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high holy day boot camp redux

08/31/2022 10:01:08 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

After my second High Holy Day Boot Camp session concluded, and the livestreaming ended, a participant asked a very thoughtful question: What about some of the beautiful English poems in the Machzor? I’d like to think that my teacher at JTS, Rabbi Neil Gillman, z”l, would have been proud of my answer, for I learned it from him. If you find a prayer that really resonates with you, there is no reason to keep up with the flow of the service. Reread that prayer, think about it, let it take you away to wherever you might go, and know how fortunate you are that you found a piece of liturgy that so moved you.

Our Machzor (the High Holy Day prayer book) is an anthology replete with human attempts to reach and speak with God. The poetry is incredibly sublime, and reflects the best that our people offer the world in terms of religious texts that try to approach the Eternal. Each of them demonstrates the uniqueness of its author, who also struggled with finding the right language to move towards heightened religious awareness.

Few take the time to think how complex it is to create one service that meets everyone’s needs, as the needs are varied. For example:

  • There are people who are conversant with the Hebrew.
  • There are people not yet comfortable with the Hebrew and want more English.
  • There are people who want opportunities to study the prayers together.
  • There are people who want opportunities to study the Torah reading together.
  • There are people who revel in a skilled Hazzan, organ and choir.
  • There are people who would prefer the Cliff notes version.
  • There are families with young children.
  • There are people who prefer yoga and meditation.

All of the above are in attendance in one service at the same time. It is not possible to craft one service for each, although the hopes would be in our new institution, with God’s good graces, that we would be able to offer several different types of services simultaneously. The best we can do at this time is to provide elements of all of the above, in the hopes that there is enough for each type of worshipper to find meaningful engagement with the text. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to inspire each worshipper to dialogue with God. With no one path being the path, if enough material is presented, i.e., the Machzor, then there is the possibility of elevating your soul beyond the confines of the sanctuary and speaking directly with God.

The sheer volume of material in the Machzor is a human attempt to find something for everyone. It is sort of like the East Coast diners that I grew up with, with a menu that offered a wide variety of choices without any specialty, in the hopes that each patron might find something of interest. To be successful in your synagogue worship, be it the looming High Holy Days or Shabbat, you have to give yourself the opportunity to be open to being moved. That is the precursor for a meaningful worship experience. I try to do my best to provide that environment. All I ask is that you give yourself the chance to be moved. It is life-changing, and you are worth it.

Wed, February 1 2023 10 Shevat 5783