Ushpizin: liturgy for Sukkot in time of covid

Sukkot this year will be unlike any other. Some of us won’t be able to safely build a sukkah; others will find in the sukkah the outdoor safety that indoor ventilation doesn’t provide. What does it mean to invite ancestors when we can’t invite guests in person? With what, or whom, (or Whom!) are we sitting when we dwell in our sukkot this year — whether our sukkot be literal or metaphorical? What structures can we build liturgically and spiritually to protect us in these vulnerable times? Four liturgists from within and beyond the denominations collaborated on this set of offerings from Bayit to accompany us through this year’s festival. Here are excerpts; you can download the whole collection at the end of the post.


0. This Year’s Sukkah – With Words, by Rachel Barenblat and David Evan Markus, with illustration by Steve Silbert:

We build this year’s sukkah with words. Our words keep us company.  We read the words of this Teaching: this Teaching gathers us in…

1. Invitation to the Builders / Invitation to my Virtual Sukkah by Trisha Arlin:

…You are invited,
Builders of our past sukkot
In the backyard, the park, the roof:
Every year
You put up the walls
You hung the decorations.
Where are you this week?…

2. Far Away So Close by Rachel Barenblat:

…How can I welcome Abraham
and Sarah, David and
Rachel, when I can’t welcome
my own neighbors?…

3. UnSukkah by David Evan Markus:

We don’t build our sukkah with nails
Sharply hammered into sturdy place.

We don’t build our sukkah with roof shingles
And sustainable solar panels for midnight light…

4. In the Open by Sonja Keren Pilz:

Under the open sky.

The air gets thinner;
Canadian geese fly by…

5. Sitting in Emptiness by Trisha Arlin:

On Sukkot, we sit in the sukkah:
In an empty room
Porous walls
Holes in the ceiling
No door…

6. Sit With Me / Not Alone by Rachel Barenblat:

…The safest companion in times of covid:
Myself. Or you, Holy One:
dressed for the season in worn jeans
and flannel shirt, and maybe flip-flops
reluctant to let summer end…

7. Sitting neither Here nor There by Sonja Keren Pilz:

We used to sit, huddled together,
Sharing blankets, often too cold.
We used to drink,
Hot tea or cider,
Passing the water, the soda, the coke…

8. Tomorrow Again (for Shemini Atzeret) by David Evan Markus:

This is the breezy feeling I hope to remember
Starting tomorrow when beginning begins again

Pulsing reborn from the jumble of these many months
Left on pandemic ground to decay as pungent compost

For the first daring shoots of next year’s who-knows…

9. Simchat Torah, by the ensemble together:

We dance by ourselves.
We dance in our living rooms with Sefaria on our phones.
We dance in the falling rain.
We dance cradling toddlers, or dogs, or emptiness…

Download the whole collection here: Ushpizin [PDF]


Prayers by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi David Evan Markus, and Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz. Sketchnote by Steve Silbert.

Why Shabbes Matters… Especially Now

When we “went in” (started sheltering-in-place) for covid-19 in New York, I thought we were going in for a few weeks.  I’ve been more-in-than-out now for five months. 

I am a lay service leader for my congregation, and I typically co-lead one Kabbalat Shabbat each month.  Our little shul is a small but mighty group; a mixed mini-tude.  By March 13 (the first Shabbat of sheltering-in-place), we were ready — more or less — for Shabbat on zoom.  Our Rabbi led us that night, and the following week was my turn.  We have continued to pray Kabbalat Shabbat with Maariv on Zoom since then.  And like most communities, we’re preparing for Zoom-based high holidays now too. (By “we,” I mean our rabbi and rabbi emerita.)

It’s been quite an adjustment.  Although I have joked about buying a t-shirt that says, “you’re muted,” I have not done so yet.  We are working on making services as meaningful and uplifting as can be; we are working on looking into the camera while hitting the right chords on the ukulele; we are adjusting to hearing either one voice or a cacophony, never a harmony.  (By “we,” I mean me.)

As a group, we are finding we like seeing each other’s faces in our Brady Bunch array.  We visit before and after services.  A core group has started to do Havdalah every week, led mostly by me.  It’s a quick service but sometimes we watch a movie afterwards, or just talk. I wrote some new lyrics for a silly Shavua Tov song.  It’s to the tune of the Addams Family (snap, snap).

Associate professors work hard; we are the backbone of every university. In the pandemic, as we shifted to fully online instruction, I was working very hard.  Even without my commute, I felt the days were endless.  Sometimes I zoomed for too many hours in a row and the next day felt half dead.  My eyes hurt; my back hurt; my heart was breaking over and over. I was worried about so many things. The emails were endless and many of them were filled with bad news, confusing instructions, or repeated information.

So, I started a mini-observance of Shabbat.  I shut my work email just before we went into zoom for Kabbalat Shabbat and did not open it again until Sunday morning.  I closed it on my laptop and on my phone.  Just that one action, protecting myself from work for the duration of Shabbes, was a balm.  I took Saturday to relax.  Sometimes I went to Saturday morning Torah study; sometimes I took a walk; in July and August, I relaxed by the community pool, swam a little. I read, I napped. I rested.  

I did not go full-on shomer Shabbes in the classical sense.  I still used the internet and TV.  But after a few weeks, I found I did not want too much news or twitter on Shabbes either.  I did things that are officially on traditional halakha’s list of “work,” like writing.  But I did not make shopping lists, or to-do lists, or write letters to politicians.  I doodled.  I drew. I wrote songs.  I did things that fed me, even if they were officially not Shabbesdik.  They felt Shabbesdik to me.

Did I mention the professor part?  I did not mention the procrastination, though.  Suddenly, in August, I found myself up against a grading deadline.  I had to get the grades to a colleague by Sunday morning.  I could not let her down. As Friday sank into Friday night, I was not done.  I was not even close.  Waiting until after Havdalah would not be an option—there was too much to get through.  My all-nighter days are behind me.  I was looking at grading papers on Shabbat.  Well, I told myself, it’s not like I’m really a sabbath observer…I just have some sort of covid shabbes habit going on.  I’ve graded papers on Saturday before.  It’s not really a big deal.  Right?

It did feel like a big deal.  I was stuck in my chair all day, reading, checking, marking it down, trying to concentrate.  I got the grades done, and I did go to morning Torah class, but by the time Havdalah rolled around, I was realizing that I really missed out on my Shabbes rest. I really felt it.  By Tuesday, I was asking myself, when’s Shabbes already?  

That one weekend of needing to work on Saturday made me realize that my little Shabbat observance is a real thing. I turned off my email for Shabbes and it was the best click of the week.  It  turns out, I really need that rest every week.  Shabbes is a thing.  You should get some.  During the pandemic… and beyond.



Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz is an associate professor of Communication Disorders and a speech-language pathologist. She serves as a lay service leader and trustee at Temple Beth El of City Island, NY, also known as “your shul by the sea.”

Megillat Covid: Five Offerings for Tisha b’Av

Here are five offerings for Tisha b’Av, each available as its own downloadable PDF. They are intended for both personal and communal use, and can be used singly or all together. Any of them could be read on their own, or as a prelude to Eicha / Lamentations. The final one has been set to Eicha trope.


Crying Out by R’ Rachel Barenblat draws on images from the pandemic and asks the question: who will we be when the pandemic is gone? Here is a brief excerpt (you can read the whole piece in the PDF file below):

Lonely sits the city once great with people —
her subways now empty, her classrooms closed.
Refrigerator trucks await the bodies of the dead
wrapped in sheets of plastic and stacked like logs.
Mourners keep a painful distance, unable to embrace…

Along the Lines of Lamentations by R’ Sonja K. Pilz is similar to a cento (a poem that repurposes lines from another poem), as it consists primarily of quotations from Eicha, re-contextualized by their juxtaposition and by this pandemic season. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

We were laid waste (2:5).
We were stripped like a garden;
Ended have Shabbat and festivals (2:6).
Our gates have sunk into the ground (2:9).
Elders sit silently;
Women bow their heads to the ground (2:10).
My eyes are spent;
My being melts away (2:11)….

Jeremiahs without a jeremiad by devon spier offers fragmented lines evoking our fragmented hearts in this time of pandemic. About her contribution, devon writes:

To be used to cultivate an embodied COVID megillah reading that honours the fall of Jerusalem and the ebb and flow of our bodies in the months of the Coronavirus and related social distancing. 

To honour that for those of us with pre-existing conditions (our own frail, flimsy, fabulous humanness, our addictions, chronic health issues, years of unfelt griefs suddenly flung to the surface…each of these), we can wrap our whole selves in the scroll of this weeping day. And we can arrive, just as we are.

I would frame this as a kavannah as lines of ketuvim (lines of poetical post-exilic writings) the speaker can read before beginning chanting to set an intention. Or, the lines of this work could also be read throughout the chanting, as the verses I cite appear throughout the first chapter of Eicha. 

‘V’ha-ikar…” and the essence: Pause for the moments you feel the most human. Feel. And insert the words of this piece exactly where you are. From the lines of this intention and a gentle remembrance on this solemn day where we still face ourselves, our ancestors, our communities and each other, in and beyond, always, with hope: “Jerusalem is me is you.”

Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

for those with pages
of unwritten loss
and everything else
they never had
but Are
we are…

Alas by Trisha Arlin evokes the full journey of Eicha, from weeping for the city in distress to remembrance and the promise of change. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

…Eating, Sleeping, Walking
TV, Facebook, Prayer
Coughing, Crying, Dying

Alas, loneliness!
I am so frightened.
I weep and who will hear me?…

Remember by Rabbi Evan Krame evokes the end of Lamentations, beseeching God to remember us and to let us return. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

God! Remember what we had? Consider and see our situation!
Our future went to strangers, our houses no refuge.
We are like orphans, without a leader, our mothers worry like widows…

Here also is a recording of R’ Krame’s words sung in Eicha trope, recorded by Rabbi Jennifer Singer.

Together these five offerings make up this year’s “Megillat Covid,” the scroll of our mourning and our search for meaning during these pandemic times. Each is available for download as a PDF file here:

MegillatCovid-Barenblat-CryingOut (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Pilz-AlongTheLines (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Spier-Jeremiahs (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Arlin-Alas (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Krame-Remember (PDF) and audio recording by R’ Jennifer Singer:


And here’s a sketchnote of R’ Krame’s words, created by Steve Silbert:



Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is a founding builder at Bayit and author of several volumes of poetry who blogs as the Velveteen Rabbi.

Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz, PhD is the Editor of the CCAR Press. She taught Worship, Liturgy, and Ritual at HUC-JIR in New York and the School of Jewish Theology at Potsdam University, and authored one book, some articles, and many poems, midrashim, and prayers. Her work has been published in Liturgy, Worship, the CCAR Journal, a number of anthologies, and online.

Devon Spier is a rabbinic student, an author, and a visual poet theologian (proemologian), who both weaves and teaches others to weave their stories through poems, prose and theology of digital images.

Trisha Arlin is a liturgist, performer and student of prayer in Brooklyn, NY.  She is author of Place Yourself: Words of Prayer and Intention

Rabbi Evan Krame is a founding builder at Bayit and co-founder of The Jewish Studio.

Steve Silbert is the Bayit builder behind VisualTorah and Sketchnoting Jewishly.


A Psalm for Zoom

Here’s another resource for sanctifying the placeless place and sacred space of a Zoom room or other digital gathering space. This could be used as part of communal prayer over Zoom, or as a personal meditation before a Zoom meeting or class. 


A Psalm for Zoom

Normally, that means karooming
From one thing to another.
Now it means the opportunity to stop;
To connect with community
From distant rooms
To be here and Jerusalem and Sacramento
All at once.
To be still in meditation
And active in thought and creation
Singing with others while alone on my couch.
I am grateful that even in separation we can be together.
You who rule all time and space
Join together with us in this moment.
Help us to feel joined in You
And to know with You
We are never alone.



By Rabbi Susan Gulack.

Contemporary shiviti by Steve Silbert

A shiviti is a visual tool designed to aid Jewish meditation, either as a prelude to liturgical prayer or as a contemplative practice all its own. (Learn more at this shiviti page at OpenSiddur.) The name shiviti comes from Psalm 16:8, שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָ”ה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִי / shiviti YHVH l’negdi tamid, “I place God before me always.” Steve Silbert has created a contemporary shiviti inviting the person who is praying to look inward.


By Steve Silbert.

Announcing Holy at Home

Many communities face Days of Awe this year that will be streamed / Zoom-based, rather than in person. This will be a High Holiday season like no other we’ve known.

Bayit: Building Jewish creates, refines, and uplifts meaningful tools for “building Jewish.” In this pandemic time, when so many are confined to home, we heard that many communities need a set of editable machzor slide decks, designed for meaningful and interactive Zoom services.

Enter Holy at Home, an editable set of machzor slide decks available in return for a donation to Bayit. (Information on that below — or you can jump directly to How To Receive The Editable Slides.) We titled the slide decks Holy at Home because that’s the work of this time: sanctifying the place where we are, wherever we are. They are adapted from Days of Awe, a curated machzor text designed for use across and beyond the denominational spectrum.

About Holy at Home

This is the first slide in the first slide deck.

Holy at Home is a set of six powerpoint slide decks:

  • Erev Rosh Hashanah (interweaving Ma’ariv / the evening service with the Sefardic custom of a seder for Rosh Hashanah),
  • Rosh Hashanah morning,
  • Kol Nidre,
  • Yom Kippur morning with Yizkor,
  • Yom Kippur afternoon (Avodah and Mincha), and
  • Ne’ilah.

All are editable, so each community can customize in ways that will meet their needs.

Much of what’s in these six slide decks comes from Days of Awe, the machzor that I curated and released some years ago via my blog Velveteen Rabbi. If you’ve been using Days of Awe, you’ll recognize a lot of what’s here — Hebrew and English, readings and prayers, tradition and creative riffs on tradition, poetry and artwork, translations and transliterations. That said, the original material from Days of Awe has also been adapted and improved for these slide decks in a variety of ways:

  • We’ve made many typo fixes;
  • Every word of Hebrew is now transliterated and translated;
  • There are full-color images adorning most slides, because that’s possible via slides in a way it was not possible in print;
  • I’ve steered away from prayer variations or settings that are rounds, or that work primarily because of harmony (given that it’s not possible to sing simultaneously over Zoom);
  • And there are also a lot of new things added to these slide decks — new liturgies, new poems, new illustrations, new approaches to Haftarah — that aren’t in the book.

Our team is continuing to proofread for misplaced nekudot, and if we find errors, we commit to fixing them by August 15 and will share updated slides as needed. We’re releasing the slide decks now to give you maximum time for dreaming and adapting. (We’ve also released a few “expansion packs” / updates  — for instance, version 1.0 didn’t include a a shofar service for second day Rosh Hashanah, but we added that among other things in version 1.2; we’re now up to version 1.5.)

The slide decks offer multiple choices to those who lead prayer. For some prayers, there are multiple options — e.g. three versions of Ahavat Olam, two variations on the Amidah, three versions of Aleinu. Once you donate and receive a download link for the slide decks, you can copy the slide decks, choose which option you want to use for any given prayer, and delete the other slides. And because every word of the Hebrew, English, and transliteration is editable, you can adapt or change the slides as needed.

How to Preview

Here’s a link to a folder on google drive that contains six PDF files of the slides. This is so you can page through them and see what’s in them. (Edited to add: we are aware that some of the slides in the PDF decks display lines of Hebrew as though they run over / appear on top of English words. This is a problem with the PDFs only and is not the case with the powerpoint decks, we promise!)

How to Receive the Editable Slides

If what’s here meets your needs, then we ask for a donation. Suggested donation is $360; if you serve a community of more than 200 families, we suggest $720; donations of up to $1000 are welcome; and if you truly can’t afford the $360, let us know.

Donations can be made here. (Please indicate that the donation is for the machzor.)

Once we receive your donation, we’ll send you a link to a different folder on google drive from which you can copy the six slide decks (in .pptx / PowerPoint format) and then adapt them as needed. Please bear with us; this process is not automated, and there may be delays if our bookkeeper is away from their desk or if I am away from mine. We will get the slides to you as quickly as we can.

The PowerPoint slide decks can be opened and edited in PowerPoint, in Keynote, or in Google Slides.

For those who want more information about what’s in the slide decks, read on!

More About What’s Inside

  • The erev Rosh Hashanah slide deck interweaves Ma’ariv with the Sefardic custom of a Rosh Hashanah seder. We’re doing a Ma’ariv + seder in my community because seder is an experience we’re accustomed to having at home, and that felt to us like a good doorway into this high holiday season which we’ll be celebrating from home. If that feature doesn’t suit you, you can delete those slides from your copy of the slides. 
  • The erev Rosh Hashanah slide deck also includes more of Kabbalat Shabbat than is in most machzorim. (Again, if this doesn’t meet your needs, you can delete those slides.)
  • There are creative versions of the Haftarah readings for each holiday. 
  • The Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur morning Torah readings are not there — there’s a slide that says “Torah TBD” — because we are all grappling with how best to manage Torah service from home. (Will we do a full Torah reading? Will we do a discussion? Will we engage with the text in some other way?) I trust each community top make their own choices about Torah.
  • I know that some communities may do an abbreviated Amidah, or something silent / contemplative. Others may want or need full-text. I’ve discovered that it’s impossible to page through silent Amidah prayers at the right pace for everyone. Therefore, for the silent evening Amidah on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there’s a single slide that lists the themes of the prayer, as a guide to silent contemplation, and there is a downloadable file in google drive contains the full text so that those who wish can daven at their own pace silently.
  • For the morning Amidah, there is a one-slide meditative option (a list of the prayer’s themes, for silent contemplation) and also a 20-slide full-text Amidah option for davening aloud. If you prefer, you can delete the Amidah slides and just use the downloadable PDF — or do something entirely different that works for your kahal.
  • For the silent Yizkor memorial prayers there is also a downloadable google doc so that people can move through those silent prayers at their own pace. 
  • The slide decks include work from Yehuda Amchai z”l, R’ Rachel Barenblat, R’ Leila Gal Berner, Leah Goldberg z”l, R’ Jeff Goldwasser, Sandy Haight,  R’ Burt Jacobson, Rodger Kamenetz, Jane Kenyon z”l, R’ Riqi Kosovske adapting R’ Joseph Meszler, R’ Evan Krame, Anna Kronick, R’ David Markus, Stephen Mitchell, R’ David de Sola Pool z”l, Rick Recht,  Len Radin, R’ Jack Riemer, R’ Rami Shapiro, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l, Rav Kohenet Taya Ma Shere, Steve Silbert, Herman Taube, and R’ Shohama Wiener.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We hope these tools will be useful to you.

ADDENDUM: If there are things missing that you’d like to see in these slides, let us know. As of July 15, Rosh Hashanah morning has been updated (to version 1.2) as follows:

  • added a full shofar service for second day Rosh Hashanah
  • added an aleinu after shofar service
  • added a Hineni
  • added a short ashrei to psukei d’zimrah
  • added a long ashrei in English to psukei d’zimrah
  • added full Hebrew and transliteration to Yishtabach
  • added Yotzer Or in Hebrew, English, and transliteration
  • added full birchot hashachar

As of July 30, the slide decks have been updated again (to version 1.3) as follows:

  •  updated the Rosh Hashanah candle blessing
  • added HaYom Ta’amtzeinu to Yom Kippur morning
  • added We Are As Clay / Ki Hineh KaChomer to Kol Nidre
  • added Ahavah Rabbah in full to Rosh Hashanah morning (can also be used on Yom Kippur morning)
  • added a creative haftarah (Mary Oliver poem) to Rosh Hashanah morning for second day
  • added Janowski Avinu Malkeinu to Rosh Hashanah morning for second day

As of August 3, we are now sharing version 1.4. In this update:

Update 1.4:

  • added a full alphabetical acrostic Al Chet to Kol Nidre (slides can be copied and used in other YK services also)
  • added full Torah service on R”H morning (slides can be copied and used on YK also)
  • added Ps 148 to RH morning
  • added a verse of America the Beautiful as a Prayer For Our Country on RH morning
  • added Healer of the Broken Hearted as an alternate Mi Sheberach on RH morning
  • added Pure Heart / Psalm 51:12 to Psukei on R”H morning
  • added Lulei He’emanti to RH eve
  • added Vayechulu to RH eve
  • added Mikolot Mayim Rabim to R”H eve
  • added full text of El Adon to R”H morning
  • added V’hasheivota as an additional Aleinu option in R”H evening (can easily be used elsewhere also)
  • added Min HaMeitzar to Kol Nidre

As of August 9, we are now sharing version 1.5. In this update:

Update 1.5:

  • added Torah service materials to YK morning
  • added We Are Opening before Shema in KN
  • added Lemaancha / For Your Sake to YK morning
  • added prayer for Israel and prayer for our country to YK morning
  • added a new three-part Al Chet in English with Hebrew refrain (one slide each dedicated to inner work, pandemic, racism)
  • added a bit of Ps 27 after birchot ha-shachar
  • added If It Be Your Will to Y”K morning
  • added a new “Who will choose…” reading to Unetaneh Tokef for YK morning



By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Psalm 92 by Rabbi Ben Newman


This rendering of Psalm 92 was written by Rabbi Ben Newman. In his Kabbalat Shabbat siddur he notes that the psalm’s function is “[t]o inspire feelings of relaxed celebration and the joy of gathering in community for a break from our workaday week. Also to open the channels in our psyche to let creativity flow.”

His instructions are: “Take a deep breath. Listen to the music. Tap your foot to the rhythm. When you are ready, join the musicians in singing the song. Lose yourself in the music.”

This can be used for solo davenen (prayer) or in community. If you want to play along or share this with other musicians, the chords are Bm, F#, G, D, F# — and if you happen to know the first track of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, you’ll recognize the chord progression. 

Recorded at Shtiebel. If you can’t see the embedded audio, try visiting this post at its own URL:



תהילים צ”ב / Psalm 92: Relaxing into the Shabbat Vibe

A ballad, a Song, a ditty for shabbat.
An anthem, a chorale, some funky rock.

A hymn a chant, and a lullaby
As the shabbos day is drawing nigh

It is good to give thanks to Yah our God
To sing to your exalted name

How great are you works Adonai
How deep are your thoughts oh one on high

The righteous will blossom like a palm,
Grow like the cedar of Lebanon

Their gray hair shall be their crown
New and ripe their songs will sound.

Showing that Yah is constant
My rock the One who is no nonsense.


By Rabbi Ben Newman, with a hat-tip to Lin-Manuel Miranda for the chords.

Seeking Submissions for Jewish Doorways

A contest for heart, spirit, and mind. We are expanding JewishDoorways, with more entryways to making life events meaningful. We’d love for you to be a part of this project. Each “doorway” for a life event includes several elements: texts, psalms, poems, prayers and songs.  We welcome contributions of a poem, a song, a text, a prayer, or a psalm for any of the 12 life events on Doorways (e.g. “Welcoming Children,” “Growing Up,” “B. Mitzvah,” etc — see the whole list here.)

Gather or create the elements of a ritual to make this time memorable. Give source attribution if what you’re sharing is not original work. Remember, our audience varies. Some might not be proficient in Hebrew while others are scholars.  Yet, everyone needs rituals to sanctify their life’s journey. Submit your new “doorway.” If we add it to the website, we’ll uplift and promote your work on social media and we’ll send you a check for $180.

Email submissions to We look forward to reading your work!



Rabbi Evan Krame

How does Gratitude Change the World? A Prayer for Anger by Trisha Arlin


This prayer comes from liturgist Trisha Arlin, who writes, “I wrote this incantation because I found myself feeling furious at all the seemingly contradictory feelings of gratitude, anger, love, hope and despair that I’ve been feeling for months, and especially since the murder of George Floyd. I think this can be read to yourself. Or, if you wish to present it at a service, you may want to assign the more personal lines to one reader and the incantatory lines of murder and awfulness to a chorus of individual or group voices. And thank you for listening. Amen.”


How does Gratitude Change the World? A Prayer for Anger


Baruch Atah Adonai,
Brucha At Shechinah,
Ruach Ha Olam,
Holy Wholeness,

Every Shabbat
I attend services on Zoom
And almost every single time we are asked by the rabbi,
What are you grateful for?
(A reasonable question)
Write it down in the chat room, she says
And a long list from the congregation rolls out
Of family members
And pets
And clergy
And social justice leaders
And victories
And sour dough bread recipes.

I am also grateful
For the usual stuff
The thing is
I hate this question.
I really hate this question.
I am annoyed not grateful.
I am annoyed and not grateful on a daily basis,
I am annoyed and not grateful when I wake up in the morning
and annoyed and not grateful when I go to sleep at night.
I am angry!
Modeh Ani? Hell no.
Bedtime Shma? I forgive no one!
I am angry
and annoyed
and disputatious
and frustrated
but the people who deserve my anger and resistance
do not know or care that I exist.
So I take it out on people who I know mean well
like my rabbi.

Because damn it
This country was founded on genocide and slavery and murder
And it continues:
Rayshard Brooks was murdered
George Floyd was murdered
Breonna Taylor was murdered
Atatiana Jefferson was murdered
Philandro Castile was murdered
Freddie Gray was murdered
Eric Garner was murdered
Sandra Bland was murdered
Michael Brown was murdered
Tamir Rice was murdered
Trayvon Martin was murdered
Emmet Till was murdered

The disproportionate numbers of black COVID deaths;
The mortgages that were turned down;
The jobs that weren’t offered;
The food deserts that led to malnutrition;
The schools with no budgets;
Being afraid to drive or walk or leave the house or breathe.
Murders of opportunity and hope,
Murders of body and soul.
Yeah, I’m angry!

And I’m ashamed of all my white privilege that allows me to know about this
And do nothing
If I want
Except feel bad
And write the occasional check
And mostly not pay attention.
I’m so angry at myself.

So sorry, no gratitude in the chat room today from me.

the things that I am grateful for that you are so curious about,
why do I have to announce them?
You want me to spread my gratitude all around like manure
In this garden of good vibes?
And please, don’t tell me yours,
I am neither interested nor moved by your gratitude!
Except of course I am,
I love you
I love you all,
I like it when people are happy.
I like it when people share their happiness,
But not on demand
Not in a chat
And not every week.
Not now
Not this week.
I am happy to share my happiness when it occurs.
When it occurs.

But my gratitude is not for tourists.

The planet is on fire,
Sickness of all kinds surrounds us and
People are being killed by racists and idiots.
Cruelty goes unpunished
The greedy and stupid are in charge
And we can’t get away from it.
No distractions work for long.
Which is probably a good thing.
It feels hopeless
I suspect that’s a white privilege, too.

Protests and Solidarity help
And I see change happening.
But it is a fight that never ends
So screw gratitude.


There is a parable in the Sefer Ha-Aggadah,
The Book of Legends,
About a king who had a beautiful orchard
Which, when he had to leave for a year,
He left in the hands of a keeper.
And when the king returned,
The orchard had been terribly neglected,
Overgrown with thorns and thistles.
He was going to tear the orchard down
But looking down at the thorns
He noticed among them
A rose-colored lily.
And the king said
“Because of this lily, let the entire orchard be spared.”
And the rabbis say,
“Likewise the whole world is spared, for the sake of Torah. “

And if I acknowledge the beauty in my life, what will be spared?
If I have hope, will institutional racism disappear?
How does my gratitude change the world??

I’m asking because I really want to know.

Baruch Atah Adonai
Brucha At Shechinah,
Ruach Ha Olam,
Holy Wholeness,
Thank you for listening.



Liturgist Trisha Arlin is author of Place Yourself: Words of Prayer and Intention, available at Dimus Parrhesa Press. Find her on Patreon, here

Mah Nora HaMakom Hazeh – a chant for (digital) sacred space

One of the challenges of convening a group for prayer over Zoom is shifting gears into sacred space.

How can we sanctify the space where each of us is planted, knowing that as we shelter-in-place during the pandemic, our desks or dining tables or coffee tables serve purposes both secular and sacred? The table from which I’m joining the Zoom call might be the same table where I paid bills an hour ago, or folded laundry, or homeschooled my kid. How can we skillfully make that space feel holy when it’s time for prayer?

And how can we sanctify the placeless place of the Zoom room itself? A Zoom room doesn’t have the comfort or majesty or familiarity of a synagogue. We may associate Zoom spaces with committee meetings and other secular activities, not the sacred purpose of prayer. And a Zoom room isn’t a “place,” exactly, any more than the internet is a “place.” How can we make that “place” holy and fitting to hold a community gathering in prayer?

At a recent digital Shabbaton convened to explore these questions, we used this chant by Rav Kohenet Taya Mâ Shere for both of these purposes. We sang it as a call-and-response. (Participants were muted, but the two of us sang the back-and-forth, inviting the community to sing along with the response half of the chant.) We sang it explicitly to sanctify the physical place from which each of us was calling in and to sanctify the Zoom space.

We used this chant as our melodic and thematic throughline. We sang it at the start of services, during the d’var Torah (The Mishkan’s Next Digital R/Evolution, on this very theme), and again to close the service and seal our time together. The call-and-response linked us together across nine different states and two different countries. And the words reminded us that where we are is holy — where we are in the world and in our homes and in our bodies, and where we are in the space of the internet and our hearts’ interconnection.


מה נורא המקום הזה/ Mah nora hamakom hazeh

How awesome is this body!

How awesome is this place!

How awesome is this journey

Through time and space.


(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, try going to this post directly at


Chant by Rav Kohenet Taya Mâ Shere. Her albums include Wild Earth Shebrew, Halleluyah All Night, Torah Tantrika and This Bliss; find her music at her website.



Post by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Markus.