Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Five People I Want to Meet in Heaven

The Five People I Want to Meet in Heaven
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
Yizkor – Yom Kippur
October 8th, 2011
Perhaps the one question that I have been most asked during my career is:
"Rabbi, do Jews believe in Heaven and Hell?"
 I answer them with the gamut of Jewish responses from the classical, Maimonidean and rationalist perspectives. The concepts of heaven and hell connect to larger theological questions about good and bad, reward and punishment, and the afterlife. We want to, need to believe that there is an eternal, everlasting reward for our struggles in our lifetime, that the injustices in this world are somehow addressed, even if in another reality, that life makes sense.
The description of heaven that I like the most is the imagery of metaphorically sitting around the table studying Torah with God for all eternity. It is something like my Talmud class, except that it never ends and we never grow old. And God has all the answers. It is a warm, comforting, secure dream. The true Jewish answer is: we won't know about heaven until we get there, wherever "there" might be. In this existence we can only speculate, fueled by vague notions in the Prophetic writings and the conjectures of the Rabbis contained in the Talmud, Midrash and mystical literature. Here, we just don't know.
Given that introduction, I call to your attention a wonderful book that was written some years ago by Mitch Albom entitled: "The Five People You Meet in Heaven." It is a wonderful story about lives that are intertwined without realizing it until afterwards, in heaven.  Only there will the protagonist, Eddie, have his life explained to him. Only there will he find out whether his last act on earth, indeed whether his whole life, was a heroic success or a devastating failure. It is a fascinating book, 196 small pages, a quick read.
In the untitled page before the story begins, Albom writes the following:
"This book is dedicated to Edward Beitchman, my beloved uncle, who gave me my first concept of heaven. Every year, around the Thanksgiving table, he spoke of a night in the hospital when he awoke to see the souls of his departed loved ones sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for him. I never forgot that story. And I never forgot him.
"Everyone has an idea of heaven, as do most religions, and they should all be respected. The version represented here is only a guess, a wish, in some ways, that my uncle, and others like him – people who felt unimportant here on earth – realize, finally, how much they mattered and how they were loved."
The book's title provoked me to thinking and I have adapted it slightly. The title of this sermon is: The Five people I want to meet in heaven. If we have the choice, if we can somehow arrange in advance who we will meet in heaven, of all the possibilities spanning the history of humanity, Jewish or not, current or ancient,
Who would you choose?
Why would you select those particular people?
What would you ask them?
What do you want to learn from them?
How will these people explain our lives to us?
                        While we live, can we, do we expect, that we will have mattered in this world?
I hope to provoke your thinking. I hope to provoke your conversation at the table after Yom Tov. You can share with me your choices via email. Here are mine, with the whys and the wherefores. They are all Jewish. When I thought about this sermon, I immediately knew the five. These are: The Five People I Want to Meet in Heaven.
1. I would like to meet our Patriarch Abraham, Avraham Avinu. Why did I choose him? If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here today. We wouldn't be here today. There would be no Jewish people, no Judaism. No chosen people. I see myself, my life, as a Jew, not the Rabbi part, as a link on a chain that stretches back to him. No Abraham, no me.  I have so many questions for him.
                        How did you discover God, or, how did God discover you?
                        What was the "Aha" moment like?
                        Where you numbed, stunned, dazed?
                        What did God's voice sound like?
                        How did you know it was God speaking?
                        Was it actual words or something like ESP?
The Torah doesn't answer these questions, it just presents us with Abraham hearing what God was speaking, and asks us to make the same leap of faith. I want to know: what made Abraham leap? It will help mine. I have the Torah's text. I want to know about Abraham's experience. More questions:
How did you turn your back on the world you knew?
How did you leave home?
Weren't you concerned about sticking out like a 'sore thumb'?
It must have been strange being the only Jew in the world. Sometimes when I go places I feel like that too. Again, the Torah doesn't describe the feeling in his kishkes. That's what I want to know. What was churning on the inside? Did Avraham's heart go 'thump, thump, like mine? It will help my kishkes.
                        What did you think when you were walking up Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac?
                        Why didn't you say something to him?
                        How could you even imagine that God really wanted you to do this?
I have no idea how Avraham took even one step with his son. I have walked with our children and grandchildren, felt little hands in mine, and larger and larger as they have grown. I cannot fathom Avraham's trial, and yet, his image inspired millennium of Jews to sacrifice their lives, otherwise, our journey would have ended.  I want to know of his faith that gave him the power to do this. I want to meet Avraham Avinu in heaven. I want to feel his faith.
2,3,4. I want to meet my maternal grandfather, Abraham Liebhoff maternal grandmother, Anna Liebhoff and paternal great-grandfather Harry Creditor. They all left Europe: Smilovitch, Russia, Bielsk, Poland, and Soroka, Moldova, respectively around 1900. It wasn't in vogue to ask these questions in their lifetimes. But I would like to know:
What it was like to live in the village of Smilovitch, the town of Soroka, and the shtetl of Bielsk? [I don't want the 'Fiddler-on-the-Roof' edition, but the daily lives that they led.]
Did you go to cheder?
What did you do in the 'pre-electronic' world?
How hard was it to be a Jew?
Were you persecuted?
How did you make the decision to leave your hometowns with such little knowledge of the outside world?
[My maternal grandparents were young and travelled by themselves.]
[My great-grandfather Harry came with several children and my great grandmother Bertha.]  How did you have the guts to do that?
 What did you expect about America?
 What did you encounter?
 [Grandma Anna rolled cigars and made umbrellas on the Lower East Side.] How did you face the crisis of having to work on Shabbat?
 How did you remember to sing Lecha Dodi when you visited us in Belleville and came to Friday night services fifty years after leaving Europe?
 I want to know all the details. Because of them, the seed of my family was planted in this country. Because they were contemporary "Abrahams and Sarahs" my family was in America and not Europe for the Shoah and survived. We got our names from them and we gave them to our children.
5. I want to meet my father. Maybe as much as I have questions for him, I wish to tell him about my life since he died in 1991. Then again, if heaven is heaven, maybe he has known all along. Even so, I want to tell him that especially at key junctures, I have acutely missed his presence. There has been an empty space next to me at the b'not mitzvah of Yonina and Tzeira, at all their graduations, Menachem's marriage and the birth of the three grandchildren, particularly Moshe who carries his name, Tzvi. I have looked at the raspberry plants which came from his garden and wondered what he might be thinking about them transplanted to Virginia. In heaven, I get to know. Does not everyone have empty spaces?
But I have questions for my father.
What was it like growing up in Brooklyn, having to defend yourself against the anti-Semitic gangs? [He told me that they existed, and I saw from his pictures that he was quite a strong, tough guy, but I don't know his story. I never asked. He never told.]
[He was a volunteer in the Orphan Home of Brooklyn, where he met my mother who was also a volunteer there.] What were you doing there?
What did you think when you saw your wife-to-be for the first time?
Was it an "aha' moment?  [I think of the video with Andy Griffith for the song "Waiting on a Woman" that he and I can sit on a bench in heaven and he will tell me about those years, and courting my mother. Just that my father wouldn't be caught dead in a white suit. Not here. Not there. Neither would I.]
But most of all, I want to know:
How did you have the courage and dignity to live when you knew that you were dying?
[My father was a well read man. He understood his fight with cancer and yet never complained, never kvetched, never railed against the injustice in his life, that he had been just briefly retired before it struck and lived but one more year. He did not speak of it to me or anyone else, and we respected his privacy not to pry, fearing that we might somehow disturb the equilibrium that he maintained. But I want to know:
How did you take each step? [I learned the lessons by watching him that enabled me to be a Rabbi, to stand with others as they fought and crossed over to the other side. Yet he was silent. All his thoughts he kept to himself and I loved him too much to ask. Perhaps I was afraid of the answer. Perhaps I was afraid to make him cry. It wasn't my right. But in heaven, I would like to ask him, I would like to know:
How did you do it?
I need to know before it is too late.
These are my five.
I don't have the foggiest notion if I will meet these five people in heaven, or if I will meet anyone at all. It could just be "lights out." I hope not. I wish to believe, I believe, that I will meet these people. I accept the faith that there is a metaphysical place that is not discernable by test tube and telescope where neshamas exist forever. And I hope that in the right time, may it be far, far away, I will merit to be there too and meet these people and ask them these questions. There is an infinite list that I could have proposed, but I selected these five because they have always captivated me. Just this very speculation on whom to ask and what to ask has been instructive and enlightening. It touches the innermost hidden recesses of my heart, my very being. These are my core questions. They speak to my essence. Though I really want the answers, the questions themselves help me organize my life. At this juncture writing this sermon has help me reflect on the meaning and purpose of the life that I have lived, the family I have created, the service I have done as a Rabbi. Does all this have eternal meaning or is it over when I die?
            What is your essence, hiddenmost, innermost self?
            When you get to heaven, who do you want to meet?
            What key questions do you want to ask them?
            Will the answers make a difference in you?
            Heaven may come,
Will contemplating these questions now make you a better person in this life?
                        I hope so. Composing this sermon made a difference for me.
                        It gave me clarity. It gave me focus. It gave me hope.
In traditional texts of the Yizkor prayer it said that we recited Yizkor for the "Illuyi haNeshama" – for the "illumination of the soul" of the deceased, that it may be ever closer to God, and His radiance. Today I say Yizkor for my father and family members, for members of our congregation who have died. I recite it not only for "illuyi nishmotam," "their illumination," but for mine, for ours. Perhaps in contemplating special people in our lives and their core teachings that are eternal, we will live more wisely, more richly. In reflecting upon theirs, we will be illuminated.
Yizkor Elohim. May God remember. And here, may we. And in heaven, may they. Amen.


Kol Nidrei
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
October 7th, 2011
Some time ago I had decided to write this sermon about God. For many years I have "explored" God with my Confirmation and "Discovering Judaism" classes. In any expression, it is probably the first or second most frequently used word in our liturgy. And in our liturgy, God stands at the centerContrary to our current environment that puts you and me, our wants, desires and creature comforts at the center of concern, Judaism teaches that we are not the centerGod is. Perhaps this night focuses our attention to God as does no other moment. We realize our finiteness, our limitations, our errors. We stand before "something" greater than ourselves. The echoes of the Kol Nidrei chant summon up eternity. They invoke us to stand in God's presence.
In thinking about topics for my sermons, especially with the introduction of Machzor Lev Shalem next year, with these few opportunities remaining to me, I need to speak about God. In every language and in every name, God is most dear to me.
Let me begin with a story that Rabbi Harold Kushner records in the end of his book "Who Needs God."
"In his classic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, Columbian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells of a village where people were afflicted with a strange plague of forgetfulness, a kind ofcontagious amnesia. Starting with the oldest inhabitants and working its way through the population, the plague causes people to forget the names of even the most common everyday objects. One young man, still unaffected, tries to limit the damage by putting labels on everything. "This is a table," "This is a window," "This is a cow; it has to be milked every morning." And at the entrance to the town, on the main road, he puts up two large signs. One reads "The name of our village is Macondo," and the larger one reads "God exists"."
From the first time in my youth that I ever heard the word "God" I always accepted believing in "Him." I don't know why. I couldn't define God. I probably couldn't have explained 'why.' I didn't ask for proof. Nevertheless I believed, I accepted God as "real," that God exists. He wasn't real like the 'things' in my life, the things that I could see and touch, 'show and tell.' There was a different sense of real                          How can I explain this?
God was real to me because he was real to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah from where my Bar Mitzvah haftorah came from. I received this as the belief of my people andaccepted it into my heart. I took my Hebrew School classes seriously. As I increased my reading of the Tanakh, God became more real. If Jewish history was the stage and the Hebrews, Israelites and Jews were the seen actors, then God was a participant too, just unseen. As a young person I didn't ask how did God speak and how did our ancestors hear Him. I acceptedthat there was some form of communication, in both directions, and that God was real. Otherwise, to me, the Jewish journey made no sense.  Abraham and Sarah could have stayed in
Ur. There would be no Judaism, no Christianity and no Islam. Yet the history of being a Jew, the defining characteristic, the journey of the Jewish people, has been predicated on exactly and precisely one fundamentally accepted truth: God exists. God is real.
One of the most frequent questions I am asked is: Who wrote the Bible? There are many approaches to explain the Tanakh. The traditional classical Jewish answer, for the Torah section is: God. And even if modern scholarship can show me how the complicated text came to be, I still need to hear God's voice in, through, above and around its words.
What am I to do with the phrases: "And the Lord said"?  And: "The Lord commanded"? Is it only some inner conscience talking to myself? Is it only an imagination, even if vivid, of my own creation? Is it a crutch for human weakness? Is it all only a metaphor? Or are these words from the highest, invisible realm of reality? Are they eternal? In my teaching I use the metaphor of a seven-layer-cake to illustrate that truths can be co-existent and not necessarily contradictory. No matter what is said about the text of the Torah and Bible, at some level, at some layer of meaning, for me, there must be The external reality that stretches from the furthest beyond and reaches to the reality of the human here and now. There must be God.                                                                                                                                         
There are many sources that influence and exemplify my thinking. In the past year there was a particular presentation of the comic strip "The Family Circus" written by Bil Keane. In it, as one girl is holding a cell phone to her ear and obviously not getting an answer, the other is saying to the other: "I can talk to God wherever I am without a cell phone….and I never get a busy signal." [We could add: "And never have a 'dropped call'!] I saved it for this sermon. That is how I feel when I daven, when I take the siddur or the Machzor in hand. Instead of email and Gmail and tweets, I have an unlimited conversation and I predicate my entire experience on the faith that God hears me, that I have a companion, who doesn't have to say a thing. Praying, tefilah, is not a matter of my head as much as it is a matter of my heart. The girl in the comic intuitively understood the belief in the openness of God, the availability of God, and the nearness of God. Without needing a long excurses, in simplicity, the comic strip articulates the faith that all of us can call upon God simultaneously and He will be there for all of us at the same time. In this sublime innocence, is the faith of God's presence. I need that faith when I pray. I need it when I live. Don't we all? Rabbi Kushner pointed out in his book, with faith in God's existence, we are never alone in the unending universe.
In our Machzor, based on our extensive, classical literature, God is called by many names. The common convention is to use the pronoun "He" and masculine grammar, even as our faith declares that God is incorporeal, has no body, and thus defies the logic of language. Each term has connotations that weave a complex relationship. A selection includes:  Creator - Boray; Guardian – Shomer; King - Melech; Healer – HaRofeh; our Father - Avinu; Master – Adon; Savior – Moshiah; Judge – Shofet; Comforter – Menachem; the First – Rishon; and, the Holy One, Blessed be He – HaKadosh Baruch Hu. We invoke God to be present in our lives. We summon national memory and personal consciousness. Language presents a  true, not virtual, reality.
Here is another way. The last segment of Art Linkletter's TV show "House Party" was called "Kids Say the Darndest Things." In that vein, fifth graders of a Religious School were asked by their teacher to look at TV commercials and see if they could use them in twenty ways to communicate ideas about God. The following selection was shared on the network of the Conservative Rabbinate by my colleague Rabbi Matthew Futterman.
God is like.      Bayer Aspirin.                         He works miracles.
God is like.      A Ford.                                     He's got a better idea.
God is like.      A Coke.                                    He's the real thing.
God is like.      Hallmark Cards.                      He cares enough to send His very best.
God is like.      Tide.                                        He gets the stains out others leave behind.
God is like.      General Electric.                     He brings good things to life.
God is like.      Wal-Mart.                               He has everything.
God is like.      Alka-Seltzer.                            Try Him, you'll like Him.
God is like.      Scotch Tape.                            You can't see Him, but you know He's there.
God is like.      Delta.                                      He's ready when you are.
God is like.      Allstate.                                   You're in good hands with Him.
God is like.      VO-5 Hairspray.                      He holds through all kinds of weather.
God is like.      Dial Soap.                                Aren't you glad you have Him? Don't you wish
                                                                        everybody did?
God is like.      The U.S. Post Office.               Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet nor ice will keep
                                                                        Him  from His appointed destination.
God is like.      Chevrolet.                               The heart beat of America.
God is like.      Maxwell House.                      Good to the very last drop.
God is like.      Bounty.                                    He is the quicker picker upper..Can handle the
                                                                        tough jobs..And He won't fall apart on you.
All these cute quips make manifest a faith in the transcendent yet immanent God. They don't deny the great theological questions of good and evil. They do affirm wonderful answers. They all reflect the faith that God exists; that He loves us; that we matter to Him; that He is responsible for human existence; that we are not alone. In a charming way, they reflect the Psalmist's eloquence "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." We can ask for nothing more.
When I was a child I tried to imagine God. I wanted to understand Him concretely. Once I was lying on the lawn and looked up to the clouds. Captivatingly they looked like human ribs and I imagined that I was inside God's chest cavity. That was cool! Since the clouds stretched to the horizon and I must have been a little speck, I was utterly impressed with God's grandeur, and yet completely overwhelmed with the thought that I could be near God. Later I was to learn that that experience reflected a Talmudic discussion about God:  "Rabbi Halafta wrote: We call God 'Makom,' – Place – but we do not know if God is the place of the world, or the world is the place of God." There is no final answer. Maybe we are just near to each other. Today I get the                                                                              
same feeling from pictures from the Hubble telescope and space probes. The vastness of existence is linked to the God of the Tanakh, to the God to whom I speak with Machzor in hand,
whose words I read when I open the Torah. This is the Psalmists faith, and mine, as he writes: "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
I did not intend for this to be a theological treatise but rather to share with you my personal posture with God for your consideration. It is a simple faith. I know that there are questions for which in this life I will never have answers. I am okay with that. Not everything needs to be answered. Eternity can wait. These beliefs comfort me and sustain me. They echo through the millennium from prophets and sages. They enable me to accept the sorrows in life along with the joys, for as I turn to God, here in the Sanctuary, in my home or backyard, I feel God is near, my friend and comforter, encourager and supporter, and teacher. He does not stop bad things from happening, but gives me the strength and sustenance to face them. He reveals the magnificence of all creation and humbles me to be alive. I cannot "prove" God. I cannot go "puff" and make Him appear as a slight of hand or magic trick.  Sometimes I wish that I could.
And yet I am unshakably certain of Him and His love.  I could not live life without God. That faith informs my life, as an answer to Him for its gift. Believing in God evokes my response, through mitzvot, through tefilah - prayer, through righteous living. It guides me to seek the synagogue as a community of faith, who act in faith, who join souls together in faith to God.
In the naivety and innocence of the child-within-us-all, I hear the still small voice that Elijah heard in the pages of Talmud and Tanakh, siddur and Machzor, and in our voices raised in prayer.
So like in the story with which I opened this sermon, let me label things before I forget:
            This is a talit.
            This is a kippah.
            This is a Machzor.
            This is Temple Beth-El.
                                                            God exists.
G'mar Chatimah Tovah.
Shanah Tovah Tikatayvu V'Taychataymu.
The following was not included in the sermon delivered in synagogue on Kol Nidrei but attached to the electronic edition as a postscript.
There is a great website that I encourage you visit:
The Interview With God Poem
I dreamed I had an interview with God. 

"So you would like to interview me?" God asked.

"If you have the time" I said. 

God smiled. "My time is eternity."
"What questions do you have in mind for me?"

"What surprises you most about humankind?"

God answered...
"That they get bored with childhood,
they rush to grow up, and then 
long to be children again."

"That they lose their health to make money...
and then lose their money to restore their health."

"That by thinking anxiously about the future, 
they forget the present, 
such that they live in neither 
the present nor the future."

"That they live as if they will never die, 
and die as though they had never lived."

God's hand took mine
and we were silent for a while.

And then I asked...
"As a parent, what are some of life's lessons 
you want your children to learn?"

"To learn they cannot make anyone 
love them. All they can do 
is let themselves be loved."

"To learn that it is not good 
to compare themselves to others."

"To learn to forgive
by practicing forgiveness."

"To learn that it only takes a few seconds 
to open profound wounds in those they love, 
and it can take many years to heal them." 

"To learn that a rich person 
is not one who has the most,
but is one who needs the least."

"To learn that there are people 
who love them dearly, 
but simply have not yet learned 
how to express or show their feelings."

"To learn that two people can 
look at the same thing 
and see it differently."

"To learn that it is not enough that they 
forgive one another, but they must also forgive themselves."

"Thank you for your time," I said humbly. 

"Is there anything else 
you would like your children to know?"

God smiled and said, 
"Just know that I am here... always." 

-author unknown

Daily Prayer in a Minyan, Chevrah Kaddishah, Machzor Lev Shalem

Daily Prayer in a Minyan, Chevrah Kaddishah, Machzor Lev Shalem
Rosh HaShanah Day 1, 5772
September 29, 2011
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
I am taking this unique opportunity to deliver this sermon to both parts of our congregation who assemble this Yom Tov in the Social Hall and Main Sanctuary. There are three subjects that are vital for the entire congregation and instead of relying on electronic media to share these messages, I am doing so in person. I stress their importance and elicit your response. In the heightened spiritual aura of this holy day I hope that these words which reflect the innermost feelings of my heart will be similarly received by yours. As I am bringing my pulpit rabbinate to a close I scan the shelves that hold the hard copies of my all sermons and realize, that with nary a repetition, with my best efforts, I have been pouring out my soul and Judaism, specifically Conservative Judaism, to the congregations I have served as their Rabbi.  I guess that every Rabbi hopes and prays that it makes a difference in people's lives and that of their communities. I do too. The three subjects of this morning follow in that tradition: daily prayer particularly in the community setting of a minyan; chevrah kaddishah who perform the rituals of taharah – purification for our dead; and, a new Machzor for next Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, whose name is "Lev Shalem," translated alternatively, "A Full Heart," "A Complete Heart." Each is worthy of a separate sermon, but I will share my thoughts in the most concise manner. I speak from my heart.
 Daily Prayer in a Minyan
 While a Jewish identity is very complex, Judaism is really simple.
Judaism is a faith that sees the world refracted through a distinct belief in God.
Jews are those who bear that faith.
The Jewish people was called into being, or willed ourselves into existence in order to propagate a very distinct faith, different from all others. That was true in antiquity. It is true today. Whatever brings you/us to the synagogue on any day, on every day, on this day, this is a place that proclaims and bears witness to the faith of Judaism.
One core belief in that matrix is: we owe gratitude to God for our lives. Not only on Rosh HaShanah. Every day, we say "Thank you" to God:
that we are alive, despite aches, pains, ailments, heartache and grief;
that we live on the only blue marble in the galaxies and shouldn't ruin it;
that we have rules and laws that guide us to moral and ethical living;
that He, or if you prefer, She, loves us even in an earthquake and hurricane; and,
that He gave to Israel alone His special gift of Torah.
Instead of doom and gloom, of onus, pressure and duress, the faith of Judaism bestows upon us the gifts of wonderaweamazementblessings and love, to accompany the caffeine and calories to begin each day of our lives. We do that in tefilah, prayer, to God. Each day. Every day. In and through tefilah we proclaim, we renew, we live the faith. Not sometimes. Not just today, tomorrow and Yom Kippur. Every day of the year. Every Shabbat. Every day of our lives. That is the privilege of being a Jew with Judaism as our faith.
A second core value in the matrix is: we live the faith as a community. The synagogue is a buildingWe are a congregationWe are a community. We seek, find, and pray to Godtogether. We celebrate our religious history and life-cycle rituals together. We care for each other together. We mourn together. We pray together. The word that expresses communityin this context is minyan.
The best translation for minyan is quorum, the minimum community. Reflecting an ancient tradition, the required number is ten. Reflecting our Conservative Judaism, both men and women over the age of thirteen are entitled to be included in that number. It is a honor to be counted. Regardless or not if you had the celebration, every Jewish man and woman is by dint of age a Bar and Bat Mitzvah for life. With privilege also comes obligation.
            If we are truly a congregation, then we owe something to each other.
            If we are a synagogue congregation, then we owe something to our faith.
            If we are Jews, then we owe something to God.
                        We pray on Yom Tov. We pray on Shabbat. We pray on weekdays.
                        We pray to God.
We pray together.
Now I will tell you that I love the porch of our home where I belong to a congregation of three: me, myself and I. All three agree on everything all the time. And I don't have to announce pages. But nothing can replace the companionship, the friendship, the inspiration of a minyan, of a congregation in tefilah, on Shabbat and on weekdays.
I am sorry that I have heard my whole lifetime the negativity surrounding daily prayer, "the minyan." Wherever it is held and whenever it meets, you/we will have to go out of our way. It will take time "out" of our day. It will delay dinner or require an earlier alarm clock setting. But:
            There is nothing negative. It is only glorious.
            There is no inconvenience. There is only beneficence.
            Instead of loneliness there is togetherness.
            In times of sorrow, there is love.
            Instead of being downcast, we are uplifted.
            When those whom we love die, we are joined by those who share the journey.
                        After our personal journey is over we continue to come to minyan to be there for others.
                        While we say Kaddish for the dead, the saying of it is for us. That is its power.
How beautiful it is to pray each day.
How magnificent it is having caring shoulders.
How beautiful it is to share Shabbat together.
It doesn't take time out of my day. It puts life into it. It puts God into it.
Temple Beth-El has had a long tradition of daily prayer, tefilah, and maintaining a quorum, the minyan. As generations have come and gone, that tradition has faltered. We have even truncated the schedule. I share these words to illuminate a treasure that has been hidden and awaiting you in the Okun Chapel Monday and Thursday mornings and Monday through Thursday afternoons, and at the religious school on Sunday mornings. I elicit your positive response to attend the daily minyan, and to join us in shul on Shabbat, not because you have to, not because you are forced to, not because of yahrzeit, not only when we are in mourning (when we should anyway),:        because you need it.
Because we need each other.
Because we need a sense of religious community.
Because we need companionship, friendship, love, and strength.
Because we need God. Together. In minyan. On Shabbat. On weekdays. All our lives.
Chevrah Kaddishah
The Chevrah Kaddishah is that anonymous group of men and women who perform the rituals of rechitzah, washing, taharah, purifying, and halbashah, dressing our dead in tachrichim, in shrounds and placing the met/metah, the deceased in the aron, in the casket. There is no greater mitzvah in Judaism. The dead cannot repay the chesed, the loving kindness done to them. It is one of the most difficult mitzvot to perform. There is no doubt. I participated for the first time this summer, when my schedule allowed me to join the men's chevrah. I know that I will be joining them in the future. It was an awe inspiring experience. It was humbling. It was illuminating. I am grateful that the men included me. I saw with my own eyes the love that will be shown to me as I transition from this world to the next, may that day be far. far away.
This summer I read a book entitled: Dignity Beyond Death, The Jewish Preparation for Burial by Rochel Berman. I want to share just a few touching quotations.
"When death comes, when the technology is turned off and the technicians can do no more, what remains is a sense of incompleteness – a need for spiritual closure. It is uplifting to know that at this venerable moment we are able to perform this final act of lovingkindness." Pg.29.
"What it taught me is that this ritual has multi-dimensional power. It even allows us to think better of the living. It has underscored my feeling that taharah brings out the best in those who are privileged to do it." Pg. 66.
"If we did it wrong, we would have left the dead impure; we would have failed to repair death's spiritual damage. We would have failed in our roles as religious emissaries of the community and of God." Pg. 68
"In the process of the taharah, I felt as if we had managed to wash away the suffering and to provide some comfort for his soul. When he was dressed in the shrouds and placed in the casket, a great sense of relief settled over me. Now, at last, he was at peace." Pg.78.
"I feel that I have been blessed with the ability to do this mitzvah. Some people have beautiful voices and others play musical instruments. I feel that being able to perform taharah is a gift from God." Pg. 93.
"…there will emerge a new generation of young people who view death as a function of life. They will be proud to be part of a people that believes that, "In death no less than in life,solitariness is replaced by solidarity." They will learn that the collective response of the Chevrah Kaddishah to a death brings dignity to the deceased and simultaneously strengthens the caring community." Pg. 186.
Since I began this appeal years ago, many women and men responded to this summons. I am humbled by them. I really wish that I could recognize them by name, but they profess their desire for anonymity and in my love for them, I honor their request.
For whatever reasons, more women have responded than men. So this appeal is a stronger, louder clarion call for men to respond, even as the women's chevrah certainly desires and welcomes more members. I especially appeal for men to join me with those who already serve so devotedly. There is a community of the living that serves the community of the dead.Even as we give our souls to God, we give our bodies into the loving hands of the Chevrah Kaddishah. I am the conduit for men and women interested in joining the Chevrah Kaddishah. You may contact me at any time. May God bless the living as they show infinite love to our dead.
Machzor Lev Shalem
I grew up with the Machzor edited by Rabbi Morris Silverman which became the standard edition in Conservative synagogues. The opening page was a meditation he composed entitled: "The Old Prayer Book." Through its words I felt a splendid rootedness and sense of God's presence and purpose for my prayers. Its language inspired me to feel God's majesty and in reflection, my humble humanity and finite mortality. It led me to pour out my soul to Him on these days. I didn't need to understand every Hebrew word or its translation.  Though it took me years to comprehend its content, I took that Machzor in my hands with trembling. It was my doorway to God. I have used many Machzorim since. When I came here I inherited Mahzor Hadash. None every impacted me the way my first Machzor did.
Ten years ago the Rabbinical Assembly began the task to produce a new edition of the Machzor that would speak to us both with its authenticity and with modernity. The Rabbis of the editorial board recognized the need to explain more than just to translate, the need to supplement with meditations and readings in order to stimulate our hearts and heads. Stressing the beauty of congregational participation in the Hebrew yet with many unable to read, they added transliterations of key passages. To capture our eye, they designed a new page layout. Toenrich the Machzor they drew upon Sephardic poetry to supplement our well-known Ashkenazic repertoire. To enable everyone to participate in the synagogue ritual there are concise and yet unobtrusive instructions. As much as Machzor Lev Shalem is a new edition, as I held it in my hands, I felt our glorious antiquity and exquisite faith.  I took several days this summer to read every page, and imagine that I was sitting here with this volume in hand. I was inspired. I was stirred. As our children would say: "It was awesome."
A year ago I proposed to the Ritual Committee that we replace the Machzor Hadash with Machzor Lev Shalem as it addressed our spiritual needs in a vastly superior way. It has already been adopted by a growing number of congregations, and has received excellent reviews. The committee earnestly investigated and reviewed this proposal. It recommended it to the Board of Governors which ratified the decision. Next Rosh Hashanah we will welcome Machzor Lev Shalem as our Machzor. I am thrilled at the opportunity to introduce it next year. In that case the Ritual Committee has authorized that after Yom Kippur you may take home a copy of Machzor Hadash to keep in your personal library.
Yet a book is only a cover holding together a bunch of pages. The invisible yet necessary ingredient is your soul. This book is like the portal of the worm-hole to God, no matter how you conceive of Him, Her – just don't say "it." This Machzor needs our activepersonalneshamahdick engagement that only each one of us can bring. We must bring ourselves to the book,readywilling and desirous of its words to touch our hearts and open up our souls to God. We will use this new Machzor differently. There will be more times of silence to allow each of us to peruse, ponder, and pray. We will pause to read the commentary on the right margin. We will pause to reflect on the meditations on its left. My preparation this year for next excites me. Next year will be a grand experiment, even as it will have so much that is familiar and echoes brilliantly in our ears. But when all is said and done, it will need each of us.
I have been as concise as I could while tackling three significant subjects: enlisting your response to attend the daily minyan and Shabbat services; join the Chevra Kaddishah; and, introduce Machzor Lev Shalem. It was a challenge to keep it this short. Yet I have fulfilled my personal mandate to pour out my soul to you honestly and earnestly. The title I bear and the place where I stand echoes in my heart the voices of the ages and of our glorious and incomparable faith. As I began so I end, I hope that these words make a difference in your lives and in our community.
I close with a Meditation from Machzor Lev Shalem:
In Your great kindness, aid us Adonai our God to embrace this Rosh HaShanah with love and overwhelming joy, as a gift from You. Through the celebration of this sacred Rosh HaShanah may we attain a full and true faith. Help us to gather together the sparks of holiness within ourselves, as we join with all the people Israel congregating from their individual homes and joining together on these holy days of Rosh HaShanah to bless Your sacred name.
L'Shanah Tovah Tikatayvu v'Taychataymu.
May we be written and inscribed for a happy, healthy and blessed new year.