Graceful Bar Mitzvah / Graceful Masculinity: Nitzavim

Part of a periodic Torah series on graceful masculinity and Jewish values.

רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַיּוֹם, אֶת-הַחַיִּים וְאֶת-הַטּוֹב, וְאֶת-הַמָּוֶת, וְאֶת-הָרָע.

See, I set before you this day, life and goodness, death and evil. (Deuteronomy 30:15)


The word “HaYom” is famously understood to be an allusion to Rosh Hashanah – the day that humans were first formed and the birthday of the world where again it is held responsible for its actions. This is also true for “the day” that a Jewish boy is held accountable for his actions as a man. Psalms 2:7, the thirteenth verse in the book, is referencing this day of one’s Bar Mitzvah: אֲסַפְּרָ֗ה אֶֽ֫ל־חֹ֥ק ה’ אָמַ֘ר אֵלַ֥י בְּנִ֥י אַ֑תָּה אֲ֝נִ֗י הַיּ֥וֹם יְלִדְתִּֽיךָ׃ – I declare, as an obligation, that G-d said to me, My son I birthed you today.

An immediate consequence of reaching Jewish adulthood is that one can make new contributions to the spiritual collective. The Medreshcites the Prophet Isaiah”עַם־זוּ֙ יָצַ֣רְתִּ  – this nation I formed” as a nod to the shift from just being a person to being part of a people. ”זו – Zu”, the Rabbis point out, also has a numerical value of thirteen. These thirteen years also correspond to the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. The joy of this day is deeply connected to the power of the covenant of peoplehood י”ג מדו”ת ש”ל רחמי”ם = שמח”ת ב”ר מצו”ה (the joy of the Bar Mitzvah = thirteen Attributes of Mercy), both equalling 1091. 

Being obligated in commandments is the Divine expectation of accountability for others. Mitzvah is a language of connectivity and attachment. Saying the Shema and accepting the yoke of heaven is the first Biblical Mitzvah that one is commanded as an adult, and is why it is the subject of the first Mishna in the Talmud. It also opens with the instruction to cleave to the oneness (אחד) of G-d through love (אהבה); both which have a numerical value of thirteen.

This day marks the beginning of the journey, not its completion. Each and every day consists of choices; actions and inactions. Those decisions, to various degrees, bring us closer or further away from our ultimate goal of a perfected and intimate relationship with the Source of All Good.  We all want to choose life, but we don’t always realize that the path to get there is paved, in fact, with good deeds.

The Talmud tells the story of the great Rabbi Alexandri who would, like a merchant selling their wares, declare in the street: “מאן בעי חיי מאן בעי חיי – Who wants life? Who wants life?” Folks would gather around shouting “הב לן חיי – Give us life!” to which the Rabbi responded “מי האיש החפץ חיים … Who is the person who desires life …ס֣וּר מֵ֭רָע וַעֲשֵׂה־ט֑וֹב בַּקֵּ֖שׁ שָׁל֣וֹם וְרדְפֵֽהוּ  Remove yourself from evil and do good, desire peace and pursue it.” It is accessible to everyone but we must want it. As King David wrote גְּ֭דֹלִים מַעֲשֵׂ֣י ה’ דְּ֝רוּשִׁ֗ים לְכל־חֶפְצֵיהֶֽם, “Great are the deeds of G-d, available to all who want them.”

One way to achieve clarity of direction is to see the benefits that come from the good choices we make. King Solomon wrote about the Torah’s teachings, “My son . . .they will be life to your soul and a graceful [ornament] for your neck.” The Malbim understands this guarantee to be manifested during the study of Torah, in that grace is generated in the pleasantness of the experience both among people and G-d. This is also found in the teaching from Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa who posits that “one with whom people are pleased (chein), G-d is pleased. But anyone from whom people are displeased, G-d is displeased.

It is much easier to prepare for a particular day, than it is to show up and be present every day. Rosh HaShanah is one day but it sets the tone for the whole year. A boy’s bar mitzvah celebration is significant in that it projects an image of the kind of life he chooses to live. It can be difficult to sustain one’s vision across the long experience of time. Finding the sweetness and blessing in the work makes it sustainable. 

The Sifrei compares the learning of Torah to the presence of טל Tal-dew: just as the whole world rejoices with dew, so too with the Torah. This can be achieved in seeing the value of the choices we make day in and day out. The word ביום – with the day, equals חן – grace. Seeing ourselves as truly a bar mitzvah, a master of our holy destiny, empowers us to choose the good life – through a life of good deeds. 


R. Mike Moskowitz is a founding builder at Bayit and scholar-in-residence at CBST


A New Digital Kapparot Before Yom Kippur


The custom of kapparot dates back to the Talmud. According to this tradition, on the day before Yom Kippur, people take a chicken, swing it three times above their head, symbolically transferring their sins to it before the chicken is slaughtered and then donated to charity. 

There is something powerful about observing the ritual slaughter, something that few do nowadays. While there is little doubt that partaking in such a ritual can be a humbling reminder of humanity’s place in creation, it is also a barbaric ritual. This does not even mention the trauma it can create, especially in children. 

Just because something has been practiced for thousands of years does not mean it must continue as it has been. This is especially timely as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced our community to redo many of our rituals anyway. 

A New Kind of Giving

It is not a new idea to suggest that money can take place of chickens in the kapparot ritual. What I am proposing takes the tzedakah piece of this ritual and embodies it with additional meaning, adding a more personal and more meaningful touch into something many people would be doing anyway.  

At High Holidays, many synagogues hold food drives. It is far more efficient for food pantries to receive monetary contributions which do not have to be sorted, do not expire, and the food pantry can stretch the dollars to purchase even more than what the individual donations can. 

Eliminating the food drive and giving people the opportunity to donate through a modernized kapparot would provide for an enhanced experience. Ironically, with some people moving to an online format for worship, this ritual has even more potential and a greater reach.


The ritual of kapparot is actually quite simple. One takes the money (check or the intended amount written on a piece of paper), places it in a handkerchief or pouch, waves it above the head three times and says: “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my expiation. This money will go to tzedakah and I will enter and proceed to a good, long life and to peace.”

So how would this work as a digital ritual? Here are seven proposed steps:


    1. A short explanation of kapparot and this event will be advertised through various channels. Participants will register and receive a Zoom link.
    2. The program will begin with soft music, introductions and then participants sharing what they are hoping to get out of this experience. The enclosed texts could be used as a guide:The facilitator can adjust this opening text study according to the backgrounds and needs of the participants.
    3. The chat should be utilized in addition to people just speaking aloud.
    4. The facilitator will then ask the participants to place their “offering” in an envelope, handkerchief, sock, etc. This can be done creatively. They could even a hold a phone to represent an online donation! The facilitator will provide the information (i.e. website, mailing address) for the food bank. 
    5. Swing the pouch or handkerchief over your head three times as you recite the following blessing:
    6. Participants will then be asked to prepare their donation to be sent to the food pantry.
    7. The ritual will end with the group offering each other blessings for the new year.

This digital ritual gives everyone a chance to get “in the mood” for High Holidays, and it provides everyone the joy of doing a mitzvah for others, even those who do not typically lead services and/or read Torah. This online kapparot is qualitatively different from an onsite kapparot because Zoom allows for people to connect with each other face-to-face and heart-to-heart even as we also focus inward on the work of the season.

The silver lining to this digital / hybrid / multi-access moment is that it allows us to experience an intimacy we might not otherwise. Ironically, we are now in smaller groups online, we have the chat feature, and instead of being at a large service where we are passively listening to prayers which may or may not speak to us (and some people may opt out because of it), we have the newfound opportunity to explore these prayers, discuss their meaning, and also reinvent what we do… including the ancient ritual of kapparot. We can productively raise money for the food pantry, include everyone whether they can physically be in the same place or not, and give new ownership to an ancient ritual. The chickens will thank us!


Lisa Rothstein Goldberg, MSW, MAJCS is a rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion (NY). She has a love of Jewish learning and making ritual meaningful to the modern world. She earned her MSW from University of Maryland at Baltimore and her MA in Jewish Communal Service from Baltimore Hebrew University. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and their two daughters.

Go to Nineveh: A Two-Jonah Duet for Yom Kippur

Here is a new retelling of the book of Jonah, for three voices, drawing on the past year’s events to open up the book’s timeless wisdom. Here’s how it begins:


Jonah 1, God and Jonah 2 face the congregation in a line, from stage-right to stage-left, so Jonah 1 appears to be standing on the left with God between them.


The word of the Eternal came to Jonah, son of Truth: Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim judgment on it, for their wickedness has come before Me.


I don’t want to go to Nineveh!
They’re anti-maskers. They say COVID is a hoax.
Their disdain for science risks us all.

      JONAH 2:

I don’t want to go to Nineveh!
They’re like sheep. They want Big Government to control everything.
Their disdain for liberty risks us all….


Download the script here: Go to Nineveh – A Two-Jonah Duet (PDF)

Also available as google slides suitable for screenshare: Go to Nineveh (Slides)



Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Evan Markus are among the co-founders of Bayit: Building Jewish. 

Graceful Inheritance / Graceful Masculinity: Ki Tavo

Part of a periodic Torah series on graceful masculinity and Jewish values.

 וְהָיָה, כִּיתָבוֹא אֶלהָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה; וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּ בָּהּ.

It will be when you enter the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you as an inheritance, and you take possession, and dwell, in it.

Deuteronomy 26:1

Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we have all inherited a broken world in deep need of urgent repair. Each day brings with it new tragedies to add to the ones that came before. Our daily struggle to advance progress and healing, feels like an embraceable holiness that is modeled by our ancestors and tradition. It is dispiriting to know though, that while today will end, the chaos and loss will naturally continue tomorrow. The Medresh presents a different view and categorizes this verse as a language of simcha. The people are promised a land that will be healed and restored, an experience uniquely suited to erase the pain of the past.

This verse introduces the commandment of bringing the first fruits to the Temple, a commandment which only applies in the land of Israel. Yet the word “וְהָיָה“ (it will be), implying joy, doesn’t introduce the subsequent two words,  כִּיתָבוֹא” – (when you enter), where they appear in Leviticus 19:23 or in Numbers 15:2. It seems this happiness, and obligation to bring the first fruits, strangely are only achieved once the land is settled, but not simply by entering it. Additionally, why does the verse seem to make a distinction between Nachla and Yerusha, ostensibly synonyms for inheritance?

The Ben Ish Chai offers an insight that provides a broader outlook for the framing of this verse. He observes that when King David describes the Land of Israel he speaks of it in the plural: בְּ֝אַרְצ֗וֹת הַחַיִּֽים׃ in the lands of the living. Quoting the mystical tradition, the letter “ת”, spelled “תו”, alludes to Torah, תורה – that was received on הר -Mount Sinai. 

We know the Torah has its geographical source in Israel, as the verse testifies “For the Torah shall come forth from Zion” and this is the Lands of Israel that King David is referencing; ארצות a Torah centric Israel. The Ben Ish Chai continues that the plurality of the lands, and the living – חיים – is created by the different layers and levels of the Torah, particularly the Pardes. King Solomon writes: כִּ֤י לֶ֣קַח ט֭וֹב נָתַ֣תִּי לָכֶ֑ם תּֽ֝וֹרָתִ֗י אַֽל־תַּעֲזֹֽבוּ – for I give you good instruction…and the good – טוב – having a numerical value of 17, multiplied by the four categories of the Pardes, equals the 68 of חיים, the living.

This is further alluded to in the word “תבוא” – when the Torah comes – תו בא, the land will be for you. Only when the land is settled in a way that supports the Torah’s teachings will we be worthy of receiving the land that was promised to our ancestors. This is the inheritance that awaits us as a נחלה. It is the grace that is produced by the learning of Torah – חן לה that makes it a pleasant and peaceful gift from G-d. In the Midrash we find that the priestly blessing “ויחונך” is understood as connected to חינוך, education. The blessing means יחנך בתלמוד תורה   to be blessed with grace through the study of Torah.  

The word “תבוא” can also be arranged to form the word for ancestors, אבות. Rav Nosson Gestetner articulates the distinguishing feature of a Yerusha as being that which is inherited, as opposed to gifted. Gifts are discretionary, whereas an inheritance devolves regardless of merit. Like the Torah says about itself תּוֹרָ֥ה צִוָּה־לָ֖נוּ מֹשֶׁ֑ה מוֹרָשָׁ֖ה קְהִלַּ֥ת יַעֲקֹֽב – the heritage of the congregation of Jacob.

The settling referenced here is a mindset that contributes to our ability to be happy. Ramchal equates our capacity to recognize the temporary nature of being settled in this world, and the permanence of our spiritual existence, to living a happier life free from the worries that distract from our true inheritance – נחלה נחלת עולמים. 

Simcha (joy) has the same root as somach, to be supported. When a person feels that G-d is taking care of them, how could they not be overwhelmed with happiness? The Rebbe Reb Zusha parses the morning blessing thanking G-d for “who provides me with all of my needs” –  שֶׁעָשָׂה לִי כָּל־צָרְכִּי – as “everything that was provided for me, I need”. Knowing that G-d loves us and understanding that it is that love which motives all of the commandments causes us to be in relationship with G-d through joy. It is perhaps for that reason that we are warned later in the parsha of the negative consequences of not operating out of simcha, because it is an indicator of one’s lack of faith.

Bringing the first fruit offering requires the accompanying intention, and sensation, of gratitude for everything that has happened in the past until the present, including explicit mentioning of the oppression and hardships. Only when we are able to appreciate the Divine source of the land, and the expectations of dwelling in it, will we be able to fulfill the words of King David redemption of Zion הַזֹּרְעִ֥ים בְּדִמְעָ֗ה בְּרִנָּ֥ה יִקְצֹֽרוּ – those who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.


R. Mike Moskowitz is a founding builder at Bayit and scholar-in-residence at CBST



What our prayer shawls carry

Right now there are 15 tallitot in my house. How did I get here?

One tallit is my son’s bar mitzvah tallit; one is the “girly” tallit I sometimes wear; one is the giant wool tallit I sometimes wrap couples in under the chuppah.  The stories these tallitot tell are clear and known. 

Ok, what about the other dozen? I brought these tallitot (or talesim, or tallises if you like–we can pluralize the word in Hebrew, Yiddish or English respectively) home from our synagogue for some TLC.  We have newer ones at shul now, sponsored by a board member a few years back, but these older, threadbare, sad tallitot were still in rotation.  After over a year of storage due to covid, it was time to take a discerning eye to these talesim.

I brought the Dirty Dozen home and promptly gave them a bath in the tub. I did not want to agitate them in a machine due to the tzitzit and decorative fringes, and my apartment building has only big commercial washers.  The tallitot had a lovely spa day, with all appropriate treatments, carrying away the dirt and stale perfume and stains of all the humans who had worn them.  They emerged, much better than they started…but still shabby.

As I washed the tallitot, I thought about their useful lives.  What prayers had been said, by how many, wrapped in these tallitot?  Prayers for healing; prayers of gratitude; perhaps a baby wrapped up at a naming ceremony is now a grown up; perhaps tears fell on the fabric and I had just washed those tears away.  If only that were how it worked! Wash your tears right down the drain! Was I re-sending those prayers up with the fragrance of soap and humanity?

Well, sometimes a spa day is not enough for a full rejuvenation.  I trimmed the loose threads, and neatened up each tallit as best I could. Even so, of the dozen, only one remained fit for synagogue use.  

A tallis is mostly just a way to wear tzitzit, in fulfillment of the commandment  (Numbers 15:38).

But a tallit should have a discernible front/back up/down. This is often accomplished by putting an atarah, a neckband, on the tallit.  To beautify the commandment (a practice known as hiddur mitzvah), the atarah is often embroidered with fancy metallic thread, and might contain a name of God.  So, both tzitzit and atarah should be handled with respect.  My rabbi said they should go into a genizah, a sacred repository, at the end of their useful life. Many sources suggest a genizah and/or a Jewish cemetery

A little lightbulb went off in my brain and I recalled that the Hebrew Free Burial Association was looking for tallitot for burial of indigent Jews a while back.  I wrote to them, and they confirmed that they would be happy to have 11 shabby but freshly washed tallitot.  So now the prayers bound up after so many years on so many shoulders will go to their rest, accompanying someone who truly needed comfort in this life.  

Is it too animistic to think about the tallitot entwining and remembering the prayers they heard and felt? OK, let me have my little flight of fancy. I’ll focus on that rather than think about kneeling at the bathtub up to my elbows in dirty water. 

If you are the person who is in charge of things like this at your shul, it’s time to give your tallitot (and kippot) a good looking over.  And a sniff. Also, it’s time to take a peek at your own tallis.  Is this the year to buy a new one?  Is this the year to give one as a gift?  The board member mentioned above and I have each given six new tallitot to the shul this year.  

The mitzvah of wearing a tallit is not something I grew up with, but something I am growing into. Every time I touch a tallit, I can feel myself twirling my father’s tzitzit as a tiny child in shul. I like to think that maybe our tallitot do hold things in their threads, including our prayers and our memories.


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.”


Graceful Masculinity / Graceful Building: Ki Seitzei

כִּי תִבְנֶה בַּיִת חָדָשׁ, וְעָשִׂיתָ מַעֲקֶה לְגַגֶּךָ; וְלֹא-תָשִׂים דָּמִים בְּבֵיתֶךָ, כִּי-יִפֹּל הַנֹּפֵל מִמֶּנּוּ.

If you will build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof, so that you will not place blood in your house if one who falls, falls from it. (Deuteronomy 22:8)


Our bodies house our souls and this verse from Deuteronomy is understood as referring not only to a new physical home, but also to a newly repentant body. As we prepare for Rosh Hashana we are tasked with repairing the mistakes of the last year, and in doing so we are rebuilding ourselves and creating a new ideal home for our soul. Old habits are hard to break and our tradition encourages us to generate positive momentum, through good actions, as the easiest way to shift our routines in the right direction. 

Just before the mitzvah of fencing in one’s roof, we are taught of the commandment to send away the mother bird prior to taking her young. Rashi explains the juxtaposition as “one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah.” When we habituate ourselves to doing good, it seems we are granted more opportunities to advance that cause. “Mitzvah” is a language of connectivity and brings us closer to G-d, the source of all goodness, and also manifests the goodness of our soul into this world. As an example, the Ramchal frames our ability to overcome laziness in relationship to our recognition of how good G-d is to us. Being roused to passionate acts of holiness is the natural consequence of removing the obstacles to that awareness. 

These commandments map our path of existence and accompany us along the journey. The Medresh applies the verse “for they are an adornment/accompaniment (לוית) of grace” to the mitzvah of building a fence on one’s parapet. King Solomon, the author of Proverbs, could have simply stated that the Torah guides us on our way –  what role does grace play in it?

In the mystical tradition, a person’s head corresponds to G-d’s Name, the shem Havaya and is alluded to in the fence, גגך, also having a numerical value of 26. Just as a person on the top of a building needs protection from falling, so too the Divine presence resting atop a person’s faculties also needs to be guarded.  

This natural resting place of the Divine was lost after the sin in the garden, but is restored through repentance. We now must be proactive in preserving this aspect of the Alufo Shel Alom, The One Source of the World, represented in the Aleph א of Adam אדם. The letter א is made up of two yuds “י” and a vuv “ו”, equalling 26. The mystics read this verse as a warning to protect our holiness or risk losing the aleph and again descending “to have blood” – dam דם – adam without the aleph.

The Medresh tells the story about Adam’s ability to name all of the animals, based on their essential identities. After proving his skillset, G-d asks Adam: “And what is my name”? Adam answers with the Shem Havya as it says אֲנִ֥י יְקוָ֖ק ה֣וּא שְׁמִ֑י – I am Hashem, that is my name – because it is what Adam called me.The Medresh concludes by explaining that this name provides the condition for us to be in a relationship with G-d through the commandments.

This is the function of being guided by grace. When we move with the intention of healing the brokenness of the world, we are presented with a G-dly partnership to repair it all. King David writes יְחׇנֵּ֥נוּ וִיבָרְכֵ֑נוּ יָ֤אֵֽר פָּנָ֖יו אִתָּ֣נוּ סֶֽלָה May G-d be gracious and bless us, may G-d illuminate G-d’s countenance with us. It has been observed that G-d shines “with us” (אִתָּ֣נוּ), not “on us”. Grace is first given to us, and then we are blessed with the hidden light of the Torah to renew our body and spirit.


R. Mike Moskowitz is a founding builder at Bayit and scholar-in-residence at CBST


A week of building with Bayit

My Post

Top row: T-shirts courtesy of Steve Silbert; the Bayit Board meets onsite and online; kayaking on the lake.

Bottom row: morning davening gear, and our morning davening spot.


When we gather at our VRBO, the first thing we do is kasher the kitchen. We do a massive grocery run at a nearby kosher market and make dinner together. We turn a pile of inspirational stickers into impromptu mad libs. On Rosh Chodesh Elul we daven outside under the spreading trees and the fields of goldenrod and corn, and we sing and laugh our way through Hallel.

We blue-sky dream about what we want Bayit to be and do next. We talk about disruption, innovation, collaboration and creativity, inspiration and design, remix and joy. We talk about Jewish life and what what people need (especially now, amidst pandemic and change). We talk about spiritual tools and technologies, ritual and learning, knowledge and practice.

We talk about problem statements, and use cases, and minimum viable products, and how to know when a new idea “works,” and the cycle of trying a new thing, measuring success, revising the thing, trying again. We brainstorm lists of people outside this room whose work we want to uplift, and talk about how to do that. We sing niggunim. We add cards to Trello boards.

We talk about audiences for our offerings / who we serve. We talk about restorative religion and DIY religion and social justice. We talk about ethics, and pluralism, and collaborative creativity and why the collaborative process matters to us, and about bridging between silos and between communities. We talk about our collective strengths and competencies and what we love.

We review our portfolio of existing and possible build projects. We review the builds that are already underway, books and classes and ethics work and liturgy-poetry-art offerings. We let some ideas go. We write down new ideas that are flowing now that we’re together — some of us onsite, some of us on Zoom — as we talk timelines, workflows, skillsets, middot / qualities.

We sit at the kitchen counter with coffee and we workshop poetry and liturgy, reading lines aloud and offering suggestions, tinkering and uplifting. Over dinner we toss sermon ideas around. We share High Holiday planning. We look at Bayit’s mission and vision, and choose which build projects to prioritize. We dream together about collaborations, set new ideas in motion.

In between these conversations we cook meals together. We kayak on a nearby lake. We study the Me’or Eynayim. We sing with guitars by the firepit and I marvel at the miracle that we are here together again, learning and hoping and building. We are rebooting Bayit together, retooling for who we’re becoming and for the different needs that the pandemic has revealed.

On Friday we daven with guitar, riffing melodies, singing in harmony, laughing, reaching out to God with supplication and joy. The birds flit from one goldenrod stalk to another. The big maples grace us with occasional raindrops. The crickets and cicadas sing with us. We close with every Psalm 27 melody we know before blowing shofar. The sound rings out over the fields.

At the end of the week we make Shabbes. We gather with guitars by the lake, we daven and harmonize, we sing and rejoice. We take a day to rest and renew — though honestly, for me, this whole week has been restorative and renewing, even though we got so much done. To have the opportunity to build for the future with such extraordinary hevre: I am blessed beyond measure.


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Bayit board, onsite and online.



Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi, with endless gratitude to the Bayit Board and to all who build with us.


Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is a founding builder at Bayit.






Gates, Open and Closing – New Liturgy / Poetry / Art for Selichot and Ne’ilah

These offerings (new from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group) are bookends for the Days of Awe. Here are poems, prayers, and artworks for Selichot and for Ne’ilah, the near and far thresholds of this holy season. May they help these holidays lift our spirits and open our hearts. And may the new year bring blessing not only to us but to the whole aching world.  

Featuring work by Trisha Arlin, R. Rachel Barenblat, Joanne Fink, R. David Evan Markus, R. Sonja K. Pilz PhD, and Steve Silbert. Available both as a downloadable PDF and as google slides suitable for screenshare. 

Download the PDF:

Gates Open and Closing [PDF]


Or access as google slides:

Gates, Open and Closing [Slides]


Here’s a glimpse of what’s inside:

Transformation, one of the illustrations by Joanne Fink.

For Selichot:

The gates are opening.
A transition in time:
notice and walk through.

Tonight we open ourselves
to possibility, to becoming
better than we were before…

— R. Rachel Barenblat, “Gates”


You search our souls. You know our secrets.
We walked through our lives half asleep.

We sinned before You. Please forgive us…

You search your souls, battered by secrets.
I promised you I’d never slumber nor sleep.

I sinned before You. Please forgive Me…

— R. David Markus, “Our Selichot to God / God’s Selichot to Us”


During the month of Elul we ponder and remember,
An illusion of thoughtfulness,
Because underneath the meek apologies lie
And embarrassments that do
Whatever it is that
And ignorance do
To help us create the past…

— Trisha Arlin, “Underneath”


This year has been my first one as a mother
I did so much
Most of it never mattered
Because nothing compared to my baby…

— R. Sonja K. Pilz, PhD, “S’lichot: Enough? Enough.”

For Ne’ilah:

Bend the knee and leave the old damage behind.
It is resolved
Or it is not.
It is forgiven
Or it is not.
In any case
Those gates are shut…

— Trisha Arlin, “Aleinu 5782”


Keep open the gates
At this time of closing,
For day is turning

And so are we – after too many flew away,
Too soon, leaving too much unsaid and undone,
But for us it’s not too late – not yet…

— R. David Evan Markus, “Don’t Lock the Gates”


It is done.
Once again I sealed my destiny.
With the sound of the shofar,
In the red and pink and orange of the sky,
I stand breathless,
Before You…

— R. Sonja K. Pilz, “Ne’ilah”


The end of day.
That doesn’t mean
I’m leaving you…

— R. Rachel Barenblat, “The End of Day”

Download the PDF:

Gates Open and Closing [PDF]


Or access as google slides:

Gates, Open and Closing [Slides]



This collection features liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi David Evan Markus, and Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz, and artwork by Joanne Fink and Steve Silbert. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.

New prayers, artwork, and poetry for Rosh Hodesh Elul / the New Year of the Animals

Judaism’s ancient New Year for the Animals — Rosh Hodesh Elul — can remind us that we’re all stewards of the Earth and all her life.  It can remind us that we too are animals, part of the web of life.  It can remind us of the special love we feel for companion animals – a heart-opening love we need as we prepare for the heart journey of Rosh Hashanah. Here are poems, prayers, and artwork for Rosh Hodesh Elul / the New Year of the Animals. May these offerings help us to draw near to our animals, our traditions, ourselves, each other, and our Source.

Available both as a downloadable PDF and as google slides suitable for screenshare.

Elul – New Year of the Animals – Bayit 2021 [PDF]

Rosh Hodesh Elul: New Year of the Animals [google slides]


Here are a few tastes of what’s collected here:


…I lay a blanket down on the grass.
We lose ourselves eye to eye,
Reflecting face to face like still waters

Restoring just a bit of something that
Sometimes I forget that I’d forgotten…

— “All Life,” R. David Evan Markus

This is a blessing for my old orange cat, Buster,
On the occasion of Rosh Hodesh Elul,
Rosh Hashanah La Beheimot,
The New Year of the Domesticated Beasts…

— “Blessing for Buster,” Trisha Arlin

We will blow the shofar,
And I’ll read Psalm 27
And if we’re lucky we’ll go for a swim together on Lac St-Pierre…

— “On the first of Elul,” R. Dara Lithwick

…I don’t believe in these separations anymore
whatever we do
we do it to you, too
we live on the same planet
we share the same earth…

— “Where We Walk,” R. Sonja K. Pilz, PhD

God is as close now
as blood pulsing in our veins,
that animal rhythm…

— “We are animals too,” R. Rachel Barenblat

…This Elul may our animal friends teach us to live in balance, honouring the Divine
At home with you, Yah…

— “Closing Blessing,” R. Dara Lithwick

Read the full collection:

Elul – New Year of the Animals – Bayit 2021 [PDF]

Rosh Hodesh Elul: New Year of the Animals [google slides]



Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz.  Artwork by Joanne Fink. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.

Tisha b’Av 5781: prayers, poetry, and art for our mourning year



New from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group comes this collaborative compilation of liturgy, poetry and art for this Tisha b’Av. Here are poems, prayers, artwork, and readings for Tisha b’Av 2021, looking back on the last pandemic year as we sit with what’s broken and nurture the seeds of hope for repair. This offering is organized through the frame of four stages of mourning, evoking both our own personal losses and our communal journey of global grief. Available both as a downloadable PDF and as google slides suitable for streaming / screenshare.

Use them in community — use them to inform your own Tisha b’Av journey — share them widely — we hope they resonate.

(You can find all of the Liturgical Arts Working Group’s offerings on our webpage here.)

Download the collection as a PDF:

9Av 5781 – Our Mourning Year – Bayit [PDF]


And/or download the collection as a deck of google slides:

9Av 5781 from Bayit – Our Mourning Year [SLIDES]


Here are tastes of what’s here, alongside artwork by Steve Silbert and Joanne Fink:

When my mother died,
I was 3000 miles away
On a teen study trip in England.
I’d said goodbye to her at the airport and never saw her again…

— from “Kria,” Trisha Arlin

So many died in isolation,
intubated, untouchable.
How did the doctors and nurses
bear their despair?
How can we move through the world
when so many are mourning?…

— from “Eicha / How?!,” R. Rachel Barenblat

I need to stop. To sit. To feel.
I am not ready to go to a hockey game, or a movie, or a concert.

Not after this. A churban, a destruction…

— from “Shiva,” R. Dara Lithwick

How to hold fear for so long
my shoulders learn a new shape.
How to watch numbers climb
higher, and then higher.
How to hold funerals
and kindergarten
over Zoom…

— From “How To,” R. Rachel Barenblat

We are sitting on the floor
Crawling, playing rattle, monkey, super parents,
Move organizers, breadwinners, challah bakers,
Stroller pushers…
I am sitting on the floor, and the light’s turned off
As night falls…

— From “Rise,” R. Sonja Keren Pilz

Glorious and holy are the possibilities of God.

We’re getting used to the losses
But that’s not the same
As being okay…

— From “Yahrzeit 2021,” Trisha Arlin

Birth pangs can’t hear
The toddler’s first words.
Earthbound magma can’t see
The saplings that will root in ash…

— from “After,” R. David Evan Markus

Download the collection as a PDF:

9Av 5781 – Our Mourning Year – Bayit [PDF]


And/or download the collection as a deck of google slides:

9Av 5781 from Bayit – Our Mourning Year [SLIDES]




Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Joanne Fink, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz.  Artwork by Joanne Fink and Steve Silbert. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.