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Preparation HHD

07/20/2023 07:32:14 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I’ve been involved in the High Holy Day services since I was a boy soprano in my synagogue’s choir. Without coming across as arrogant, I’d like to think that at this point in my professional life, I’m somewhat familiar with the liturgy. Yet now is the time that Rabbis and Cantors begin their annual preparations, which in my case includes my davening, offering six sermons, and interesting English readings. There is a Midrash that tells of a Cantor hurrying through the town when the Rabbi sees him approaching and asks him what’s the rush. The Cantor explains that the High Holy Days are coming and he has not yet begun his preparation. In true rabbinic fashion, the Rabbi concludes with a question. “The prayers haven’t changed since last year. How have you changed?”

How have I changed indeed! Just these past two months I’ve become a grandfather for the first time and have testified at and regularly attended a personal “trial of the century” for the American Jewish community. New and different things are on my mind, as they have crowded out prior thoughts of COVID, the blessing/curse of virtual meetings and the effects of isolation. I have some thoughts on my Rosh Hashanah sermons, but I think that a good Rabbi must be sensitive to the pressing needs of the day and nimble enough to put aside a sermon for something more important. Lack of spoiler alert! I’m not going to hint at my sermons, but most warmly invite you to pray with us and find out in real time what’s on my mind. 

The questions swirling around in my head are ones such as:

  • How to make liturgy, especially the religious poetry that was composed in the Middle Ages, meaningful to the 21st Century Jew?
  • How to make the Torah readings that I’d like to think I’ve made relevant awash with new relevancy?

We do ourselves a great disfavor by just showing up for services and wait to be moved. Even though there are those of you who have been attending for many years, some preparation is necessary. I think about those who are diehard Steelers fans and have season tickets. They eagerly await each game, dress in their Steelers paraphernalia on game day, arrive early to tailgate and enjoy pregame rituals, shout and cheer, frequently rising from their seats at important moments, and celebrate a victory. Imagine if the same amount of preparation and enthusiasm existed for the High Holy Day services? While we do rise many times from our seats, nobody cheers wildly for the Cantors rendition of the Hineni, or, imitating the liturgy of a Steelers game, rises en masse to proclaim “Another great sermon”(hint). 

It takes great teamwork to offer High Holy Day services that meet the varied needs of everyone present.  Well-prepared clergy and a dynamic group of volunteers are crucial for what success may look like. Equally crucial is the engagement of the rest of the team: the worshippers. The prayers didn’t change. How will you change to bring the team to victory?

Sun, September 24 2023 9 Tishrei 5784