Thursday, September 30, 2021

A Tale of Two Synagogues

Once upon a time, our synagogue had a big, beautiful building and hundreds of members.

That building is long gone--sold, demolished, and replaced by a school--and we now have so few members that our current, much-smaller sanctuary is never full, even on the High Holidays.

When our synagogue moved its services onto Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision was made not to run any evening services except the Erev Yom Kippur/Kol Nidre service, because that's the only evening service for which we're sure we'll get a minyan.  Since my husband is our shul's acting rabbi, we've been co-leading the services from our apartment while our cantor co-leads from his, and having no evening services leaves my husband and me free to "shul-hop" (davven/worship in other synagogues) for Maariv/Arvit for the moment.

So we had the pleasure of "going to" B'nai Jeshurun in Manhattan via livestream on Erev Simchat Torah.  It's been years since we've been able to attend a Simchat Torah service in which there were dozens of davveners dancing around the Torah scrolls during the hakafot.  I truly miss the liveliness of a Simchat Torah that actually looks and sounds and feels like a real celebration.

As a surprise bonus, I was presented with a guessing game.  How could that woman look so familiar even though I couldn't see her face?  Well, BJ does have a rabbinic intern who's a singer and often wears a fit-and-flare dress when giving a concert.  And that headband is practically her trademark.  The mystery was solved when all three rabbis were among the dancers and the cantor was the only clergyperson singing in the front of the room--the "mystery woman" went up to one of the rabbis' microphones, turned around to face the congregation (and the camera), and joined the cantor in leading the singing.  Yep, it was Deborah Sacks Mintz.

The hakafot were wonderful while they lasted, but the next morning, we were back on Zoom co-leading less than a minyan.  We had trouble getting a minyan on weekday holidays even back in the good old days, when we met in person, so we weren't surprised, just sad.  It's literally not much fun, belonging to a "Little Shul on the Prairie."

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Too true :(

The liturgy was so literally true this year that I just couldn't focus on my prayers, and spent much of  Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur with little kavanah. 

“Who will live and who will die?”

“Who by fire?”  See the Pacific Coast and other western areas, Greece, and the Middle East, including Israel.

And we just observed the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  For twenty years, “who by fire” has always brought to mind my sister, whom I almost lost that day—she barely missed being crushed in the collapse of the Twin Towers.

“Who by water?”  See the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic coast, and, earlier this summer, western Europe.

“Who by earthquake?"  See Haiti.  Again. 

“Who by plague?”  Too many, and it’s not over yet—now it’s claiming four-year-olds. 

I just can't see how either repentance or prayer could possibly help. 


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Re-emerging Scourge of Antisemitic Violence (by Dara Horn in Hadassah Magazine)

 Here's an excerpt from this Dara Horn article in Hadassah Magazine: "Of all the tedious and self-serving explanations for why this scourge was apparently re-emerging in American life (Guns! Trump! Trolls! Twitter!), the most convincing was actually the most boring, and also the most disturbing: The last few generations of American non-Jews had been chagrined by the enormity of the Holocaust—which had been perpetrated by America’s enemy, and which was grotesque enough to make antisemitism socially unacceptable, even shameful. Now that people who remembered the shock of those events were dying off, the public shame associated with expressing antisemitism was dying, too. In other words, hating Jews was normal. And historically speaking, the decades in which my parents and I had grown up simply hadn’t been normal. Now, normal was coming back."

Cramming for the final, so to speak: I'm leining on Yom Kippur --update

Here's the original post.

I'm surprised not only by how much I've forgotten, but also by what I remember--the first two aliyot and the last two aliyot aren't too bad, but shlishi and revivi (the third and fourth aliyot) are murder, and they always were!  Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Cramming for the final, so to speak: I'm leining on Yom Kippur

Our synagogue can't afford to hire a special chazzan (cantor) for the High Holidays, and, in our synagogue, leining is part of our regular cantor's job, so my husband and I decided to him a break and do most of the leining (chanting the biblical reading from a hand-written Torah scroll, which has neither vowels nor punctuation nor cantillation marks).  After all, we leined for seven years of High Holidays at our previous synagogue.  My husband was smart--he started practicing a couple of weeks ago.  I thought I'd do fine because I would be doing only the one reading for the morning of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), while my husband would be doing both the first- and second-day readings for Rosh HaShanah.  So I waited 'til the last minute, fool that I am, and I now have only until Wednesday afternoon to relearn six aliyot plus maftir.  Eek!!!  I forgot that I haven't actually leined on Yom Kippur in about two decades, and I'm shocked to see how much I've forgotten.  Wish me luck.  Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to go bury my nose in my tikkun again.  (Here's a sample of a tikkun--it's a book [or online text] that's used for practice because you can see all the vowels, punctuation, and cantillation marks, and, on the same page or the facing page, the same text as it appears in a Torah scroll.)

Thursday, September 09, 2021

My "accidental Aleinu" before Rosh HaShanah

I was stupid enough to leave something where I could trip on it, and, sure enough, I tripped on it, ending up flat on my face on the living-room floor.  A trip to the Urgent Care center for x-rays the next day confirmed my belief that I'd miraculously managed not to break any bones.  That said, I wasn't in much shape to walk, so I had an excuse to ignore our synagogue board's insistence on holding services in person--I spent the first day of Rosh HaShanah on another synagogue's livestream.  But Tuesday afternoon, I took a walk that was just long enough to confirm that I could make it to synagogue and back on my own two feet, so there I went for the second day--I didn't do much standing, but I managed to pray and get home in one piece.  I was happy to see that, with all the "editing" that we'd done to the services, we managed to finish at least an hour earlier than usual, which was our goal, since our sanctuary is small and we can't open any of the windows there.  (No one admitted without both submitting proof of vaccination and wearing a mask.)  I hope to have a less exciting Yom Kippur.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Sarah, the Invisible Matriarch

First, Avraham (Abraham) passes Sarah off as his sister--twice!

Then, Sarah gives her maidservant to Abraham as a surrogate mother because G?d doesn't bother telling her that she's going to have a child of her own, eventually.

Then, when G?d finally reveals--to Avraham!--that Sarah's going to have a baby at the age of 90-something, G?d yells at Sarah for thinking skeptical thoughts.  Why would G?d expect Sarah not to be skeptical?  And why is it that the only time that G?d speaks directly to Sarah is to rebuke her for doubting G?d's power?

Then, G?d orders Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak, who's Sarah's only child, and neither of them bothers to tell her.

No wonder Sarah died.  What's the point in living when the only reason you exist is to prove that G?d has complete control over birth and death, and no one--human or divine--actually seems to care whether you're alive or dead?

In Sefer HaMinhagot (The Book of Customs) 18b, R. Asher of Lunel, much to his credit, wrote a midrash (an interpretative story) that connects Sarah's cries, when she learned of the near-sacrifice of Yitzchak, to the tekiah notes blown on the shofar.  But in the actual text of the Akeidah (Binding of Isaac/Yitzchak) in the Torah (Bible) itself, Sarah is completely absent.

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