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February 15, 2013

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PAGE 20A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 15, 2013 Blowing 1,000 shofars in hopes of finding a mate Ben Sales/JTA A boy blowing a shofar at the ceremony at the grave of Rab" Fonatan ben Uziel in a forest near Safed, Jan. 27. By Ben Sales AMUKAH, Israel (JTA)-- They walked up a tree-lined path through stony hills to a square, white building--men in black hats, beards and frock coats; in T-shirts and jeans; in sweaters, slacks and velvet kippahs. They came by the hun- dreds---19-year-olds looking for a match, 40-year-aids los- ing hope that they would ever find one, boys of 15 praying for the unmarried. They had come for a special ceremony: They would blow 1,000 shofars, encircle the building seven times and re- cite penitential prayers led by a master of Jewish mysticism. They would scream and they would sing. They had come to harness the power of a dead rabbi, Yonatan ben Uziel, a man they believed would intercede on their behalf in heaven, grant- ingany Jew a match within the year--as long as they prayed at his tomb or paid a fee. "This is the bringing- together of all the strengths in the world," said Meir Levy, a 40-year-old bachelor who had come to join the prayer service on Jan. 27. "This is a very holy place." A man in a light blue robe, red velvet hat and paisley sash approached the building's courtyard. Volunteers distrib- uted standard-issue shofars to anyone who thought he could blow. The cardboard boxes full of rams' horns emptied as the men stood at the ready, waiting for the robed man-- the kabbalah master Rabbi Yechiel Abuchatzeira--to begin the prayers. "The Abuchatzeira family is a family with many miracles," said Eliyahu Hazan, 32, as he waited for the rabbi. "Their reputation speaks for itself. Everyone who goes to them gets results." Holding a microphone against his white beard, Abu- chatzeira chanted, "Prayer, Ben Sales/JTA Rabbi Yechiel Abuchatzeira, master of Jewish mysticism, leading the ceremony at the grave of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel in a forest near Safed, Jan. 27. repentance and charity push away the harsh decree!" and waited as the hundreds of men repeated the words taken from the High Holy Days liturgy. The scion of a family of famous Moroccan kabbalists, Abuchatzeira is the head of the Salvation in the Depths Foundation, which runs a ye- shiva located in nearby Safed. The ceremony helps raise money for the yeshiva, and a man who answered the phone there recently explained the pricing structure: $36 per month for 18 months to have prayers recited at the tomb on someone's behalf. Some of the students there wake up daily at 4 a.m. to study Torah in Yonatan ben Uziel's merit. Every Friday afternoon, they walk up the barely paved road through the forest to Amukah to welcome Shabbat with a service at the rabbi's tomb. In return, they hope, he will intercede with God. But the ceremony on this Sunday afternoon was no ordinary service. It was, in the words of a website dedi- cated to the event, a"rare and unique" occasion in which the kabbalah masters would perform an "extraordinary corrective measure [to open] all the seven spiritual gates that block your luck and en- able you to find your soul mate and get married THIS YEAR!" "Answer us, shield of Da- vid," sang Abuchatzeira into the microphone, using a phrase usually reserved for the penitential prayers re- cited in the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur. "Answer us, He who answers at a time of mercy. Answer us, God of the chariot. Answer us, Yonatan ben Uziel." The men holding the sho- fars repeated every line, following the rabbi as he walked in a circle through the tomb. Together they chanted the 13 attributes of God's mercy. Then, on command, they raised their shofars Ben Sales/JTA Men blowing shofars to help the unmarried find matches at the ceremony at the grave of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel in By Chavie Lieber NEW YORK (JTA)--After years of watching synagogue members die or move away, the Sephardic Jewish Center of Canarsie made the difficult decision to downsize. The 50-year-old Brook- lyn synagogue had been a thriving center for the areas Sephardim. But after accepting that it could no longer pull together enough money to cover expenses, let alone muster the 10 men necessary for daily prayer, the synagogue disposed of most of its belongings and began holding Shabbat services in a nearby Ashkenazi congre- gation. But what was the center to do with its prayer books? It owned several hundred volumes in the Spanish- Portuguese liturgical style-- some tattered, some like new and some belonging to older members that may have had significant worth. "We donated some to a local shul, but we had to get rid of a lot of them and bury them," Rabbi Myron Rakow- itz told JTA. "It was difficult because we didn't just want to throw them out or claim them unusable. We want other people to use them, to give them purpose when we no longer can." What to do with the old books--it's a growing prob- a forest near Safed, Jan. 27. and blew. It was a dissonant sound, the noise of hundreds of untrained shofar blowers. Some blew in staccato, others held the final note until they lost their breath. To the side, young boys in black hats, bused in from Safed, smirked at the proceedings. They repeated the cer- emony six more times, then moved on to prayers specifi- cally directed toward finding a match. These prayers of the "brokenhearted" asked for "a sensible match able to give birth," for a "woman of valor, fearing God, possessing intelligence, with good values and good deeds." Following the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish, the ceremony ended. "It's not that you under- stand what's happening, but it's the fact that you're par- ticipating, that you're ready to take part and do the right thing," said Andre Levy, an anthropologist at Ben-Gurion University and an expert on Synagogues across the country swimming in old prayer ,00ooks Adam Jones/Creative Commons Synagogues thatupgrade to newer editions of prayer books often have to bury the old ones. machzors. But finding a new home for all the leftover books, some of them decades old, can be difficult. "Our machzorim we're looking to get rid of now are usable, but they are from the 1940s version," said Rabbi Philip Scheim of Beth Da- vid B'nai Israel Beth Am in Toronto, which is planning to upgrade to the new Lev Shalem machzor this year. "The English translation is incredibly hard for people to get through." For most synagogues, if the books don't eventually find a home, to the ground they go. Some buy pricey lots in a Jewish cemetery; others bury them near their synagogue. Sometimes a gravedigger is hired to do the work. "It's really a shame if we have to end up burying our books. They'd be of good use, but we just can't find anyone to take them in," said Marjie Cogan of Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle, which has been trying unsuccess- fully for years to unload 700 old machzors. "It's a huge problem for us because we don't have the means to store them." That's not true of Beth Am, a Conservative synagogue in Baltimore. The synagogue's rabbi, Daniel Burg, says there is space to temporarily store 1,200 books that are no longer used by the congrega- tion. Burg hesitates to bury the books because he feels it would be wasteful. "On the one hand, we don't want to destroy God's name or have it fade by the books just sitting there," Burg said. "But on the other hand, there's a concept of ba'al tashchit, of not wanting to just waste things. And it's difficult to just get rid of things that could still have use." Daniel Freedlander, the vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, says his movement is confronting the problem of book disposal for at least the third time: first in 1975, when Gates of Prayer replaced the old Union Prayer Book; in 1990, when a new gender-neutral version was released; and again with Mishkan T'Filah. in writing new prayers and liturgy, and it's going to get worse when the new machzor comes out," said Rabbi Elaine Zecher of Boston, who is lead- ing a committee working on the new Reform movement prayer book. "But our solu- tion to bury them shouldn't be looked at negatively. This is an intentional disposal, not a mindless disposal." Some synagogues have sought alternatives to the burial option. Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego takes its old books and those of several nearby congrega- tions, and mails them to Jewish Prisoner Services International in Seattle. Con- gregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif., sent their old prayer books to Hillel chap- ters throughout the state two years ago when it bought new iem for synagogues across the United States. In the last six years, the three major American Jewish denominations have released new prayer books. More than 1,500 synagogues have pur- chased the books, in some cases making older versions obsolete. More than 700 congrega- tions have bought copies of the Reform movement's new Mishkan T'Filah, and hun- dreds more are expected to buy. The Conservative move- ment's new High Holy Days prayer book, the Lev Shalem Mahzor, has sold nearly 260,000 copies to some 500 congregations since its 2010 release. And over 200,000 copies of the Koren siddur released in 2009 have been purchased by more than 300 Orthodox synagogues. The problem isn't going away. The Reform movement is working on a new High Holy Days prayer book, or machzor, that it expects to release in 2015. According to Jewish tradi- tion, prayer books are holy and cannot just be thrown out. Traditionally, they must be placed in a geniza, a reposi- tory for holy books awaiting burial. It's the only religiously acceptable way to dispose of them. "This problem is just rampant because now is the greatest time for creativity the tradition of praying at the graves of the righteous. "In this model, you're not supposed to understand. Your participation will make everything be accepted." Cryptic ceremonies like these are especially appropri- ate at the graves of rabbis, Levy said, because the souls of the rabbis help transmit the worshipers' requests to God. "In Judaism and Islam, there's no mediator between you and God," he said. "You are totally exposed to God, which is a difficult thought, and you need a go-between. People find solutions in the character of a righteous person." Levy said that despite their financial gain, rabbis like Abuchatzeira generally have genuine faith in their reli- gious acts. But for singles like Hazan, there is added reason to believe. "I want to build a home in Israel," Hazan said. "There's nothing to lose." "No weeks pass by without us being contacted by people looking to get rid of their old Jewish books," Freelander said. "A good majority of them get donated, but we've come to terms that many will get buried, and the ceremony can actually be educational for kids. Those books can't just sit in your attic forever." At Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, the congregation gathers each year before Passover to collectively dis- pose of unused books. A communal prayer is recited, as is the Mourner's Kaddish, and there's a moment of reflection. "We gather together at the synagogue where members. bring tattered prayer books i and other sacred books that can no longer be used," Rabbi Debra Robbins said in an email. "We developed a creative liturgical ceremony for families and members of all ages to participate in together, and we have a spe- cial grave site labeled sifre kodesh," or holy books. Zecher noted that Jews have been burying books for centuries to make room for new ones, and the practice will continue to grow as the religion continues to evolve. "It might seem waste- ful," Zecher said, "but like everything we do, it's with intention."