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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - September 2010
From the Rabbi - September 2010 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:
Let me tell you what I see from the pulpit during High Holyday services.  On the one hand, I observe members of the congregation who have come to the services with serious intention and prayerful purpose.  I see many of these people reacting with emotion to Avinu Malkeinu and Kol Nidre and other pieces of liturgical music.  Sometimes, I hear their voices rising above the rest of the assemblage, as they read the various prayers with an intensity that is remarkable.  I notice them leaning forward as I rise to deliver one of my sermons   What is the rabbi going to talk about, and will I agree or disagree?  You can be sure that the rabbi will hear later that day or week; these are folks who react with seriousness to what is going on in the sanctuary.

On the other hand, I also see other kinds of behavior.  I see fidgeting.  I see some members of the congregation who have dozed off.  I know who is talking with whom and who have allowed other purposes and concerns to distract them from the true nature of our gathering on these days.

In a sense, I sympathize with this latter group.  The High Holyday services are longer than the average Shabbat services and, if you are not accustomed to attending Shabbat, they can seem exceptionally long.  There is Hebrew, which some of us can sound out, but which most of us do not understand.  The style of the service tends to make the congregation rather passive, listening a lot, responding only with the words that have been pre-programmed in the prayer book.  There are lots of words.  Lots of words.  And the words flow generally from the pulpit out to the congregation, rarely in the opposite direction.  In short, someone might very well be excused if he or she got bored or distracted and, sadly, just at the time that a special moment of exaltation and inspiration occurred, was thinking about something else and missed a remarkable moment of Jewish intensity and joy.

This year, we are going to do something quite different on the afternoon of Yom Kippur.  You may recall that we finish the morning service just after noon and that there is a children’s service at 1:15.  But then there is a gap until the afternoon service begins at 3:00 P.M.  How to fill this hour’s gap?

I invite you to come into the sanctuary at 2:00 or so in the afternoon and sit quietly in one of the seats.  There will be no words, not a single word, not even an introduction.  There will be a printed program for those who want it.  But what will happen?  Ms. Evelyn McCarty, one of our City’s outstanding musicians, and her accompanist will share with us a series of selections of the world’s finest music.  Ms. McCarty plays the oboe and the English horn, two instruments superbly suited to meditation, prayer, introspection.

We want to give you this gift of speechless time, time during which you can indulge the depths of your own soul in thought, prayer, or any other mental and personal journey you choose.  You can sleep.  You can get up and go out or come in again.  But you cannot talk.  Talking would violate the privacy of your neighbors who are themselves engaged in serious personal pursuits.  At the end of the hour, Ms. McCarty will simply leave, and we shall take a short break before the afternoon service begins.

I hope that these special moments will turn out to have remarkable meaning for you.  What you do with this time is entirely up to you, but it offers you the opportunity to make the day of Yom Kippur intensely personal and powerful.

Phyllis and I send you our warmest and best greetings for the New Year.  We pray that it will be one of joy and health for all of us and, most especially, peace and progress for our troubled world.

            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi



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