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It is hard to envision Sukkoth on the other side of the High Holidays because of the monumental place of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the American Jewish holiday cycle. I composed a sermon a couple of decades ago bemoaning the slow death of Highway 66, which holds an iconic place in the American imagination. The article rued the demise of the charming and distinctive locales now no longer encountered because of the interstate system. Little towns, motels and restaurants are bypassed by truckers, bikers and tourists as they make their way to the west coast. “Sometimes,” I wrote, “the holiday cycle is the same as the Jewish calendar. The interstate highways of Passover, Hanukah, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are travelled so well by so many, but the little locales of the other holidays in Judaism get such short shrift and are sadly victim to this infrastructure.”
But Sukkoth is an important holiday in its own right. Back in the time of the Bible, it was really important and even bigger than Passover as a pilgrimage holiday. In the Rabbinic literature it was called “HaHaG,” the quintessential holiday. It no longer has quite that turbo-charge today, although it is still a very big deal in Jerusalem. Sukkoth’s Kohain rite in the Kotel Plaza is like no other spiritual moment. Still, Sukkoth has many things going for it, running on multiple cylinders, and therefore I commend it. Here are some facts in honor of the seven days of Sukkoth:
- It is a holiday that has a direct connection to nature. The lulav and etrog carry with it the symbolism and the prayer for rain of climate and habitat.
- It is a holiday where we are provided tools to not only celebrate the Heavens but, in some way, sway them by our waving of the lulav and Etrog. Tradition tells us that we actually vitalize the seven lower sphirot potencies of God in our ritual.
- It is a holiday with an “outward bound program” that thrusts us, albeit gently, into the wild to get a new perspective.
- It is an existential holiday that has us reflect on mortality; on our own life being a somewhat fragile hut subject to the ravages of time. We read from the book of Ecclesiastes, which ponders the verities and the vanities of earthly life and orients us to the spiritual.
- It is a social holiday with much entertaining of loved ones, friends and special “historic” guests in our sukkah.
- The sukkah is a time machine “blast into the past” which recalls Biblical tent dwellers and the ancient Temple of King David. It is also provides the spiritual “flux capacitor” to catapult us into the future, envisioning a messianic time.
- Sukkoth is a holiday that celebrates every kind of Jew- the studious, the loving, the uninitiated and the righteous. We hold all the species together to uniquely symbolize our strength in all contributing to the whole.
Sukkoth is the first “local” stop on the Jewish calendar year, off the beaten route of the interstate holidays. Get off at this exit and enjoy the color and vibrancy of this unique calendar moment. Help us celebrate it Yontif morning, October 5th and 6th and on Hoshana Rabbah morning, Wednesday, October 11 at 7 am. Read More
Name That Tune
I am often asked, at a Kiddush or Oneg, “where did that tune come from?” This question arises with many congregational tunes, and with some tunes more than others. Many tunes have been so well ingrained in not only liberal (Conservative and Reform) Judaism, but the western Jewish world as a whole–tunes like Maotzur and Adir Hu– that they are considered “Mi Sinai,” or from Sinai; thought of jokingly as so old and well accepted that Moses himself must have taught them to the Jewish people at the foot of Sinai.
There are also the tunes that are just so widely accepted and entrenched within our weekly davening that they might as well be classified as “Mi Sinai” as well. For example, Michakeyl Chayim from the Amidah has a very recognizable tune, and it is generally accepted throughout the Conservative Movement that if a cantor does not use this tune, he or she better have a very good reason. The melody was written by Chazan Max Wholberg sometime in the middle of the 20th century and was published in his book The Next Generation. His intention was to write simple tunes in order to teach t’filah to children. He never expected this tune to take off as it did. Today, it is used widely throughout the Ashkenazi world in Orthodox and liberal congregations alike.
Another widely accepted tune within the world of Conservative and Reform Judaism is that of the Aleinu. This prayer is actually split into 3 tunes. The beginning section is widely attributed to the composer Sabel. However, once we get to sh’hu noteh shamayim, that is where the fun begins. I’m sure many of you, even while reading this, can hear this tune in your heads. I have to apologize; there is no deep and exciting source of this tune. Its origins actually reside within the mouths of your children and grandchildren. The “Itsy Bitsy Spider” crawls up his waterspout every Shabbat morning. Or those of you of the 1940s generation may recall the Johnny Horton song, The day they sank the Bismarck. Finally, everyone’s favorite part at the ending, bayom ha hu y’hiyeh adoshem ehad, invokes The Farmer and the Dell, and is credited to Rabbi Israel Goldfarb of Shalom Aleichem fame.
So next Shabbat, as we’re singing along, consider where these tunes have come from, and even ask yourself when chanting other melodies, “I wonder where this tune comes from?” Read More
It is a new year, a time of new beginnings! I hope that everyone had a lovely Chanukkah. As everyone knows, Cantor Nussbaum is now retired. He and Avrille are making arrangements to move closer to their family in New Jersey. He is extremely appreciative of the love and support he has received.
A lot has been happening over the last couple of months, so I would like to give an update of where we stand. We have hired Eliza Zipper as Religious School principal. She is a graduate of the Davidson School at Jewish Theological Seminary and has many years of experience as a Jewish educator and youth leader. She brings a great deal of energy and excitement about Jewish education. We look forward to working with her.
Also in the Religious School, we have hired Rabbi David Shain as the Hay Prayer and Hebrew Skills teacher. Those of you who have spent time at Gurwin may be familiar with Rabbi Shain, who has served there as a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) and their Shabbat Rabbi. Rabbi Shain is very personable and knowledgeable. I am confident that our Hay students are in good hands.
Turning our attention to B’nai Mitzvah preparation, we have hired Dr. Paul Kaplan, a former long-term congregant, to tutor our B’nai Mitzvah students. Dr. Kaplan is a retired college professor with decades of teaching experience. In addition, in his own words, he has prepared “a thousand students” for their Bar and Bat mitzvah including at least one member of our Board of Directors. We are lucky to have him on board.
Finally, the Cantor Search committee has been meeting regularly since mid-November. With input from the Board and committees, a job description for our Cantor position has been developed. We have submitted our job posting to the Cantor Assembly Placement Office and we have begun to receive applications. It is still very early in the process, but we are on course and schedule. Look for future updates as things develop.
Shalom, chaverim! See you in shul! Read More