New year, new edition of the Hillel machzor

The new fully transliterated edition of 'Wings' (red) and the original 1985 edition (blue)

In case you don’t obsessively read the publication that I honcho, I thought I’d give y’all an excerpt from an interview I did for New Voices Magazine recently with Rabbi Richard Levy, editor of both editions of the Hillel machzor, “On Wings of Awe.”

Here’s about half of it:

Groundbreaking in its Initial 1985 Release, ‘Wings of Awe’ Gets New Edition

The High Holidays are upon us, and so is a newly updated and expanded edition of the Hillel machzor (High Holidays prayer book), “On Wings of Awe.” The original 1985 edition was ground-breaking in its inclusion of transliterations for many prayers, which was then a rarity even among liberal Jewish prayer books; the new edition’s cover boldly proclaims itself “A Fully Transliterated Machzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

While Bernard Scharfstein, vice president of “On Wings of Awe” publisher Ktav, told me, “We sold maybe 1,000 a year; it’s not a bestseller,” it has been a constant presence in many Hillels and in a handful of congregations for many years.

I spoke on the phone recently with the editor of both editions, Rabbi Richard Levy, about what makes “Wings” a Hillel machzor, what has changed in the new edition and how worship has changed over the last quarter-century.

New Voices: Why a new version now?

Rabbi Richard N. Levy: It was a suggestion of Bernard Scharfsetin at Ktav who felt that a fully transliterated version might be attracting to a new generation of students at Hillel and also independent congregations that had used to the older version.

NV: What makes this a Hillel machzor?

Levy: I think that fact that it incorporates a lot of features of many non-Orthodox services, that it includes, for example, [all] three paragraphs of the Shema that are still lacking in Reform worship, but are present in others. In the middle of the book there is a full silent Amidah with inserts for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for people who don’t want to use alt prayers as is suggested in some parts of the book can use the full traditional one.

There are some references to being a teacher and a student, including some reflection questions for Yom Kippur that are directed at teachers and students. There is one piece that reflects the perceived reality of single people who are yet unsure of how or when they will be loved by someone.

There was a time when some of these things could only be done in Hillel foundations that are now commonplace.

NV: What changes can people look for in the new edition versus the original one?

Here’s the rest of it.

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Kol Nidrei. Occupy Wall Street. Arthur Waskow. Be there.

Daniel Sieradski is organizing a Kol Nidrei minyan in at Zuccotti Park, home base of the Occupy Wall Street folks, at 7 p.m. this Friday night.

I don’t believe it’s set in stone yet, but Rabbi Arthur Waskow may be delivering a devar and or leading the service. Sieradski is looking for knowledgeable service leaders. If you can help and you’re interested, get in touch with him on Facebook or twitter.

This will be a service, not to mention a Kol Nidrei, of once-in-a-lifetime coolness. Let me know if you’re coming so I can make sure we say get the chance to wish each other a Gemar Chatimah Tovah.

Check out the Facebook event for details and updates.

Updated, 10/5: Sieradski tell meWaskow is no longer coming for health reasons. Sad times.

“Core Issues in Jewish Prayer: Meaning, Spirit and Music” at Hadar

What alternate universe did I wander into where I get to say things like the following: After work today, I went to the yeshiva for maariv and a shiur with my friend Simi, who goes to Stern.

The yeshiva, of course, was Hadar, the flagship institution of the traditional egalitarian movement. And while Stern College is the all-girls undergraduate school of Yeshiva University (the flagship institution of ever-rightward drifting Modern Orthodoxy), Simi is a notorious heretic whose skirts end at her knees, rather than below them. She’s also the founder of the YU Beacon, YU’s third newspaper and its only co-ed newspaper. And I’m doing my part to contribute to her delinquency by bringing her to places like Hadar.

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

Anyway, we went to Hadar last week for part 2 of “Core Issues in Jewish Prayer: Meaning, Spirit and Music–A Signature Lecture Series by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer and Joey Weisenberg,” which was taught by Elie. It was cool. The stream these things online, so you can check it out over here. Tonight’s video, stubbornly refusing to be embedded but screencapped above, is over here.

A few of Hadar’s copies of Yedid Nefesh, Josh Cahan’s bencher, were sitting out on a table tonight. I can’t figure out how to hyperlink this caption, but if you click on the picture it’ll take you to my review of YN from 2009.

For tonight’s lecture, the third and final of the series, Joey Weisenberg took over from Elie. Joey leads services over at the Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn, the best kept secret about Friday nights in New York City. The lecture was also more singing and participatory demonstration than lecture. It was also held in a room I suspect of being a glorified closet. I took a lot of notes and it gave me a lot of food for thought. Here’s what I got:

Joey Weisenberg

  • We were seated in concentric circle-ish things in the smallest room ever. Joey maintained throughout that the small size was plus. I would usually agree, but this was a tad on the claustrophobic side. There’s a fine line between cozy and cramped. This was cramped.
  • I’m generally more prepared for kumbaya-type stuff in a service than I otherwise am. This was only barely within my usual threshold for kumbaya-ness during services. So for something claiming to be a lecture, it took me a while to settle in.
  • The first nigun was very slow to start, but once it gets going, it’s great. It’s been a while since I’ve been to KSS. I had forgotten how much I like Joey.
  • Simi is totally not into it. Her mouth hasn’t opened except to whisper to me that she’s just realized this is streaming live on the internet. Worse yet, we’re quite visible in the video. “I’m on a live stream?” “Yeah. There’s gonna be evidence.”
  • I’m singing along. I’m being a good sport.
  • Leaning over to Simi, “What, Stern girls don’t sing niguns?” “Oh, they do,” she says before trailing off.”
  • Joey hasn’t said anything yet. He begins: “My name is Joey Weisenberg. I’m a musician during the week and I like to sing a lot on Shabbat and also elsewhere.”
  • He talks for a while about the subject, then says that in music school he used to get frustrated when they’d talk and talk and talk about Mozart. “Just put the music on! Let’s listen to it.” This is his segue to some music.
  • He has a girl hold a high note. He then joins her, starting low and getting higher and higher and we’re all instructed to raise our hands when he matches her. This happens twice, semi-successfully. Then he enlists a third person.
  • He talks about whether we liked it better when they matched pitch or when they were almost matching, something about harmony and tension that I’m not quite following.
  • Then he does the pitch thing again.
  • He keeps saying things like, “The role music plays in the Jewish world is it helps us to tune into the world.”
  • You say the Shema, but there’s the music also, “to which we attune as a group to achieve some unity.”
  • Now he has everybody doing the pitch thing together. Simi is amused. I think it sounds like the THX thing before the movie. I’m not playing along with this part, BTW.
  • We don’t sound great, he observes, “but we’re getting used to the group and the room.”
  • “I’m working for the re-shtetl-ization of the Jewish world.” He means that we’ve gotten too slick, too impersonal and–this next bit is a recurring theme with him–our prayer spaces have gotten too big.
  • Now we’re doing some rhythmic stuff. One person is stomping. The rest of us are utterly silent. “We just one the battle. We all paid attention.”
  • Now we’re stomping in unison. Simi joins in!
  • We’re speeding up. Joey notes that groups have a tendency to get faster tempo and higher pitched over time.
  • “There is a guy next to the rebbe in the chasidic world whose job it is to bring it back down when it gets to fast.”
  • “Amazing. 40 Jews in a room paying attention to what we’re doing. If we could achieve this in prayer spaces, we’d really be on to something.”
  • Meanwhile, I’m wondering if the chit-chat isn’t an integral part of the Jewish prayer aesthetic. And I’m only half-joking about that.
  • Now we’re stomping every fourth beat.
  • Now we’re stomping every other 4th beat, which is not working at all.
  • “We want to rush it. We do that in services when we don’t know what’s going on, we go faster.”
  • I do that! If I’m lost, I just stay where I am, but start going faster and getting really anxious about being in the right place until it becomes clear where we are.
  • “We need to relax our services.”
  • We’re doing every other fourth beat again, but it’s working really well. The only difference is that Joey is very, very quietly whispering, “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, etc.”
  • “I’m just whispering very little. The smallest amount of leadership from me is doing it…. We need clear signals from our leaders, but they can be very subtle.”
  • Back on the anti-big room thing: “Could you have heard me whispering across the room at a large suburban shul? No. We need closeness.”
  • He asks if we spread a string quartet out across a large space or spread out the logs of a fire. No. “Things that seem totally obvious elsewhere and yet, in this situation we instinctively blow it.”
  • Now we’re nigunning again. I’m not following this nigun very well–it seems to get louder, then trail off a little in some kind of pattern, but I’m having a hard time slipping into the pattern. Maybe that’s because I’m taking notes furiously.
  • Simi is having none of it.
  • I pause for a little while to focus on singing along.
  • Simi grabs my notepad and writes, “I feel like I’m in therapy- stop analyzing me!” “I’m writing about me too,” I write back.
  • Is this my whole problem, though? Do I analyze prayer during prayer too much.
  • He has the group doing a little clapping/stomping/patting beat thing consistently, while we continue with this complex nigun. But then he has our voices starting and stopping. He’s actually surprised by how well we recognize where we are in the melody every time he directs us to bring our voices back up.
  • “Point is, singing is not about making sounds…. It’s about trying to pay attention…. Music has the power to make us pay attention and that’s what we need.”
  • It’s an interesting point. We’re likely to actually say or read more of the words if there’s a good tune to say them to. I don’t know if that’s what he meant. Actually, I suspect it’s not. But I like it.
  • He says that the melody is irrelevant. A change in song won’t change the quality of what we’re doing, he says.
  • “Are we hearing ourselves and everyone else or are we waiting for it to end…. Those moments are the best davening moments, when you don’t need lunch” any more and you’re just happy to continue being there, praying and singing.
  • “The choir model sets us up for an expectation of perfection, but not in this [this cramped, everyone singing all at once] model.” He’s making lots of sense to me.
  • Then he says stuff like “Tune into each other’s energy” and I don’t what’s what anymore.
  • We’re singing. Joey’s not making a sound, but he’s rocking back and forth, shuckling in his seat. “Am I contributing?” he asks. Then he slouches and checks his watch. “How about now?”
  • One person says that he was at a shul with assigned seating on Rosh Hashanah, but knowing that he needed to be in the center of the action to daven properly, commandeered a seat closer to the front. He said he also knows that he has something to contribute to the davening, another reason to move toward the front.
  • I guess I’m quite different from that. I start thinking about where I sit at every place I’ve ever been a regular. I always sit all the way off to one side or the other, about 1/3 to 1/4 of the way from the front. Close enough to be in it, but far enough that I’ve got room to thing and, well, take notes like this.
  • We’ve been singing this same nigun for a long time and then the clapping begins. “Almost 40 minutes in, but then it begins…. If clapping begins immediately, the whole thing will be over in two minutes.”
  • “Where do words come in? This is working on its own.” He has us silent. “So if we get into the moment with music and then have the Amidah…” he trails off and stays quiet for a while. It’s eerily quiet. “Music is not about making noice, but drawing us in.”
  • Does anyone else find the pronunciation of nigun as though it is a verb, like “niggin’ ” unsettling and distasteful?
  • Now the group is listing off melodies for “Menucha Vesimcha,” some fast and some slow. The slow ones emphasize menucha (rest), while the fast ones emphasize simcha (joy).
  • “Does the melody need to match the meaning of the words?” someone asks. Joey’s noncommittal. He says that of late he’s been shying away from singing words at all, just filling in between prayers with nigunim.
  • One person points out that a lot of people think that the tune that has become universal for Aleinu is inappropriately bright and bouncy.
  • Another person disagrees, saying that it’s appropriately triumphalist.
  • I jump in: The meaning is important. If we use aesthetics to enhance meaning, even sit on par with it, we’re fine. But if we allow them to supersede and run roughshod over the meaning, we’ve missed the boat.
  • One person, Joey says, looking skeptical bored or whatever can ruin the whole thing. That’s often me, I think. Simi tell me that’s her right now.
  • Abruptly, we’re back to the nigun: “This is called the Hadar nigun, so it’s a good one for us to know.”
  • And now we’re standing up, still singing, louder and louder. Simi: “Seriously?” Me: “Goodness gracious.”
  • And then I notice that she’s started singing!
  • After, on the subway, Simi gets of at Times Square and I continue on to Penn Station. Alone with the strangers on the subway, I realize that I have the nigun stuck in my head now. The same one that we were singing all night and I couldn’t figure out at first is stuck in my head.
Good night.

What if I did one-day yom tov, but went to shul on day two anyway?

Reports of my complete departure from the Reform ideological fold have been greatly exaggerated. I’m not backing away from doing one-day yom tov this year, though I’m tempted to test drive two-day yom tov sooner or later. But I have been thinking about how to attend a second-day RH service and participating as fully as I can–all without compromising my one-day values.

(Some background on an approach to two-day yom tov that I’m particularly fond of can’t hurt, so here’s BZ’s material on it: Israelis are lazy, “ONE DAY ONLY!” parts 1a, 1b and 2, “Ontology of yom tov” and “Hilchot Pluralism, Part VIII: Simchat Torah.”)

Anyway, I’m writing this as I figure out how to do this. Here’s my thinking so far: On day two I could go to shul and the only two things I’d really have to do differently is say a weekday Amidah while everyone else does their RH Amidah and recuse myself from Musaf.

And since any piyutim and whatnot are just that, I could play along with those just fine.

Right? Does that make sense?

Recent acquisitions: Chaim Stern’s later works; new editions of Mishkan; ‘Singlish’; a skinny red thing; and a Russian siddur with transliterations!

I got some new things! There will be more stuff on some of these later on, but for now, here’s the rundown:

A skinny red thing

This little Kabbalat Shabbat hardcover pamphlet sort of thing, quite creatively -titled “Siddur Kabbalat Shabbat” is used on Friday nights at Beth El. They got it because it has a basically Conservative liturgy, but it also has transliterations to an extent that Sim Shalom does not. They do this musical Kab Shab thing sometimes and I suspect they expect a less Hebrew-literate crowd at those services for whom transliterations are a welcoming feature.

Two new editions of MT

When I interviewed CCAR Publisher and Director of Press Rabbi Hara Person in her office for this story a while back, she also gave me these two goodies. One is the World Union Edition of Mishkan T’filah, which we previously speculated about here. The World Union Edition might be more correctly referred to as the southern hemisphere edition, as it’s mainly for the smaller anglophone Reform communities in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The other is MT: The Journal Edition, a new(-ish) educational version of MT that leaves the left side of each spread either blank or offers questions and space to write reflections.

I will definitely have more on these and more from my interview with Hara for y’all one of these days.

A Russian siddur with transliterations!

My mom went to Russia a little while ago and came back with this charming souvenir. There are actually Cyrillic transliterations in this thing! It turns out it’s easier to learn how to read Russian than I thought. That is, if you already read Hebrew. Because that one letter looks a lot like a Shin…

In the Hebrew there, it says “Tehilat Hashem.” Whether you know Cyrillic characters or not, it’s pretty easy to make that out in the transliteration too.

“Singlish”

These (left to right, top to bottom: Kol Nidrei, a bencher, Friday night, Shabbat morning) are part of the “Singlish” family of prayer books by Joe Lewis. I recently inherited these. They seem a lot like my beloved Eit Ratzon. I’m gonna keep digesting these and I’ll get back to y’all with more on them soon.

Chaim Stern’s later works

Neither of these acquisitions are actually all that recent, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about either one here.

Anyway, on the right is Paths of Faith. Chaim Stern created the draft that became this siddur to replace Gates of Prayer. The CCAR decided it wanted to go in a different direction and created MT instead. So Stern kept at it and Paths of Faith was eventually published elsewhere. Unfortunately, it was published posthumously.

On the left is The New Light Siddur, a siddur that Stern helped edit for a congregation in New Jersey.

OK. That’s all. Shanah tovah.

Shabbat Notes, 9/24/2011: Dad’s visit; Gospel music in musaf

My dad is in town. He and I usually talk on the phone at some point on Shabbat to fill each other in on any particularly excellent bits of chaos we witnessed in shul that morning. He’s also a reader of this blog, so his visit would not have been complete without a visit to Beth El. He rightly told me that he approved of the level of chaos.


In musaf this morning, the Christian gospel tune, “Lord Prepare Me,” was on the march again. I’ve previously discussed the tune’s increasing use in Jewish worship here and here. I’ve encountered the use of this melody several times, though this use of it is new to me. Today Cantor Perry Fine used it for the musaf kedusha. Eschewing the usual call-and-response-and-repetition style, he led us through the prayer in unison to the tune of “Lord Prepare Me,” from the beginning–“Na’aritzecha venak’dishecha…”–through “Baruch kevod Adonai mimekomo.” Then we proceeded to the the tune of “Erev shel Shoshanim” for a while.

Also, I had an aliyah. More on why that happened sometime next month.

New JTA piece by me: wave of new machzorim, updates on new Reform machzor

We had two new machzorim last year. This year, we’ve got another new one, a revised edition of another and drafts circulating of another major upcoming release. JTA has the full story, written by your favorite blogger:

New Jewish prayer books typically come in waves, the rarest of which bring new High Holidays prayer books, or machzors.

The current wave has seen five new machzorim in a one-year span. Following on the heels of last year’s release of the official Conservative machzor and a popular chavurah machzor are the first Hebrew-English machzor from the Israeli publisher Koren, a revision to Hillel’s “On Wings of Awe” and pilot tests of services from the forthcoming Reform machzor.

The Conservative movement’s “Mahzor Lev Shalem” was a surprise hit — insofar as a prayer book can be such a thing — selling more than 120,000 copies. More congregations are expected to adopt it for the High Holidays this year.

The chavurah “Machzor Eit Ratzon” from Joseph Rosenstein, a math professor at Rutgers University and a founding member of the Highland Park Minyan in Highland Park, N.J., is a companion to his “Siddur Eit Ratzon.” Though “Machzor Eit Ratzon” is not in use on the same scale as “Lev Shalem,” it merits inclusion here as a popular new independently published machzor.

Check out the rest of the article at JTA. There’s some news on the new Reform maczhor drafts in the article, but my interview with Rabbi Hara Person from CCAR Press was a lot more extensive than what I had space for in the article, so I’ll have more from the interview for y’all soon.

I also did a little sidebar that goes with the piece, a roundup of the year in liturgy.

I’m busy. But here’s another trouble-maker’s blog for you to read.

If you miss me because I’m busy and work all the time and never sleep anymore, you should go read Laura Cooper’s blog. She’s like me, but more ritually conservative and less mellow (read: kind of like my writing here was two years ago).

An excerpt from a post she wrote today:

We skipped Emet v’Yatziv. Maybe that’s for the best, because I guess when you sing “Sim shalom, sim sim shalom” for twenty minutes at 40 BPM, you start to run out of time. And they sang this song in a sort of circle, under a makeshift tent of their pasul scarf tallitot. There was lots of clapping and lai lai lai’s and everyone was super excited to be there, but so are Pentecostals. That doesn’t make it right. It was the treifest thing.

Yeah. Go read it.

Andy Bachman strikes again: “regrettable” that Reform truncated Shma

Andy Bachman, senior rabbi of the Reform Beth Elohim in Brooklyn always has smart things to say at his blog, Water Over Rocks. I saw this post from him this morning about the Reform excision of the second paragraph of the Shma. Here’s part of it:

In Reform Judaism, for the better part of the last century, Reform Jews have recited the Shma while standing as a public expression of faith, doctrine, pronounced creed.  And Reform prayerbooks have, additionally, eliminated from the liturgy the paragraph following the Shma (the original Torah text of which appears in next week’s Torah portion) mostly because in its articulation of why one ought to observe God’s commandments, there is an explicit articulation of the Biblical doctrine of reward and punishment, to wit, if you follow My commandments, I will give rain in its proper season, God warns; but if you don’t, the earth you hope to cultivate for sustenance will not yield its fruit in its proper season.

It’s always struck me as a regrettable loss that the early Reformers excised such ideas, depriving generations of Reform Jews the opportunity to engage prayer and Torah text as metaphor, and especially in our own day with fears and threats of global warming, of engaging the notion of how we treat the earth with a sense of the sacred.

Here’s the rest of it.

Jewish Outlook makes an ‘appointment’ with me

I do love that my job is newsworthy in The Jewish Outlook, my hometown Jewish paper.

However, just so we’re clear, JSPS was founded in 1971, not 1970. And it used provide “content for campus Jewish publications around the U.S.” but there are very few of those left and they do not get their content from JSPS. Nowadays, JSPS is really just the organization that publishes New Voices Magazine.

Speaking of New Voices, it’s not “a monthly online student publication.” It’s just an online student publication–nothing monthly about it.

Also, if they’d consulted their AP Stylebook, they would’ve found that publications are italicized, rather than set in quotation marks.

Not that I’m complaining. All publicity is good publicity.