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September 15, 2017

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, SEPTEMBER 15, 2017 PAGE 5.~ .i By Joshua Ratner (Rabbis Without Borders via JTA)--Fear and trembling make a triumphant return to the Jewish calendar with the month of Elul and the initia- tion of the holiday countdown that leads to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As a rabbini- cal colleague wrote, Elul itself carries spiritual significance as a time to begin soul- searching and stock-taking of our individual behaviors over the past year. Elul carries with it a par- ticular sense of urgency, if not dread, for those officiating at High Holidays services. Sum- mer vacation is now officially over. The lists of details for the myriad services that will take place--who is leading each reading, getting each aliyah, opening or closing the ark--can be truly staggering. Searches begin in earnest for those pithy anecdotes or fascinating studies of human nature thatwere clipped from newspapers or dog-eared in books we have been reading over the past year. Rabbis in smaller shuls now must coordinate with guest cantors, synagogue choirs or brush up on their own chanting abilities. And, of course, there is the coup de gras--the High Holidays sermons. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that for those looking for a new house of worship, "Americans look first and foremost for a place where they like the preaching and the tone set by the congrega- tion's leaders." At 83 percent, the quality of the sermon was the single highest factor in determining Americans' choice of congregation. So the pressure many rabbis feel, myself included, to craft and deliver sermons of high quality is tremendous. But if I am honest with myself, the sermon actually is the easy part of transmitting meaning and content on the High Holidays. It is conveyed in the vernacular and crafted to connect, deeply and person- ally, with those in attendance. What is truly hard, and what really fills me with fear, is how to make the rest of the services resonate. There are (at least) three fundamental challenges posed by the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) services. (I will speak specifically about Conservative Jewish services because those are the ones I am most familiar with.) First is the sheer volume of Hebrew used during services. From Maariv on Rosh Hashanah Eve through Neilah on Yom Kippur, worshippers con- front a relentless onslaught of Hebrew poetry and prose. While there are opportunities to inject English readings or inspirational messages ("kavanot'), these are usually the exception rather than the rule. Why do we inundate our- selves with so much Hebrew? Because the machzor, the English translations, or chant our way through the Hebrew as fast as we can so we can finish the service on time. Since rabbis and ritual committees tend to decide on the content of the services, and simultaneously tend to be the most conservative when it comes to modifying prayer Another major component of the High Holidays liturgy is the use of fiturgical po- etry ("piyyutim") that were comprised by skilled poets 1,000 or more years ago. prayerbook we use for the High Holidays, simply has a ton of content and we know that must synagogue-goers only have a limited time span during which they will sit in the pews. This leaves two op- tions: cut out some Hebrew and replace it with more content, we wind up with a very Hebrew-centric service. To make matters worse, the Hebrew is often from medieval sources and differs in content from the Hebrew some may be used to from Shabbat or daily worship. This makes it even harder to follow. Finally, when we do slow down for more melodic chant- ing, it often is done by a cantor or other prayer leader in a tune that is so stylized that it is difficult to join. The second major challenge of our High Holidays services stems from the content of the liturgy. The key themes are repeated again and again to the point that it can be challenging to feel personal resonance the fifth time I decry my sins or proclaim God's sovereignty. The liturgy is intentionally redundant to hammer home key themes (created at a time when liturgy was recited orally, not written down), but this redundancy raises the moral hazard of emotional boredom. Another major component of the High Holidays liturgy is the use of liturgical poetry ("piyyutim') that were com- prised by skilled poets 1,000 or more years ago. Their poetry is subtle and relies upon an encyclopedic knowledge of biblical references and con- nections that are incredibly challenging for modern audi- ences to unpack. With these raw ingredients, it is easy to see how the final prayer product often comes out dry and flavorless. Perhaps the largest impedi- ment to meaningful services, though, lies in the gulf be- tween life experience and contemporary sensibilities on the one hand and traditional rabbinic theology on the other. I am sure there are some who embrace the liturgical themes of the High Holidays, especially the metaphor of God as King sitting in judg- ment on a heavenly throne. But for the many others who reject this outlook, how can they derive meaning from the High Holidays while reciting a liturgy predicated on this very outlook? If we adhere to different metaphors of God and differ- ent theologies about our rela- tionship with God, are we left with a choice between cogni- tive dissonance or awholesale rejection of the liturgy we have used for hundreds of years? Conversely, if we preserve the traditional liturgy, are we doing anything more than enabling a superficial and shallow spiritual experience? Or, as I oncewrote, dowe in- tentionally seek out boredom to serve as a protective barrier during the High Holidays, so that we don't have to get introspective? I'm not sure how to resolve these questions, but I intend to spend much of Elul trying to do so. Rabbi Joshua Ratner is the rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Cheshire, Connecticut. can we By Alana Suskin (Rabbis Without Borders viaJTA)--The month of Elul is the season of repentance and forgiveness that culminates with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. In the rabbinic imagina- tion, Elul is an acronym for "Ani L'Dodi V'dodi Li"--"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." This verse from Song of Songs is un- derstood in regards to this season as reminding us that when we reach out to God, God in love takes us back. This culminates in the holiday of Sukkot, in which the fragile hut with the open roof symbolizes the marital home and the trust in its ability to withstand the winds and the rains in the grace of God's love. But what happens when it doesn't? It's not a terribly uncom- mon story these days to hear of a husband or wife who decides that the stability of marriage isn't as exciting as a new infatuation. Some people are so addicted to those feelings that they pursue them time and again, through multiple marriages, and nonstop en- tanglements and drama. We like to think of love as thatwhich cures all, the cause of all happy endings, but for too many people, love ends in betrayal and brokeness. Even God, throughout the Torah, suffers from these feelings--it is not for nothing that the metaphor most commonly used for Israel turning away from God is the deepest, most heartrending one of the mar- riage betrayed. What about when love doesn't carry the day? It is well known that Jewish law states that for wrongs between people, God does not forgive until forgiveness is asked and received by the people involved. And in theory, no one wants to be that person who can't let go, who refuses the request for forgiveness. But is it really possible, or even right to forgive everything? The word "elul," when one adds the letter yud at the end, becomes "eluli"--"ifonly, if it weren't for." In the rabbinic imagination, the letters that make up God's name become an extension of God, so that adding a yud to elul is sym- bolically pouring G od into the month of Elul. If it only weren't that, we might say, then I could forgive. Our society loves the prodigal. Social media are filled with inspirational memes about forgiveness--that we should forgive, that it will help us, if not the person who wronged us. But I'm not entirely sure. Forgiveness doesn't necessar- ily mean the cleaning of the slate, but it certainly implies that what was done can be repaired, or at least moved on from--but what if it can't? This season is replete with people sending each other messages of trivial apology and forgiveness--"If I have done you wrong, please for- give me " "Of course!" But perhaps some years we should live in our sin for a while. Maybe it would be worthwhile to spend longer saying "If only I hadn't " or insisting that some wrongs cannot just be glossed over. There is much discussion these days of micro-aggres- sions and triggers. "Brush it off!" comes the choir. "Grow up!" "Grow a thicker skin!" But perhaps what we re- ally need is a thinner skin, and more attention to the small things that do harm, and instead of brushing off, maybe we should grab them and wave them around a bit. Maybe those tiny barbs are actually the building blocks for larger wrongs, the way that they hook on to those with less power. Maybe the wronged spouse shouldn't be so ready to forget and move on, and maybe we shouldn't ask them to. Maybe eluli really means"If I only could hold on a minute more, maybe next time things will be different." Maybe when we say that"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine," we should think of love as an as- pect of eternity, that what we do and say doesn't disappear, for good or for bad, but lives on in us, and we shouldn't be so ready to let it go. Rabbi Alana Suskin re- ceived her rabbinic ordination andmaster's degree in rabbin- ic studies from the University ofJudaism's Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. Liberty Counsel staff The Southern Poverty Law Center admitted its fault and removed a town from its "Hate Map" this week. That map irresponsibly mixes religious organizations with violent hate groups, and this time it included the town of Amana because an unknown source alleged some people who might have been associ- ated with The Daily Stormer met one time in a restaurant for coffee. This is one of many inaccuracies and gross over- characterizations that can be found on SPLC's map. Amana, an innocent town, was then blacklisted by the SPLC. People living there were brought under a cloud a suspicion because of the improper, sweeping accusa- tion of the SPLC. The SPLC makes wide generalizations and then seeks to harm those within its self-proclaimed classification of others. In a similar manner, the SPLC targets anyone who disagrees with them on issues related to the LGBT agenda. Then it claims civil disagreement as "evidence" for falsely classify- ing a peaceful organization as "hateful." To do so is just as wrong and even more harmful than the SPLC's mischaracterization of the city of Amana. Liberty Counsel has complied a comprehensive answer to SPLC's false name-calling of its non- profit Christian ministry and its pro bono work in the legal field. The SPLC continually grossly misrepresents and labels Liberty Counsel as a so-called "hate group." However, Liberty Counsel is not a "hate group" and hates no one. In addition to its many ministries, Liberty Counsel has a humanitarian relief program and had been providing help to victims of Hurricane Harvey, regard- less of their beliefs, status, background or actions. In direct opposition to the SPLC's false campaign, Liberty Counsel believes in reaching out with kindness and truth to all Americans. "As a pastor before becom- ing an attorney, my heart then and now is for hurting people," said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. "Liberty Counsel exists to help other people. Right now, we are focusing resources on helpingvictims of Harvey. We believe that every person is created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. We are putting those beliefs into ac- tion in Texas. This is hardly the action of a hate group! If the SPLC were intellectually honest, it should re-title its 'Hate Map' into 'Groups We Hate Map,'" said Staver. In 2016, the Disciplinary Counsel in the Office of the General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, under President Obama, sharply re- buked and reprimanded attor- neys for employing the SPLC's "hate group" label to dismiss a conservative advocacy group. It stated that using the SPLC's map "overstepped the bounds of zealous advocacy and was unprofessional." It continued that such behavior is"uncivil' and "constitutes frivolous behavior and does not aid the administration of justice."