Dear WJC Family,
This Saturday night we will observe the unique custom of the Selichot service, the first of three incredible spiritual and musical services leading up to Rosh HaShanah. We will come together with four other local Conservative congregations in the outside tent at Beth El Synagogue Center (details below including Zoom info) and be led in a service of beautiful song and meditation. The Selichot prayers are an important step in our High Holiday process. They give us the opportunity to move from wherever we found ourselves emotionally at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh HaShanah to where we need to be to experience a meaningful High Holidays.
In a year where we may have found ourselves with spiritual feelings of shock, numbness, indifference, abandonment, depression and/or disappointment, the Pre-High Holiday process may be as important as ever. In his book “Redemption, Prayer and Talmud Torah,” Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik describes the process of awakening to prayer:
What is the structure of liberation through prayer? We find, upon analysis, that the process of redemption of the individual and the community through prayer. is similar to the redemption from Egypt, as described by the Zohar. There are three stages:
1) No prayer at all – the silence of atrophy, the absence of a need-awareness;
2) An outcry, a voice, saturated with suffering and sadness;
3) The birth of the word, i.e., the birth of prayer through the word.
Before Elul we may have found ourselves in stage 1 – emotionally and spiritually lost, unaware of how to connect. On the first day of Elul and every morning since we have been blowing the shofar. This is stage 2 – crying out wordlessly, suddenly aware of the difficult spiritual and emotional state in which we find ourselves, and left with no resource but to cry out wordlessly with the carnal cry of the ram’s horn. Tonight at Selichot we push ourselves to stage 3 – the joining together in beautiful prayer, led by our talented local clergy.
The power and value of this night of transition from outcry to prayer is a powerful liturgical tool preparing us for the extensive and complicated prayers of the High Holiday mahzor. To use a different metaphor, the beauty, pathos and meaning of the Selichot prayers are the opening act for the spiritual and liturgical drama that is about to unfold. This year, we need that warm-up as much as any. So, I hope you will join us on Saturday night in person at Beth El or, if you are more comfortable, on the Zoom.
Later in the week, on the evening of September 1, we will gather in our own outside tent for another kind of service of preparation – “A Musical Path to Return” a service of healing and moving forward led Neshama Carlebach, her musicians and our clergy. The service will feature songs and prayers of spiritual grounding, healing and joy, led with the powerful and beautiful talent and spirit Neshama brings every time she sings, as well as meditations by our clergy to focus us on the spiritual tasks required of us during the High Holidays. I hope you will join us outside or on Zoom and share this special moment of teshuva, or “return,” with us.
And we have yet a third outside musical opportunity on Monday, September 6, Erev Rosh HaShanah (and Labor Day) – Return, Renew, and Rejoice. A new contemporary service led by our clergy to bring in the High Holidays together with singing accompanied by instruments and spiritual learning. Following the service, join us for dessert to bring in the year with sweetness and you can stay to end the evening with Minchah/Ma’ariv at 7:00pm.
Of course, all of these wonderful opportunities to refocus on spiritual matters have one goal in mind, arriving at the High Holidays prepared to have the most meaningful, healing and fortifying experience possible. Dozens of people have been working incredibly hard behind-the-scenes to make it the best experience possible. We are offering a plethora of diverse opportunities for folks with varying needs and desires. The High Holiday Task Force under the leadership of Susan Miller and Harold Treiber, the Covid-19 Task Force and our absolutely incredible and intrepid staff are doing everything possible in this crazy, shifting landscape to help us reach that goal. We owe them all a debt of gratitude as well as a lot of understanding.
While all are doing an incredible job, please keep in mind the gargantuan and dynamic nature of the challenge before us and give us all the benefit of the doubt. While we are sure the services will not run perfectly, we are confident that they will be as smooth and meaningful as we could possibly achieve under the circumstances. Let’s focus on the incredible leap in what we can offer from last year to this year and not on what we will not be able to do.
And, now that we are close enough to the actual event, please keep your eyes open over the next week for communication about our final decisions regarding safety and security protocols at services.
One last note – this is our last summer Shabbat and I have to give a huge shout-out to Cindy Heller, volunteer extraordinaire, for arranging all of our volunteers who led services and gave divrei Torah over the last two months. The clergy is so appreciative of all of her efforts, as the whole WJC family should be, as well as for all of the great chanting and darshaning by our volunteers!
This week I will be speaking on Friday night – services in person and on the Live Stream at 7:15pm. Then at Saturday morning services Jerry Fortinsky will be delivering the Dvar Torah – “Should Jews Feel Ashamed of Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and Bernie Madoff?” Finally at Shabbat minchah, which starts at 7:15pm Saturday, I will be teaching on the topic, “Let’s Make a Deal – The Third Covenant with God?”