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:

Vulnerable
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.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

 

Shalom javerim, 

En nuestro calendario laico es septiembre. En el calendario judío, estamos en el mes de Elul, el mes que nos conduce a las altas fiestas. 

Algunos enseñan que durante este mes debemos reparar nuestra relación con Dios y con la tradición judía, para que en los diez días de teshuvá entre Rosh Hashaná y Yom Kippur podamos reparar las relaciones entre nosotros. 

¡Otros enseñan que durante este mes, debemos reparar las relaciones entre nosotros para que durante los diez días de Teshuvá podamos reparar nuestra relación con Dios!

En ambos casos, esta es una época para la introspección y para discernir cómo debemos cambiar en el año por venir. 

En Rosh Hashaná el mundo vuelve a comenzar.  El nuevo año trae nuevas oportunidades para escoger: ¿Qué persona queremos ser? ¿Cuál será nuestra relación con la tradición judía y con nuestra Fuente?  ¿Cómo serán nuestra relación con los demás?

Las terribles realidades del coronavirus nos recuerdan que las acciones y elecciones de cada persona pueden afectar a toda la comunidad.  Hemos aprendido cuán fácilmente este virus se esparce, aún por personas que no saben que son portadores. 

Mis elecciones y comportamientos no sólo ponen en riesgo mi salud y mi seguridad sino la de mi familia y mi comunidad y la de todos a mi alrededor.  Porque todos estamos interconectados. 

Esta interconexión es lo que me da esperanza al aproximarnos al nuevo año.

Si trabajamos juntos podemos usar esta interconexión para lograr grandes cosas.  Detener la expansión del virus.  Protegernos los unos a los otros.  Ayudarnos los unos a los otros. Compartir y elevarnos los unos a los otros. 

El Talmud enseña “kol Israel arevim ze bazé” “todo el pueblo de Israel es responsable el uno del otro.”  Es decir, nosotros.  Somos descendientes de Jacob, quien se volvió Israel cuando luchó toda la noche con el ángel y recibió un nuevo nombre al alba.  Somos responsables el uno del otro.  Es nuestro trabajo ocuparnos de los demás en cualquier forma que podamos, porque estamos interconectados.

En Cuba, el otoño pasado presencié la fuerza y conexión de sus comunidades. Ustedes no necesitan el Talmud para saber que son responsables el uno del otro: ustedes lo viven, por quiénes son y por cómo viven.

He aquí otra cosa que me da esperanza: la interconexión más fundamental es verdadera, estemos o no estemos juntos en persona. 

Por supuesto que quiero abrazar a mis seres amados distantes en este momento.  He estado extrañando esos abrazos por meses.  Pero el amor que nos tenemos dura aún cuando no nos podemos tocar.  Del mismo modo que mi cariño por ustedes perdura, aún cuando no puedo estar presente con ustedes. 

Todos los días de Elul, hay una costumbre de rezar el Salmo 27.  Al final de éste viene el siguiente versículo: “Confía en Dios, mantén tu fuerza, abre tu corazón y confía en Dios.”

Nuestra tarea en esta época de teshuvá es aferrarnos a la esperanza.  Fortalecernos, abrir nuestros corazones el uno al otro y aferrarnos a la esperanza.  Aún en tiempos de pandemia o dificultad, aún cuando el mundo a nuestro alrededor parece carecer de sentido. 

La palabra hebrea “teshuvá” es muchas veces traducida como “arrepentimiento” y a veces como “retorno”.  Esta temporada nos llama a retornar a nuestro más alto y mejor ser. Las torá nos recuerda que la teshuvá no se encuentra en el cielo o más allá del mar, donde no podemos alcanzarla.  La teshuvá está muy cerca, en nuestros corazones. 

Y nuestros corazones saben que nuestra tarea en estos tiempos de pandemia es cuidar los unos de los otros.  Porque lo que acaece a una persona impacta al resto.  Porque nuestra interconexión nos hace fuertes, nos transforma en una comunidad, aún cuando estamos lejos. 

Que este nuevo año traiga salud, prosperidad, seguridad y dulzura para todos. 

 

Shalom chaverim.

On the secular calendar it is September. On the Jewish calendar, we are in the month of Elul, the month that leads us to the Days of Awe. 

Some teach that during this month, we should repair our relationship with God and with Jewish tradition, so that during the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we can repair our relationships with each other.

And others teach that during this month, we should repair our relationships with each other, so that during the Ten Days of Teshuvah we can repair our relationship with God!

Either way, this is a season for looking inward and discerning how we need to change in the year ahead.

At Rosh Hashanah, the whole world gets to begin again. A new year brings new opportunities to choose. Who do we want to be? What will be our relationship with our Jewish tradition and with out Source? What will be our relationship with each other?

The terrible realities of the coronavirus remind us that each person’s actions and choices can impact the whole community. We have learned how easily this virus can spread, even through people who do not know they are carriers.

My choices and behaviors risk not only my own health and safety, but that of my family, and my community, and everyone around me. Because we are interconnected.

That interconnectedness is what brings me hope as we approach the new year.

If we work together, we can use our interconnectedness to do great things. To stop the spread of the virus. To protect each other. To help each other. To care for each other. To share with each other and uplift each other.

Talmud teaches “kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” “all of Israel is responsible for one another.” That means us. We are the spiritual descendants of Jacob, who became Yisrael when he wrestled all night with an angel and at dawn received his new name. We are responsible for one another. It’s our job to take care of each other in whatever ways we can. Because we are interconnected.

In Cuba last fall I witnessed the strength and connectedness of your communities. You don’t need Talmud to tell you that we are responsible for one another: you live it, because of who you are and how you are.

Here is another thing that brings me hope: our most fundamental interconnectedness is true, whether or not we are together in person.

Yes, of course, I want to hug my far-away loved ones right now. I have been aching for those hugs for months. But the love between us endures even when we can’t touch. Just as the caring I feel for you endures, even when I am unable to be with you in person.

It is traditional to pray Psalm 27 every day during Elul. At the end of that psalm comes the verse, “Keep hope in God; keep strong, and open your heart wide, and keep hope in God!”

Our task in this season of teshuvah is to hold on to hope. To stay strong, to open our hearts to each other, and to hold on to hope. Even in times of pandemic or hardship, even when the world around us may seem hopeless.

The Hebrew word teshuvah is sometimes translated as repentance, and sometimes as returning. This season calls us to return to our highest and best selves. Torah reminds us: teshuvah is not in the heavens, or across the sea, where we cannot reach it. Teshuvah is as near as our own hearts. 

And our hearts know that our task in this pandemic time is to take care of each other. Because what happens to one person impacts the whole. Because our interconnectedness makes us strong, and makes us into a community, even when we are apart.

May the new year that is coming bring health and prosperity, safety and sweetness for us all.

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

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.”

Zooming In the New Year

Here’s a sketchnote from Steve Silbert illustrating Bayit’s tips and suggestions for how to make the most out of this year’s Zoom Days of Awe:

Sketchnote of tips for t

 

And here’s a short video from founding builder R’ Rachel Barenblat on the same theme:

If you’d rather read about creating sacred space at home, instead of watching it on YouTube, you can find the text here at Rachel’s congregational blog.

 

 

 

Sketchnote by Steve Silbert; YouTube video by R’ Rachel Barenblat.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Sunny Schnitzer

Palabras del Torá Agosto 2020 from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

 


Hola mis amigos

Primero, permítame enviarle nuestra admiración por el pueblo cubano que ha hecho lo que Estados Unidos no ha podido hacer: controlar la pandemia del coronavirus. Esto se debe a la disciplina y la dedicación de los cubanos entre sí, a la comunidad. Kol Hakavod.

Sé que estos son los momentos más difíciles en Cuba. La privación económica y la incertidumbre lo socava todo.

Parece que el centro se está derrumbando.

Los judíos sabemos mucho acerca de perder nuestro centro.

Acabamos de pasar por Tisha B’av, el día más negro del calendario hebreo tradicional. Lloramos la destrucción del centro de la vida judía, Jerusalén. Lloramos las cosas que hemos perdido.

En nuestro viaje al punto más bajo de la vida espiritual judía nos llevó a través de Shabat Hazon, el Shabat de la Visión.

Tristemente, la visión que recibimos en nuestra Haftarah, del Profeta Isaías, es una visión de destrucción, miseria y muerte.

“¿Qué golpe caerá después, a medida que se desate más y más violencia y corrupción en la tierra? Si la nación fuera un cuerpo, toda la cabeza estaría enferma y todo el corazón se desmayaría;

Desde la planta del pie, incluso hasta la cabeza, no hay solidez en él; pero heridas, contusiones y llagas supurantes: no han sido tratadas, ni vendadas ni calmadas con medicamentos.

Tu país está desolado; tus ciudades se queman con fuego; los extraños devoran tu tierra en tu presencia, y está desolada.”

Es inquietante escuchar estas palabras pronunciadas hace dos mil quinientos años y mirar a nuestro alrededor hoy.

Pero la visión de Isaías nos recuerda también que nuestra tarea es trabajar por la salud y la paz.

Ahora, después de Tisha B’av, nos reunimos no solo para llorar lo que fue, sino también para aprender de él: para preguntar cómo llegamos aquí y ¿qué haremos ahora con lo que sabemos?

Debido a que hemos sobrevivido a tantas destrucciones en nuestra historia, el pueblo judío sabe mejor que cualquier otro que la humanidad es una. Nosotros, el pueblo judío y nuestro Dios, somos uno. El eterno Ejad.

El coronavirus no conoce límites ni fronteras. Nos está sucediendo a todos.

No hay “ellos”, solo somos nosotros y ninguno de nosotros está solo en esta lucha.

No sabemos qué pasará después en nuestro viaje por el Valle de la Sombra de la Muerte del Coronavirus. No sabemos lo que hay del otro lado.

Pero sí sabemos esto.

Después de Tisha B’av estamos en una trayectoria ascendente a las alturas de la alegría. El momento en que somos más íntimos con HaShem, Rosh Hashaná y Iom Kipur. El viaje desde nuestro punto más bajo al más alto ocurre relativamente rápido, cuarenta nueve días desde abajo hacia arriba. Siete días por siete. Siete es el número de creación.

HaShem siempre está creando algo nuevo para nosotros. Tendremos fe en nuestra historia, fe en los demás y fe en que el cambio siempre llega.

Si bien el tiempo es diferente para los seres humanos que para Dios, y para nosotros, los mortales, puede parecer que el cambio es lento, para Dios, una vida humana no es más que un abrir y cerrar de ojos.

Que algún día miremos hacia atrás a este momento y descubramos que esta fue nuestra experiencia también.


Hola Mis Amigos.

First, let me send to you our admiration for the Cuban people who have done what the United States has been unable to do – to control the pandemic of Coronavirus. It is because of the discipline, and dedication of Cubans to each other, to community, that you have achieved this. Kol Hakavod.

I know that these are the most difficult of times in Cuba. The economic deprivation and uncertainty undermines everything.

It seems that the center is collapsing.

We Jews know much about losing our center.

We have just come through Tisha B’av, the blackest day on the traditional Hebrew calendar. We mourn the destruction of the center of Jewish life, Jerusalem. We mourn the things we have lost.

On our journey to the bottom of Jewish spiritual life took us through Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of Vision. Sadly, the vision we receive in our Haftarah, from the Prophet Isaiah, is a vision of destruction, misery, and death.

“What blow will fall next, as more and more violence and corruption is unleashed in the land? If the nation were a body, the whole head would be sick, and the whole heart faint;

From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and festering sores: they have not been treated, not bandaged nor soothed with medication.

Your country is desolate; your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence, and it is desolate.”

It is haunting to listen to these words spoken twenty five hundred years ago and look around us today.

But the vision of Isaiah reminds us also that our task is to work for health and peace.

Now, after Tisha B’av, we gather not only to mourn what was, but also to learn from it: to ask how did we get here, and what shall we do now with what we know?

Because we have survived so many destructions in our history, the Jewish people know better than any other that humanity is one. We the Jewish people and our God are one. The eternal Ejad.

Coronavirus knows no boundaries and no borders. It is happening to all of us.

There is no “them” there is only us and none of us is alone in this struggle.

We don’t know what happens next in our journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death of Coronavirus. We do not know what is on the other side.

But we do know this.

After Tisha B’av we are on an upward trajectory to the heights of joy. The time when we are most intimate with HaShem, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The journey from our lowest point to the highest happens relatively quickly, 49 nine days from the bottom to the top. Seven days times seven. Seven is the number of creation.

HaShem is always creating something new for us. We will have faith in our history, faith in each other, and faith that change always comes.

While time is different for human beings than it is for God, and it may seem to we mortals that change is slow, to God, a human lifetime is but the blink of an eye.

May we someday look back to this moment and find that this was our experience too.

 


Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer

By Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer.

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):

lamentations
for those with pages
of unwritten loss
lamenting
Jerusalem
and everything else
they never had
but Are
somehow
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
Alone
TV, Facebook, Prayer
Alone
Coughing, Crying, Dying
Alone

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:

 

Contributors:

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

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.

Having Something Graceful to Say / Graceful Masculinity: Devarim

 

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן:  בַּמִּדְבָּר בָּעֲרָבָה מוֹל סוּף בֵּין-פָּארָן וּבֵין-תֹּפֶל, וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת–וְדִי זָהָב.

These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel, across the Jordan, in the wilderness, in the Plain, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel and Laban, and Hazeroth and Di-zahab. (Deuteronomy 1:1)

 

The book of Deuteronomy consists almost entirely of one exceedingly long speech delivered by Moses at the end of his life. The speech is so long that Midrash Tanchuma reports the Israelites saying, “Yesterday you said ‘I’m not a man of words”, and now you have SO much to say!”1

The people listen to all of Moses’ words. And as we read Deuteronomy between now and Simchat Torah, we listen as well. Moses does have a lot to say, and much of it is a rebuke to the Israelites for their misbehavior during the previous forty years. In our own time of great division and non-communication, we can learn a lot from Moses’ unifying final words.

Moses’ wordiness here appears out of character. In Egypt, Aaron was the talker and Moses described himself as having sealed lips (aral sefatayim). Yet over the course of their journey through the wilderness, Aaron has learned to be silent (Leviticus 10:3) and Moses has learned to speak. Rashi, on the famous verse in Ecclesiastes 3:7 “there is a time to be silent and a time to talk,” references Aaron and Moses, in that order. Each leader was able to expand beyond their natural tendency when the time called for it.

Moses’ speech begins on the first day of the month of Shvat, just 36 days before his death.2 Deuteronomy, the fifth book in the Pentateuch, is called the Mishnah Torah by the Rabbis. It’s name, משנה, can be parsed מ’ שנה – forty years. This marks the fact that 40 years have passed since Moses received the Torah at Sinai, and the children of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. It also alludes to the 40 generations from Moshe to Rebbe Yehudah HaNassi, who redacts the Mishna that becomes the basis of our Talmud.3

The letter מ is also the first and last letter of the Oral Law. The first mishnah in the first tractate begins with the word מאימתי and the last word of the last tractate ends with the word שלום.  (me’amatai and shalom). The two מ’s together have the numerical value of 80 which corresponds to the Hebrew letter פ – peh, the mouth. This book is understood as the Torah Sheba’al Peh, the Oral Torah, in that Moshe is teaching the Divine word differently than in the first four books.4 (Notably, in his retelling, some things are different than the first time around.)

Just as it was necessary for everyone to be united by the revelation at Sinai, here also it is essential for the community to be unified in hearing Moses’ words. Rav Wolfson in his work Emunat Atich explains that all of Israel needed to be present at the same time, not just to hear Moses, but also to teach and learn from each other.5 The letter ל / lamed appears at the end of each word in the phrase אל כל ישראל, (al kol Yisrael, “to all of Israel”) and that letter  ל is the root of the word לימוד / limud, meaning learning.

Today we often place ourselves in siloed, self-selected groups with the goal of having easy conversations with like-minded people. In contrast, Moses gathers all of the people, all together, for a difficult conversation. Rashi, citing the Sifrei, explains why it is crucial that everyone be present at the same time: if some folks were in the marketplace during Moses’ speech they would claim that had they been there, they could have refuted Moses. Moses speaks to everyone, engaging them with an opportunity for each individual to disagree and speak up if they choose.

The Zohar6 attributes Moshe’s success to his chein (grace) and connects him to the verse in Psalms 45:3 “grace is poured upon your lips”. The distinction between lips and speech is significant. The mystics7 observe five distinct body parts integral to speech: the (1) throat, (2) palate, (3) tongue, (4) teeth, and (5) lips. Of the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, only 4 letter sounds are articulated by the lips.8

The Sefas Emes9notes that lips are unusual in that they serve two speech functions. They both create sound, and prevent sound from leaving the mouth. Moshe uses his lips expertly. He speaks when he has something to say and is silent when he does not. 

The Sefas Emes also understands the two lips as working in counterpoint together. He says the lips allude to Moses and Aaron; and later, Hillel and Shammai. The two lips also represent different attributes. Silence is din (judgement) and talking is rachamim (mercy). The Written Torah represents strictness of the law, while the Oral Torah represents mercy and compassion.10

Compassionate speech doesn’t mean indulging in one’s own desire to talk, but rather creating opportunities for people to truly hear what needs to be said. Moses’ authenticity of being, reliability of presence, and consistency of selflessness allow the words that come from his heart to enter the hearts of others. Like Moses, we must lead with love, and learn from each other.

 

Discussion questions:

 

How can we determine when we should speak and when be silent?

Is it ok to rebuke someone for doing something we ourselves do?

When someone isn’t likely to listen to what we have to say, should we still say it?

Why might the Hebrew word for “thing” דבר – davar, be the same word for speech, debar?

 


1. Tanchuma 2

2. אלה = ל”ו

3. Megaleh Amukos 246

4.Zohar Genesis 28:10

5. This is reflected in talmudic discussion about the proximity of teaching; even though some don’t learn from the juxtaposition of verses, in the first four books, here they do.

6. Parshas Bo

7. Sefer Yetzirah 2:3

8. בומ”פ

9. Succos 654-6

10.עיין ספר הזכות: לא איש דברים אנכי ס”ת שמאי, הוא יהיה לך לפה ר”ת הילל

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz.

 

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