Rabbi Paula’s Messages

An important High Holiday message

When we had High Holiday worship on zoom last year, we all probably thought that it was a one-time occurrence, and we would be back in the sanctuary this year (I certainly thought so).  Of course, no one could have guessed that we would be facing a new Covid variant and our fourth wave right now.  So, out of an abundance of caution and some other very practical reasons we will be zooming again this year.  While so many of us are disappointed that we cannot gather in the Hebrew Tabernacle sanctuary there is still much to be excited about this High Holidays.   Here are just a few things that I am very much looking forward to:

Our High Holiday student Cantor!  Carl Sayres is a Cantorial Soloist and composer of new Jewish liturgical music. He is passionate about making traditional Eastern European nusach and davening relevant, accessible and meaningful in contemporary services. He strives to involve congregations in innovative prayer experiences such as his T’filat Halev program, an intimate and participatory service, which includes many of his own compositions. Originally from Brooklyn, he has been leading services for over 35 years, including at the East Midwood Jewish Center, Brandeis University, the Summit Jewish Community Center, Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle and The University of Washington. His original compositions for Shabbat and holiday services are sung at synagogues across the United States, and his “Millenial V’shomru” was a recent winner of the Shashelet Festival. Carl is currently studying to be ordained as a Hazzan at the Academy for Jewish Religion in NY.

Now that you have his bio, I would like to add that he has an amazing tenor voice, a depth of knowledge of Jewish music and is just a really nice guy!  I am really looking forward to leading and praying with him throughout the High Holidays. Join us this Friday night, September 3, to meet Student Cantor Carl who will help lead the service and will teach and refresh us on High Holiday music.  Also put Saturday morning, September 11th on your calendar.  Carl will be teaching Torah study.  He will be doing a wonderful program on “How Leonard Bernstein used the music of the S’lichot service to create West Side Story.”

We also have a new accompanist for the holidays, Ken Cornielle!  Ken Corneille is an organist, pianist, conductor, baritone, composer, arranger and teacher. As a composer, he has written music for various combinations of instruments and voices, some of which have been published. Ken was written many liturgical compositions for the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church and Reform Jewish music. He studied organ with McNeil Robinson, voice with Maurice Stern, composition with Nicolas Flagello and conducting with Dobbs Franks. As an organ recitalist, Ken has performed at the Washington National Cathedral, Saint Thomas Episcopal Church (Manhattan) and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and many churches in the United States and Canada. This past year, Ken has written 4 Symphonies. He also put together an instrumental group with a soprano (8 musicians) called “Infinite Lights” that performs exclusively, Jewish Music. I met Ken about 10 years ago when we were both working at Temple Ahavat Shalom in River Edge, NJ.  He is not only an amazing musician but also a really good guy. I am very excited to be working with Ken again this year.

Tot and Youth services are something I always look forward to but this year, we are going to try to do them outdoors.  Once again, Covid has led us to be creative so that we can be safe.  There will be separate Tot services and youth services on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur.   Each group learns and prays in different ways and these services will reflect what is developmentally appropriate for the very different age groups.  Assuming that the weather cooperates, we will hold each of these services out on the sidewalk in front of our 185th street entrance.  All prayers for no rain and temperatures below 90 degrees are welcome!!  If the weather doesn’t cooperate…. there is always zoom!

And zoom is a great technology, and we are certainly grateful for it and the fact that it will allow us to be together in a different but still important way.  I would like to remind you of a few suggestions I made last year for making the holiday special at home and on zoom.  There are two challenges that we need to think about:  The first is creating holy time and the second is making our homes special for the holidays so that we can create holy space.

In our homes there are many distractions – the dishes that didn’t get put away, the cell phones and other devices that ping and ding, pets (I have 4 cats, I know how adorably distracting they can be!), side conversations and so much more.  The challenge is to create sacred time for the holidays.  During certain hours, while zooming services or sharing a holiday meal, other distractions need to be put aside, in another place or even better, in another room.  Out of sight, out of mind.  We have to make very conscious decisions to get rid of the potential distractions or our holiday time will not be very holy time.

The second challenge is creating holy space.  When you walk into the sanctuary at Hebrew Tabernacle you immediately feel that you are in a holy place.  How do we make at least some of that happen when we are at home in our very ordinary, familiar spaces?  There are several possibilities.  One is, if possible, to set your computer up in a different space for High Holy days, thinking about what kind of atmosphere would help you to engage with the service the most.  Whether you can move the computer or not you can still make the space special by bringing special objects into that space.  Maybe some Jewish ritual objects that are meaningful to you, pictures of people you love, artwork that your kids or grandkids can create, New Year’s cards and how about some flowers?  Make the space feel special, beautiful and different for the holy days and it will come to feel more like a holy space.

And I have one personal request.  It can be challenging to feel like one community on zoom.  We cannot hear each other sing but we can see each other’s faces.  Please, keep your camera on as much as possible so we can see each other and feel like one congregation.  Our new student cantor is disappointed that he won’t be able to hear you sing – at least let him see your smiling faces, your lips moving and even a little clapping and swaying to the beautiful music.

It is disappointing to not be physically together again this year, but we have been gathering and worshipping on zoom for well over a year now and we know how to do this and do it well!  On Rosh Hashanah, the new year, we take time to examine our lives, reflect on who we are and who we want to be, how we need to continue to grow and change.  We look back on the past year, (and it has been quite a year), reflect on what we have learned and think about all the wonderful possibilities in the year ahead.  May this new year be filled with health, peace and wholeness for all.    Shanah Tovah!

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