Tag Archives: Conservative Judaism

Occupy Kol Nidrei: Paperback Lev Shalem; a new-found appreciation for the Middle Ages; and how I learned to stop worrying and love English readings

If you’ve come here from the Jewniverse email that went out on 9.27.12, welcome!

Though the Jewniverse thing directed you here, I highly recommend just going straight over to my new blog, davidamwilensky.com. Everything from this blog, including this very post, is there too!

Keep in mind that this photo was taken close to the center of the circle so you're only seeing about a fifth of the crowd here.

As you may recall, I went to the Kol Nidrei service organized by Jewschool founder and “social media activist” Dan Sieradski at Occupy Wall Street. (So did my mom, by the way.) There are many articles and blog posts out there that you can read about the service (including my blog post for the Forward, which was the most read article on their sit the day it went up and remained one of the most emailed articles on their site for several days; and which was reposted by Haaretz).

But there’s only one play-by-play, complete with exhaustive notes on liturgical minutiae. Here it is.

Machzorim:

  • The Rabbinical Assembly? I never thought I’d see the day, but when it suddenly looked like hundreds (estimates have ranged from 700-1000; personally, I think it’s closer to 1000) would show up to this service, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism was the only organization that stepped up and helped out with some machzorim.
  • I want one! I, of course, brought my copy of Machzor Lev Shalem with me, but was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the machzorim the RA was donating were these slim little paperback MLS “Kol Nidrei and Evening Service of Yom Kippur” booklets. At the end we were told we could keep them. I perked right up and this Hadar fellow I was sitting next to kindly offered me hers, which you can see above, next to my regular old MLS.
  • Are there more of these? Since I’m going to continue to use MLS as my primary machzor for the foreseeable future it would be great if there was a full set of these booklets. According to the inside front cover, they’re drafts that were piloted in a few Conservative shuls prior the full publication of MLS. By the end of YK, my arms were so tired from holding up the brick that is MLS that I found myself in dire need of a slimmer machzor option so I’m hoping I come across more of these someday.
  • It really is a machzor for all: When the RA was generating a lot of press for MLS, a little over a year ago, one note they hit over and over again was that MLS wasn’t merely a Conservative machzor, but that it was meant to be used by a much wider audience. It’s not only remarkable that they offered these up but that they were accepted. There was a time when establishment was establishment and anti-establishment was anti-establishment and never the twain shall meet. Today, the adherents of the traditional egalitarian style that is popular all over the non-denominational, non-establishment Jewish world has no problem using a Conservative machzor if it fits their needs.

Demographics: So there were a lot people, as I’ve mentioned. But one thing that’s been interesting about Occupy Wall Street and about this service in particular is the diversity of the crowd. As the protest has gone on, the protesters have gotten more generationally and racially diverse; and of course we’ve all heard about how ideologically diverse they are. The Jews at the service were no different. (Though they were not overly racially diverse, as you might imagine, I’m pretty sure I spotted the Black Jewish rapper Y-Love.) So in terms of age diversity, my mother was not the only person beyond her 30s there. And in terms of ideological diversity, I saw Jews I know from all over the denominational and ritual spectrum. (Except for the anti-mixed seating crowd, though I suspect there may have been some of them there as well.)

The service itself:

Shlichei tzibur: Getzel Davis (left), Sarah Wolf (center) and Avi Fox-Rosen (far right)

  • Our fearless leaders: Though organized by Sieradski, the service was led by the intrepid trio pictured above:
    • Getzel Davis: Getzel is a friend of mine from Limmud NY, though we see each other from time to time elsewhere now. He hosted me last year when I visited Hebrew College in Boston, where he is a fourth-year rabbinical student. Much more on Getzel later in the post.
    • Sarah Wolf: Sarah, a first-year rabbinical student at JTS here in New York, approached me before the service, wondering why she recognized me. We couldn’t figure it out and then it hit her:  “Oh! Are you David Wilensky?” Apparently, she’s a fan of this blog.
    • Avi Fox-Rosen: Avi is a musician. I encountered him once before when he was a presenter at Limmud NY a couple of years ago. He chanted Kol Nidrei itself when the time came.

Sieradski and one of the leaders, Avi Fox-Rosen, attempt to create aisles. You can imagine how well that worked out.

  • Mic check! You may have read or heard about “the people’s mic,” the un-amplified method that the Occupy Wall Street protesters use to communicate to large crowds. The individual initiating it shouts, “Mic check!” The crowd responds in unison, “Mic check!” Repeat. The announcement is then delivered in short phrases, each one shouted back by the crowd before the speaker moves on to the next phrase. If the crowd is exceedingly large, the phrase may get repeated in multiple waves, taking two or three repetitions to reach the members of the crowd farthest from the speaker. This method was used throughout the service for page numbers, readings, etc.

Sieradski about an hour and a half before the service

  • Why are we here? Imagine the following all shouted by Sieradski in the call-and-response format described above:
    • Shatz: “Mic check!”
    • Kahal: “Mic check!”
    • Shatz: “Welcome to Kol Nidrei at Occupy Wall Street!”
    • Kahal: “Welcome to Kol Nidrei etc…”
    • “The reason we’re here is the prophet Isaiah!”
    • “Who requires not only a fast from food!”
    • [Some explanation of Isaiah’s thing about “This is not the fast that I require, etc…]
    • “What better way to observe Yom Kippur!?”
    • “Than in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street!?”
    • And so forth.
  • Fun with page numbers: We began on page 204. Kind of. We began on page 204 of the full MLS that I brought with me. Since many others had it with them as well and since there were also 100 copies of that MLS Kol Nidrei booklet present, page numbers were announced for both. It was announced–via the shout-and-response method–that H=P+201, where H is the page number of the full hardcover edition of and P is the page number of the paperback booklet. This led to a lot of people’s mic announcements along the lines of the following, which never ceased to elicit a titter of giggles from the entire congregation:
    • Shatz: “We are beginning on page three!”
    • Kahal: “We are beginning on page three!”
    • Shatz: “And also on page 204!”
    • Kahal: “And also on page 204!”
  • Or Zarua: And begin on page 3/204 we did, with the chanting of “Or zarua latzadik ulyishrei-lev simchah” (Ps. 97:11) a few times. There was some clapping.
  • Three times, with hand signals: “Bishivah shel malah uvishivah shel matah… im ha’avaryanim” is traditionally recited thrice. To keep the crowd together, the shatz trio each waved a finger in the air as we said it the first time, two fingers the second time and three the third time. This was done a couple other times throughout the service for bits that are meant to be repeated a certain number of times.
  • QUESTION: Why am I enjoying this English? Getzel led us in some English corresponding to the bit we had just recited three times–call-and-response, of course. (In fact, from here on out you should assume that any English I mention was shouted out and then shouted back by the crowd.) I played along and had a series of thoughts about it while we shout-prayed in English:
    1. This is nice.
    2. Wait, why am I enjoying this?
    3. Am I actually participating in this English?
    4. Whatever, David, just go with it.
  • ANSWER: Because it was lively as all get-out! In services, you may find yourself saying two sorts of things out loud. You may sing or chant some Hebrew or you may recite some English. And by recite I mean mumble un-enthusiastically. And by mumble un-enthusiastically, I mean space out. But this was a whole other thing. Everyone paid perfect, rapt attention to all of the English we did throughout the service. And when they responded, they responded with vigor! I can’t believe I shouted English in the middle of a service the way I did during Kol Nidrei this year.
  • Kol Nidrei, once more with feeling: We said Kol Nidrei three times, each time building on the energy of the previous time.
    1. Avi Fox-Rosen chanted Kol Nidrei through once. I was very close to the middle of the circle and found him only vaguely audible.
    2. Getzel and Sarah joined AFR for the second time through. (All three of them waving two fingers in the air.) The crowd got in on the action a little bit this time.
    3. By the third time, the whole crowd has heard the tune at least once. Some of us already know it, while I suspect some haven’t been to shul in years, but the excitement of this service seems to be jostling free the memory of this melody somewhere in the recesses of their brains. The third time through, Kol Nidrei is loud and proud.
  • “We renounce publicly…” Sieradski chimes in, announcing, “We renounce publicly…” (I’ll say!) followed by a list of things that we renounce.
  • Let the service speak for itself: I didn’t write down any of the things we were renouncing, but my notes at this point say, “He’s getting v. political. Unsettlingly. Let this event & the words of KN speak for themselves.”
  • Minutiae from my notes: We’re now on page 205/4. From my notes:
    • “Venislach lechol-adat… lechol ha’am bishgagah” once
    • Then “[Moses prayed:] ‘As befits Your abundant love… from Egypt until now.’ And there it further says:”
    • Then “Adonai replied, ‘I have forgiven, as you have asked.'”
    • Then “Selach-na la’avon ha’am… ve’ad-henah. Vesham ne’emar:”
    • Then Shehechiyanu to that sing-songy tune
  • The crowd that leads itself: AFR was going to lead Ps. 92 (“Mizmor shir leyom haShabbat. Tov lehodot…”) silently, but after a moment of that, a cluster of musically-inclined members of the congregation about a third of the way around the circle from my position spontaneously began a tune, which quickly caught on.
  • Tzadik Katamar: When we reached this part of Ps. 92, Getzel led us singing through the end of the psalm to the tune that I generally refer to as “that one we did at the lay-led services when I was a kid.”
  • Maariv: For the most part, Maariv was conducted in the mostly-silent-but-with-a-few-lines-of-nusach fashion.
  • Triumphant Mi Chamocha: Mi Chamocha was sung so triumphantly, you’d have thought there were walls of water to our left and right.
  • “Chapter, verse!” My mother (who used to shout “Chapter, verse!” in services when I was a kid anytime the page number of the Torah reading was announced rather than the chapter and verse because she always brought a different edition with her) took the opportunity of the silent Hashkiveinu to stand up from the folding beach chair she brought with and ask Getzel to kindly inform us not only of page numbers, but of where in the service we were because lots of people had different machzorim with them. (She had Eit Ratzon with her.)
  • Veshamru: The Carlebach tune
  • “We are not praying to the building!” The plaza across the street from Zuccotti Park where we had the service happened to be bordered on the east by the Brown Brothers Harriman building. Before Chatzi Kaddish, AFR announced:
    • “We are not praying to the building!”
    • “We are praying to the east!”
    • “Toward Jerusalem!”
    • “Not for political reasons!” (The crowd snickers.)
    • “For spiritual ones!”
  • The 24-hour drum circle: Occupy Wall Street’s 24-hour drum circle has become (in)famous. Around the time I reached the first Uvechen in the silent Amidah, I was suddenly very aware of its muddy volume leaking across the street, over the falafel trucks that bordered us to the west and all the way to where I was standing in the middle of the Kol Nidrei crowd.
  • The crowd is leading itself again: We were brought out of our individual Amidahs not by any of the shlichei tzibur, but by an Oseh Shalom that sprung up somewhere within the crowd.
  • The Tower of Babel: According to my notes, it was around this time that I noticed that the building before us seemed to disappear into the night sky. I couldn’t see its top! Later, I snapped the picture above.
  • The man who prayed with his feet: A quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel (who marched with MLK in Selma and later famously said, “I felt like my feet were praying”) was featured atop the photocopied supplement we used later in the service. He also put in an appearance here (page 225/24, at this point).
  • A.J. Heschel on “body and soul”: Sarah led us in reading a comment in the margin in the upper left corner of the page, quoting him on the subject of “body and soul”: “Originally the holy (kadosh) meant that which is set apart, isolated, segregated. In Jewish piety it assumed a new meaning, denoting a quality that is involved, immersed in common and earthly endeavors; carried primarily by individual, private, simple deeds rather than public ceremonies”
  • Yeah, but how much more public could this particular ceremony get? That may sound counter to the very spirit of this particular venue for Kol Nidrei, but wait until we get to Aleinu to pass judgement on the inclusion of this quotation.
  • “Haneshamah lach…” Then Sarah and AFR led us in signing “Haneshamah lach vehaguf po’olach, chusah al amalach.”
  • Really loving those 13 attributes: No matter how long it’s been since the last time you went to a Yom Kippur service, there’s one tune you will never dislodge from your brain: “Adonai, Adonai, El rachum vechanun, etc.” So the crowd was understandably jazzed to sing the 13 attributes through by the time we got to them on 229/28.
  • Animals and stuff: Looking back, I can’t imagine myself enthusiastic about this reading at all, but my notes indicate that we enthusiastically shout-and-response-ed our way through this English reading featuring a bunch of biblical animal imagery (upper left corner of 233/32).
  • Medieval-style! I also have a note here that says, “Throughout, no need for machzor for C&R.” My point being, I assume, that there was something delightfully medieval about the way this service was conducted. When most communities owned only one copy of the siddur, services were conducted in a very different fashion. With all of this shouting back and forth and with only maybe a quarter of the crowd actually holding a machzor, I sensed a little window back to that.
  • For example: AFR led us in the series of four verses that begins “Shema koleinu” and ends “kochenu al-ta’azvenu.” Normally, each verse is chanted once by the shatz and then repeated by the kahal. He tried the first verse, “Shema koleinu, Adonai Eloheinu, chus verachem aleinu, vekabel berachamim uvratzon et-tefilatenu.” The crowd–once again, most of whom don’t have machzorim–attempted to repeat it, but we petered out about halfway through.
  • So he changes it up: For the remaining three verses, he broke it up. For example, the next verse, “Hashivenu Adonai elecha venashuvah, chadesh yamenu kekedem,” was not chanted and then repeated in its entirety. Instead AFR chanted, “Hashiveinu Adonai elecha venashuvah,” and the crowd repeated it back with gusto. Then he chanted the rest of the verse and we repeated. And so on for the remaining two verses of the section.
  • Anu Amecha: This super-catchy piyut was sung with a lot excitement. When we ran out of words and lapsed into a nigun, it was out of control!
  • Al Cheit: “We will now list some of our sins!” Getzel shouted before we worked through Al Cheit in English. There’s something be said for standing outside in public with a crowd shouting your sins at full volume. I felt a chill when we shouted, “We have sinned against you by defrauding others.”
  • Israel and Palestine: Then we read an interpretive version of Al Cheit by Stew Albert and Judy Gumbo. As interpretive readings go, it’s a pretty good and it was an excellent choice for this particular occasion. One line reads, “We have sinned… by not defending Israel.” I didn’t have a copy of the reading, which was some people had in the photocopied packets that were handed out before the service. So I didn’t know what the next line was and got a little concerned. Then we shouted, “…by not defending Palestine.” Nice choice, I thought.
  • The sermon: The sermon kicked the whole thing up a notch or two. I did a whole post a while ago about the sermon, which I highly recommend you read in its entirety. The high point of it was this:
    • “Yom Kippur is the day that we are forgiven for worshiping the golden calf!”
    • “What is the golden calf!?”
    • “It is the essence of idol worship!”
    • “It is the fallacy that gold is God!”
  • Kaddish Shalem: Chanted by AFR to the fast tune that has the super-emphatic amens
  • Aleinu: Instead of just chanting Aleinu, the service finally reached a point where it was just a tad too goofy for me. Aleinu, it was explained, means “it is upon us” so people were invited to shout out something they were going to take upon themselves in the coming year. Then, of course, each of these things were shouted back by the crowd. And then we would all shout, “Aleinu!” and wait for the next person to start hollering out whatever vague ethical something-or-the-other they were going to uphold in 5772. Some of these were insanely long and impossible to repeat back accurately. Topics covered in the various personal Aleinus included:
    • Palestine
    • The environment
    • Racism
    • Shopping locally
    • Feeding the hungry
    • Cancelling Bank of America accounts
    • Raising kids to have these values
    • Praying with Christians and Muslims (whether they like it or not?)
    • And so forth, seemingly interminably
  • Vene’emar: That rather special “Aleinu” over, we sang the last line of Aleinu and then moved on.
  • The end.
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Rosh Hashanah notes, part II: Miriam and imahot

Some stuff I noticed during RH this year:

I was surprised to find Miriam appearing along with Moses here in the lead-up to Mi Chamocha. I must have noticed her lurking in here last year, but she still managed to take me aback again this year.

I also noticed their bracketed use of the mamas along with the un-bracketed papas. (Again, must have noticed it last year, but….) This is interesting, if we look at it the context of the Conservative movement’s history with the matriarchs. In the original release of Sim Shalom (and its forebears, it goes without saying), avot just had the avot. The second edition added a B-page, such that there are two versions of the first page of the Amidah, one with the imahot and one without. But the page that has them does not have it worded quite like Reform liturgy does. Whereas R-liturgy says, “…vElohei avoteinu ve’imoteinu…” and then lists them all, C-liturgy says leaves it alone, except for the list. So they don’t say ve’imoteinu is my point.

Between then and now, R-liturgy reoriented itself to include the imahot all over the place. In Mishkan T’fillah, every time is says “avoteinu” it aso says “ve’imoteinu.” In MLS, C-liturgy catches up. Kind of. On the first page of the Amidah, we get both options. And the ve’imahot option not only lists their names, but it now says “vElohei avoteinu [ve’imoteinu].” That continues throughout the siddur. Every time it says something about the avot, we get a bracketed word for the imahot.

Now that the Rabbinical Assembly has announced that they’re working on a new siddur, it’s interesting to notice the new stuff that’s already crept into this machzor. I have to wonder how much Reform and Conservative liturgy is going to continue to converge. I assume the line will be drawn at least at Musaf, but I wonder how much else will be the same. How long before C-liturgy doesn’t give us the avot-only option at all?

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.

Contest: What should my Beth El machzor bookplate say?

I can’t join a Conservative shul in good conscience. However, I also see it as wrong to behave like a member of a synagogue with a financial contribution membership model without making a financial contribution.

(We’ve talked about this around here before. Briefly, the issue is that paying dues at an affiliated synagogue also means paying part of the synagogue’s dues to the larger organization with which it is affiliated. Since I am not a Conservative Jew, paying dues to Beth El is not something I want to do.)

My solution, when it comes to Beth El, is this: bookplates. Beth El is buying more copies of Mahzor Lev Shalem, which I’m a big fan of. To help fund this, they’re selling bookplates. So I’m going to make a contribution to Beth El in the form of a Lev Shalem bookplate or two. (I don’t know how much they cost, so I don’t know how many I’m buying yet.)

So, dear readers, what should the bookplate(s) say?

Shabbat notes, 7/16/11: Saying Kaddish in a weird place; A correction; A joke at ArtScroll’s expense

In this post: an piece of liturgical minutiae, a correction and ArtScroll’s instructions for chickens who are crossing the road.

A piece of liturgical minutiae:

Every week at Beth El, we finish the Amidah, say Kaddish Shalem and then something weird happens–we flip back to the psalm for Shabbat and say the Mourner’s Kaddish. I finally asked Rabbi Roston about it this morning.

Here’s what I learned: Kaddish Yatom’s standard location is at the end of the service, after Aleinu. Nothing special needs to happen to make it appear there–it’s just there. This I already knew. But, I learned, you can also say Kaddish Yatom at any time in the service, but only if you say a psalm immediately before.

As I already knew, each day has its own psalm. Shabbat’s psalm is Ps. 92: “Mizmor shir leyom haShabbat. Tov lehodot la’Adonai etc….” This psalm usually makes its appearance early in the service, somewhere in Birchot Hashachar or Pesukei Dezimrah. For example, in Siddur Sim Shalom, which is the siddur in regular use on Shabbat mornings at Beth El, it appears at the end of Birchot Hashachar, where it follows Kaddish Derabbanan (the one for the thing in SSS that replaces Korbanot) and precedes the first Kaddish Yatom in the service.

What I did not know is that the psalm of the day can appear anywhere in the service. What is important is that it is said, not when in the service it is said. So in SSS–and others–it is placed at the end of Birchot Hashachar to facilitate the first of the two Mourners’ Kaddishes.

At Beth El, despite Ps. 92 and Kaddish Yatom appearing where they do in SSS, we don’t get around to doing them until the end of the Amidah, when we are all invited to turn back to page 72 of SSS for Ps. 92. Then we flip past the rest of the psalms of the day for Kaddish Yatom. The reason is that there is frequently not a minyan yet at the end of Birchot Hashachar at Beth El. To enable people to say Kaddish, we simply relocate the whole shebang to a place later in the service when there is sure to be a minyan.

Which, if the location of the first Kaddish Yatom in the service and the psalm of the day that enables us to say it–though it seems that any old psalm would technically do–is irrelevant, makes fine sense. To a point.

It stops making sense when you realize that there’s no need for two iterations of Kaddish Yatom in the service. So I asked why it’s important to, as Rabbi Roston put it, have a Mourner’s Kaddish “before the Torah service.” She did not know why it’s important to have to version of Mourner’s Kaddish. Though she did state as precedent that this is a standard thing that they teach at JTS and that people frequently tack a second Kaddish Yatom onto the service at the end of a shiva minyan in a similar fashion.

If anyone knows anything about this, I’m eager to hear about it.

A correction:

The interest of Beth El’s congregants in the blog continues to astound me. One pointed out something in need of correction this morning. Well, kind of.

In this post, I quoted a JTA article that said that Beth El had 575 families in 2005 when Rabbi Roston was hired. The point of the article was that this was a glass ceiling-breaking event for female rabbis in the Conservative movement.

The correction (kind of) is that the glass ceiling in this case was the 500 member families mark and that Beth El did not have 575 families in 2005. This guy, a member of the membership committee in those days, said that they never had more than 510 families.

So it’s really more of a correction to JTA.

ArtScroll’s instructions for chickens who are crossing the road:

This joke appears in a book that I’m reading right now called “Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and the ArtScroll Revolution” by Jeremy Stolow.

Stolow begins:

For some, ArtScroll’s voice is anodyne, a helpful and unwavering guide to the perplexed. For others, it is the shrill voice of demagoguery and intolerance to difference. And for others still, Art Scroll’s characteristic tone is an object of humor.

Indeed. He further prefaces the joke by describing it as “a rich parody of the punctilious style of religious instruction associated with ArtScroll books.” Here’s the joke:

Bend once when the chicken goes into the road (bending first at the knees, bending fully as it takes its second step); bend again as it reached the middle of the road (only a half bow0; bend a third time as it nears the other side. If it gets across without being run over, say also a shehecheyanu [a blessing for new and unusual experiences] (p. 358); unless the congregation is also saying brochos [blessings] before and after the shema [the basic prayer in affirmation of the one God], in which case no interruption, even for a brocha, is permitted. No brocha is said in yontef [holy day], rosh chodesh [first day of the month] or during the entire month of nissan [March-April].

Shabbat Shalom.

Liberal Jews in UK celebrating 100th birthday

The cleverly named Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London, which my dad and I had a nice time at on vacation about six years ago, is celebrating their centenary this month. So mazal tov, UK liberal Jews!

As an aside, the UK has two movements that are members of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. The Liberal Jews there are more like Reform Jews here and the Reform Jews there are a little most like the Conservative Jews here. Both groups, however, share a seminary.

Here’s some background on the shul. This column has some interesting material about their historical relationship–long abandoned, of course–of anti-Zionism and their ongoing commitment to feminism.

And here’s some stuff about a big party they had.

Yom Kipur at Hadar: Part III–Annotating one’s siddur as a spiritual practice and why I had to wear a kipah

There’s a lot to say about Yom Kipur at Hadar this year. Intro here. Part I here. Part II here.

This story actually begins on Rosh Hashanah at Chavurat Lamdeinu. Rabbi Ruth Gais mentioned a quote from former JTS Chancellor Louis Finkelstein:

When I pray, I speak to God; when I study, God speaks to me.

This really resonated with me. But I immediately thought about taking it one step further. Following the tradition of my mother, I make notes all over my siddurim and machzorim. Probably to an even greater extent than my mother does. I’ve often thought that I kind of study the siddur while I pray. Does that make me the rare lunatic to whom God actually speaks while he prays? (I mean this half-seriously.) Either way, ever since Ruth planted this quote in my head, I’ve been thinking about the notion of writing during prayer as a spiritual practice.

Now, I know that writing is one of the forbidden forms of work for those who observe Shabbat in that way. I’ve also been to Hadar three or four times before and never been asked to put on a kipah or told to stop scribbling all over my siddur. So I figured these were OK things. On YK this year, I got a rude awakening about the extent to which Hadar is willing to tolerate halachic deviance.

During shacharit, a gabbai came over to me and handed me a little business card with a page number and a task on it and asked if I’d like to open the ark on page such and such. (Hadar gives out honors in this way. It’s very novel, I think. The cards suggest using them as a bookmark for the page on which your honor will take place.) I politely said that I couldn’t because I was using a different machzor and I was afraid I’d miss the right time. He said, “OK. Well, can offer you first gelilah?” I know when that is, so I said, “Sure. Thanks.”

A few minutes later, he came back, holding a little black kipah. “Can I offer you a kipah?” I told him that I’d rather not. He seemed hesitant and confused. “OK. Well, when you go up to dress the Torah, we’d appreciate it if you’d wear one.” Fine by me. “Sure. I understand. Thanks,” I said, taking the kipah. I had also been annotating my machzor all morning so I had a pen tucked behind my right ear. “And if you could just put the pen away when you come up.” Fine by me. “Sure. I understand,”  said.

A moment later, I realized that I had my own kipah with me and pulled that one out so I didn’t have to use the borrowed one. I went ahead and put it on, borrowing some bobby pins from Dana, so I wouldn’t forget.

Then he came back again. “Actually, we’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t write at all, out of respect for the community. If you have to, please go to the back and do it privately.” I grudgingly said, “OK. I understand.” I was pretty pissed, but didn’t really have any room to argue with the guy, especially since I was appreciative of the fact that he hadn’t insisted I wear the kipah the whole time.

So as the Torah reading was winding down, I went to stand in the back such that I’d have a clear shot to the amud when he called for gelilah. Standing back there, I decided, in the spirit of YK, that I’d find the gabbai later, during a break, and apologize to him, honestly, for being such a pain in the ass about everything.

By the time I got up there to start dressing the Torah, it was pretty clear that the gabbai has decided that between the pen and the kipah and everything that had already passed between us, I must be some kind of uncouth loon. So he felt the need to give me detailed instruction on how to dress the Torah. What he didn’t know is the I spent the better part of my life dressing the Torah more often than not at lay-led services at CBI.

The guy doing hagbah sat down, of course, with the front of the Torah toward him, making it hard to put the belt on. To make matters worse, it was one of those wacky Torah belts with the three circular clasp things that have to go through these holes. Its was damn near impossible to put it on backwards. So now I’m fumbling around and taking forever with the belt, so I look like even more of a moron than I already appeared to be. Once the belt is buckled, it’s a little higher than it should be. So I’m about to tug it down when the gabbai leans over and says, “If you could just pull it down to halfway.” I know.

Then he hands me the Torah cover. Like every other Torah cover ever, it’s got a slit in the back so that you can pull it open like curtains and ease it over the scroll easily. Well, this is clearly not the way the gabbai usually does it. You can, of course, leave the slit closed and lift the cover all the way over the Torah and drop it on from above. I guess he prefers that way because he starts looking at me like I’m doing something wrong again.

Then he gives me the breastplate, which I put on without incident. I had noticed when the Torah was brought out that it didn’t have crowns, so I know not to wait for them. But whoever was reading was obviously using a yad, so now I’m waiting to the yad. I turn back to the gabbai, expecting the yad. He already knows that there’s no yad to be put on so to him it looks like I’m waiting for further instructions. So he says, “You can go sit down now,” in this tone that says “Why are you still here? You’re done. Duh.”

So I go sit back down. Earlier, I had been considering keeping my kipah on, but I decide to take it off before I’m even back at my seat.

I did not write anymore, but I also decided not to apologize to the gabbai.

Where is The Prayer Book Press?

I have a number of pieces in my collection published by Prayer Book Press. Their material that I’m aware of seems to be Conservative, but not USCJ, which seems like an odd distinction, but there it is. I say this because it looks like that’s the tone of the content and because at least one of their works that I have was edited by Morris Silverman.

I just googled PBP. They’re located in Bridgeport, CT, it seems. Other than that, there’s nothing about them on the web except for their siddurim and machzorim. They have apparently on web presence. Does anyone know anything about them? Do they still exist?

Shabbat Shalom.