to what you are envisioning.

RE: KH, i see how it could rub someone the wrong way, but there is a big difference between what they are doing and what artscroll does in that the recons are upfront and honest about their innovations and don't (i think) represent their position as The Position of judaism. But, yeah, i'd like to see a wide-variety of liturgical choices and clear statements about where they came from and what the differences are.

At 9/10/2007 , Blogger chillul Who? said...

4/column + Open source is the way to go!

About KH, it's not the agenda that bothers me, any more than Artscroll's mangling of Jewish history. I think everyone's privy to their own agendas, and fundamentalist historiography is just silly. What I see in both KH & Artscroll in spades, however (which is what really gets to me) is the partisan triumphalism -- because while KH doesn't present itself (as Artscroll does) as THE POSITION OF JUDAISM, it certainly presents itself as The Position of *Enlightened/Modern* Judaism, which can be as offensive & patronizing to Jews who pray differently in many communities, just like Artscroll's religious chauvinism is found patronizing & offensive in many places outside parts of the Charedi world.

At 9/10/2007 , Anonymous Avi said...

As much as I hate Artscroll they are upfront about most of their positions. They're instructions are according to the Shulchan Aruch.

The truth is outside of a small number of pluralistic indie minyans it makes sense to use a siddur with clear instructions. Diversity is great among the larger Jewish community, but each shul has its own minhag and the siddur should reflect the minhag of the shul not of all Jews.

At 9/10/2007 , Blogger chillul Who? said...

Here's an example --

Say we want to replace the Torah blessing "asher bachar banu mikol ha'amim" with "asher kervanu la'avodato".

In my opinion, a good commentary would say "By saying asher kervanu, we emphasize the equality of all peoples as taught in Jewish tradition." This formulation doesn't claim to speak for anyone else's intentions but the community publishing the siddur, and it also expressive a positive value instead of a negative one.

A bad commentary would say "Many modern Jews are troubled by the implied inferiority of non-Jewish peoples in the old bachar banu blessing," thereby (a) calling Jews who are not so troubled unbothered bigotry, because it also (b)claims to know what other people are thinking when they say their other blessings.

I can guarantee that the vast majority of people who say "asher bachar banu" in their Torah blessings mean it in a way that is also expressed by "asher kervanu".

At 9/11/2007 , Anonymous rebecca m said...

Avi-- I'm actually not sure they always follow the SA. But they do give the easiest-to-follow instructions I've seen in a siddur.

Eli did a fantastic job teaching/facilitating as well as davenning, and your story was a great intro to selichot, and yamim nora'im.

I'm realizing that all in all I prefer my slichot less happy. Which surprised me, because I like more happiness in my RH and YK than a lot of people I've talked to (I think the world getting created, and having second chances and getting to fix our mistakes is all pretty cool stuff). But for the "fire alarm" aspect to work, seriousness, more "se'uda shisheet" type tunes, if that makes sense.

I'm not saying "do it differently next time!", because (1) it was beautiful, I just had too much fun (odd complaint, I know) (2) if it worked for most people, than this is more about me realizing what *I* need.

In any event, thanks for organizing it. And I'm glad I went-- it hands down beats the rushed mumbling that happens too often. I'd love to help with a 4-column slichot project.

At 9/11/2007 , Blogger Barnaby said...

You think Saturday night was fun - just wait till you do Selihot at Magen David! Sunday's the Fast of Gedalia, and if you can make it at the very reasonable time of 7:30, it should be a blast. (As much as a fast-day selihot session should be!)

I much prefer Sephardi selihot, not only due to the catchier melodies (Ben Adam, Y-ah Shema), but also the MUCH higher level of interaction. The nusach, IMO, inspires much more "nora" and "tahanun" than the Ashkenazi major-scale mode (The chief exception being Viduy-Ashamnu).

Again, hazak u-baruch to ZT for organizing a TLS first! (And remember, I'm STILL lined up for a non-instrument service...)

At 9/11/2007 , Anonymous rebecca m said...

ah, yes, Magen David where I get to stand in the corner the whole time. that's generally not conducive to feeling engaged by tfila.

At 9/11/2007 , Blogger chillul Who? said...

Rebecca - You're making me look like I don't appreciate the service and all the work that went into it!

Also about Magen David, everybody's got their pro's and con's, you know? The closest I ever experienced to perfection was one of the JITW's :)

Barnaby - I'm a typically-non-instrument TLS-goer, and I say you should show up! It's awesome.

At 9/11/2007 , Anonymous rebecca m said...

chillul who?-

sorry :)

(I can't figure out if I'm supposed to smile or apologize in response, so I'm going with both)

closest what to perfection?

At 9/11/2007 , Blogger chillul Who? said...

Davenning perfection. :)

(for me at least)

At 9/12/2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

any chance you could fax (or email a pdf) me a copy of your service, that I could use with my teen group this weekend?

Cantor Eric Schulmiller
Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore

At 9/12/2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

whoops! here's my info:

(516) 627-6349 (fx)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home