Monday, October 24, 2016

A column to my colleagues about missing Yom Kippur

I published this blog at the CCAR website last week. I thought you might want to read it.
Your insights and reactions are appreciated.

Thoughts about Yom Kippur and Yizkor for a Congregation who did not have Yom Kippur this year.

A great teacher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said; “In reverence suffering, and humility we discover our existence and find the bridge that leads from existence to God.”
It appears that our community has had the opportunity over the last two weeks to experience a dose of all these characteristics. We have been preoccupied whether it was with our own situation or with someone else’s condition that we care about. Did we take some time to contemplate what existence means and how our survival creates a bridge to gratitude and thanksgiving to the Source of Life itself? 

Yet there is another bridge we walk over this morning. It is a bridge towards memory of our loved ones who have passed away this year and in years gone by.Many over the last week  missed not reciting Yizkor for this Yom Kippur.  There are certain prayers and musical settings of the liturgy from the High Holy Days services that become the defining moments in which we all resonate with and look forward to reciting and hearing.For those of us who could not attend Yom Kippur somewhere else surely we missed not hearing the Kol Nidrei, Avinu Malkeinu, Yizkor, the confessions of transgressions and other cherished music and prayers.

That time has since passed and we are on our way to rebuilding our homes and even our spiritual selves. Because this is the time for Sukkoth, we already bid farewell to Yom Kippur. Yet, the tradition allows us a fortuitous opportunity to recover something we lost a week ago. The end of Sukkoth allows to hold a yizkor service on the 8th day. In fact we sponsor Yizkor services not only on the 8th day of Sukkoth but also on the 8th day of Passover and the 2nd day of Shavuot. Jewish law and custom prescribe  the observance of the eighth day in Sukkoth as a Yom Tov in the Diaspora and as an occasion to hold a Yizkor Memorial service. 

Now that we are, for the most part , returned to our homes we may also return to the memory of our loved ones. We are this morning combining the feeling of  Yom kippur yizkor and grafting it onto the Yizkor we traditionally recite at the end of Sukkot. It is our hope to replenish our memories with the loved ones whose names would have been recited from our Yizkor on Yom Kippur itself. We are pleased to provide you with the Yizkor book.

The end of Sukkoth, unlike the Day of Atonement, concludes a holy and joyous harvest festival. Now we call to mind our precious loved ones and invoke their memories within the community. We remember our beloved parents and relatives including our spouses, siblings, children, grandchildren, and cherished friends. We intone the memories of our mentors, teachers and national leaders. Let us not forget those who gave their lives serving and defending the United States of America and the martyrs of our people who over the many centuries gave their lives for kiddush hashem,the sanctification of the Divine Name.

In the book of Proverbs we read, “ner adonai, nishmat adam. The spirit within is the lamp of God Eternal” (Proverbs 20:2). We need that light to guide us over the bridge towards the past, towards the memories of loved ones we come to honor today. These memories have been patiently waiting for us to cross over the bridge and greet them, touch them with our prayers,  see them with the light of a broken heart or a wistful mind hearing their voices or feeling their hands upon us. With Yizkor can we draw the connection between our existence to our memories and tie them together with the spirit of the Eternal One?

I conclude with this prayer from our new Mahzor Mishkan HaNefesh
At birth, a miracle:
You light the spark in every human soul.

Emerging into light, we breathe it in-
the n’shamah, Your sacred gift of life.

And every day, every breath
comes to us as a miracle.

The light within us-unique and precious,
is  with us always, while we live.

when breath has ceased and life has gone;
the n’shamah returns to You.

And the spark that lived inside the ones we love,
unique and precious, beautiful and good,
is theirs no more.

Their light is ours; their radiance now turns in us
the eternal flame of memory.

So we light candles, to keep our love alive,
to bring their light into the world,

A light unique and precious,
ours to treasure, while we live;

A ner timid that lights our days
and gives us strength to journey through the nights.

Dear friends we journey today over the bridge of memory to capture what is still ours.
Hold onto these memories and do not forget them. Cherish them and the light of their memories will warm us in our days and our nights.


New Blog Post Rabbi Bloom: Hurricane Mathew and what we can do about it.

Hi Everyone.
Here is my most recent newspaper column on  Hurricane Mathew and its impact upon Hilton Head.
Take a read and tell me what you think?
All the best

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Reflections On Hurricane Mathew: Part One

When one is forced to abandon one’s home due to a hurricane or a natural disaster, it feels strange to walk around another community trying to be normal, engage in normal looking activities like eating in a restaurant, or engaging in normal pleasant conversation when seeing other evacuees from one’s congregation or community. It is almost surreal to inhabit the world of another town and all along one is thinking about what is going on in our community. What is happening to our house or the congregational facility we cherish? Congregational rabbis get geared up for being available to our congregants in their time of need especially if there is an unusual event. Yet, a hurricane? When did that come into pastoral care class at HUC-JIR?

For me this Yom Kippur was unusual to put it mildly. As a result of Hurricane Mathew, we in Hilton Head, SC had to leave our homes behind and find alternative accommodations in a short period of time. My congregants spread out throughout the region from Charlotte to Atlanta. Our family traveled first to Aiken and then settled down in Augusta, Ga. At first I happily ran into our congregant friends in Aiken but when we settled into the larger city of Augusta we felt we were on our own.
We kept in touch with congregants through social media. At first it was nice to see many pictures of folks enjoying themselves and touring the places they visited. We did that too. Yet, as Mathew rolled into the low country and Hilton Head, I started realize that all our plans and anticipation for Yom Kippur were going up like dust in the wind during a Israeli Humsin-desert wind storm. Yes I was concerned about our house and our congregants and I received many calls, emails and texts from congregants who were contending with all sorts of issues. I was grateful to receive calls from local and regional colleagues assuring us that there would be room for my congregants at their Yom Kippur services. I spoke to some colleagues who had experience with Hurricane Sandy and other colleagues who were dealing with Hurricane Mathew as well. 

 The truth is that throughout the weekend I was not ready to admit that we would not be in Hilton Head for YK. First I contacted our colleague Rabbi Shia at Children of Israel in Augusta for Shabbat Services. We had a great experience and were welcomed by him and the congregation. Even then I felt we would be able to return home. Saturday night we had dinner with our colleague Rachel Bregman and a few evacuees from Savannah. I started to feel optimistic again. The Hurricane, I wrongly believed, would veer off to the Atlantic and we would have a light brush of intense wind and rain and that would be the end of it. Not so. Man makes plans and God laughs, the Yiddish adage goes.

By Monday I could see that reports were that the hurricane would run over Hilton Head with a vengeance. Oh how it did. Rabbi Shia invited us to services and his president had us and some of our leadership over her house for dinner before Kol Nidrei. Shia invited me to sit on the bimah with him and deliver a few remarks. This was the first time I had not been on a bima as officiant for YK since I was ordained in 1984. I sat there for Kol Nidrei and spoke to the congregation. Shia provided me with an extra kittel and talit. He was the most gracious colleague one could ask for in this difficult time. A group of my congregants who evacuated to Augusta showed up and I felt that familiar surge of joy and happiness. I left with a good feeling even though I missed doing my thing as I would always do on YK. Sure, I missed all the congregants I have come to know and love. There was an emptiness in my heart,even though I was relieved no injuries had been reported and that was the most important thing. I received pictures of the trees falling down on my house with what appeared to be minor damage. The Temple was in good shape. I prayed to God on Kol Nidrei to give me the strength to keep my cool, my sense of humor and to keep my optimism.

Yom Kippur morning was a different story. A group of 200 folks from an independent living center in my community, Tide Pointe, were taken to a hotel in downtown Augusta. We have about 10 or so Jewish seniors there and so after meeting with them we decided to have a service for them. I  then called and spoke to our colleague Dan Medwin at CCAR and he gave me a brief tutorial to hold a live streaming service where anyone in the temple could download or call in and participate in the service. What a cool way for all our congregants who were not able to attend services to join us and be part of the virtual community! Admittedly I am a bit behind the times on the use of this kind of technology, yet, what we will do for our congregants when the need is arises!

Wednesday morning: Got up and showered. We went over to the Ramada Inn to conduct a small service. I saw the folks all ready to go. i promised them that I would give them an abbreviated service from shacharit to Neilah in one hour. We did it. These seniors were grateful and appreciative. We had a nice conversation during the services. We talked about their feelings at being dislocated and how they were treated at the hotel. They spoke about the times they were living in and expressed real concern that their grandchildren were vulnerable to the kinds of political instability and economic chaos over the last six years they have witnessed and what they remembered from the Depression days. I could see in their eyes the outrage when we broached the subject of the elections. Just guess about that one.

I have to say that I enjoyed doing the service for them. Yes it was a real mitzvah and I know it was holy work. I felt good about it. Yet, it was with mixed emotions when I thought about what I would normally be doing. Again these are not normal times. Something told me that I needed them more than they needed me.
This was not a normal Yom Kippur. The next thing I knew I was driving back to Aiken to pick up emmi since the vet hospital closed midday. I was in the vet office watching emmi much improved but still weak. We returned to Augusta and let emmi rest with Dia. Yom Kippur diminished in my soul when I found myself driving midday to Kroger’s and Lowes to get the materials for food and shelter stuff before our return to Hilton Head on Thursday. Truly by 5:30pm I was still fasting and exhausted. One last push and we returned to Children of Israel in Augusta to finish Neilah. There we were  sitting in the back row. Very weird for me to sit there instead of being on the bimah. The rabbi did a fine job and with joy and celebration and the congregation dancing in the sanctuary we ended the service and went to into the social hall for a break the fast meal.

The folks in this congregation were fantastic and I think we made some new friends. Many of them own property and have condos in Hilton Head. I hope they will come worship with us when they return. Some of me mourned  not being on my bimah for the holy days. It was admittedly hard to get that loss out of my system. Yet maybe there were new lessons and I shall deliberate on them before writing further.  I’m concerned like everyone else about my own house and the trees on them or on the ground. My mother always says, “This too shall pass.”
We will also see how emmi fares in the next week or so. God be with her either way it plays out in her health. Dr. Jay Jones was a great vet for us and his staff at the Ark vet hospital went above and beyond.
 I am anxious to deal with the house issues and get the process of removal and clean up underway. I want to be there for my congregants and help them in any way I can. I want to be on my bimah to show that life goes on and we as a community will rebuild brick and mortar and our spirits too. This is what I do. This is how I feel. The truth is that I felt highs and lows helping my congregants this time and I know that the long term effects of this hurricane are yet to be felt. We as a community, not just at Beth Yam, but in the entire Hilton Head need hope and healing.

More to come

Sunday, October 9, 2016

New Blog Post from Rabbi Bloom: Hurricane Mathew and forgiveness for Yom Kippur
Here is my recent newspaper column. I hope it brings some perspective for this year's Yom Kippur.
I wish all my congregants who are scattered around the region as a result of Hurricane Mathew. May it be God's will that return shortly to our homes and community to rebuild and heal. Hope is always on our side. Forgiveness is even more important now than ever be3fore.
G'mar Hatimah Tova

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Welcoming our New Student Cantor: The blessing and challenges of the Cantor

Tonight I depart from the Torah portion in order to focus on the arrival of our new Student Cantor Daniel Geigerman. Daniel, like his predecessor Nancy Dubin, is on his journey beginning his studies at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Daniel completed his first year of study in Jerusalem along with Rabbinic and Education students. It feels like an appropriate opportunity to remind ourselves not only about the history of cantors in Judaism but also the challenges for today’s cantors in the progressive movement.

Let’s begin with a little bit of Jewish history. First, the hebrew term for the cantor is hazan. Some may call the cantor shillalah tzibor meaning the representative of the community in prayer to god. Up until modern times there was no ordination of cantors. The code of Jewish law (Orach Hayyim 53), edited in the 16th century, set out some criterion for someone to be called hazan or cantor. The cantor should be without sin,  He should be modest. He should have a pleasant voice. He should be at least 13 years old.

It is important to understand that Judaism has a great tradition going back to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem of instrumental music and choirs. As I mentioned at the start of the service, the Levites provided the music including great choirs. Yet all of that changed when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70CE. At that point musical instruments were forbidden in synagogue worship as a symbol of national mourning. This applies  to this very day in Orthodox services on Shabbat or the Yom Tovim. The Levitical choir was gone. So in order to preserve the ancient melodies and chants the role of the cantor became more prominent and important.

The sages knew that since all that was left were prayers it was critical to have the shalichah tzibor be able to reach the congregants with music even without instruments. In addition Judaism had a tradition of piyyutim or poems that also required singing as well. The cantors were the only ones left to preserve this literature with their singing and chanting to touch the souls of synagogue worshippers.

The cantors then led the way in developing cantillations for chanting the Torah, responsive singing of the psalms, and the rest of the liturgy.Back then as today, the Cantor not only simply sang these melodies, but, they interpreted them and adapted music from secular music in the regions they lived for their congregations. We call that body of chanted traditional music nusach.
As we approach the centuries leading up to the modern era, Jewish composers arose and composed music that integrated the traditional music with  new compositions for the synagogue liturgy.

It was not until the 19th century that we see, with the rise of Reform and Conservative Judaism, a much greater emphasis on composed synagogue music and cantors who were trained by secular and Jewish experts in liturgy. These synagogues instituted major changes in the synagogue service including an organ and a shabbat choir in which the Cantor worked with to beautify the services with hebrew and the vernacular. This was unheard of until recent times.

Composers like Lewandowski in those days provided the template for reform cantors to this very day. By the time we are well into the 20th century we have full time cantors sharing the duties with the rabbis in terms of education in the religious school. I remember in my home congregation years ago the cantor was the director of the religious school. That was not an uncommon model for cantors during this time period.

In the latter part of the 20th century as the music trends continued to change and synagogue music adapted to the times, the seminaries began to admit women into the cantorial programs first in the Reform movement and then later on in the Conservative seminary. We moved away from the traditional nusach music and blended the classical composers of earlier generations with contemporary composers and  folk music introducing the guitar.  Today the reform movement requires every student to exhibit proficiency in playing guitar.

In earlier times we listened to the cantor and expected to sit down and simply listen to an operatic voice that would engulf the entire congregation. Yet, that trend changed too from listening to participation. Engagement has now become the credo of today’s cantors because congregations want their cantors not just to mesmerize them with the beauty of their voices but to engage their worshippers to sing along with them. That stylistic change marks a major development in today’s liturgical scene.

We all know of the trend of bringing music composed at the URJ Camps into our liturgical music portfolio. This is how someone like Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory, became such a major influence on progressive Judaism and conservative Judaism as well. So today’s cantor has to balance between preserving the traditional chanting, the classic composed music and the more informal and participatory folk style music in the synagogue. It is not an easy task.

Cantors also have expanded not only their repertoire of music but also their duties in the Temple. They are working side by side with rabbis providing pastoral care as well as special music concerts and programs. They teach classes and work with b’nai mitzvah students, both adults and children. There is much more that cantors do in the life of the synagogue.
Cantors are just as aware of the issue of time for their music as are rabbis with their sermons. The code of law says that if the cantor lengthens the service because it is from his sincere desire to bring the congregation closer to god then it is acceptable. If it is so only so that the congregation should simply hear his beautiful voice then it is a transgression.
In his article The Vocation of the Cantor Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “The cantor who faces  the holiness in the Ark rather then the curiosity of a worshipper will realize that her or his audience is God. The cantor will realize that his task is not entertain but to represent the people Israel.  He will be carried away into moments in which he will forget the world, even at times ignore the congregation and be overcome by the awareness of God whose presence he stands.  The cantor will hear and sense that the Cantor is not giving a recital but worshipping God, that to pray does not mean to listen to a singer but to identify oneself with what is being proclaimed in their name.”

It is, therefore, an engagement of mind and body that begins with the cantor’s spirit in music and causes us to sing with the Cantor with all our emotions and spirit. That is the challenge for the cantor and the blessing for us if we attune our hearts and souls to his.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The pilgrims and the Indians: A paradigm for peaceful coexistence? What is the real story?

Here is part two of my series on the Pilgrims. All I can say is that the stories we heard growing up about the pilgrims and the Indians does not resemble the facts as primary documents and history written about these groups has reported in the annals of research and history writing. Take a read and tell me what you think?
Rabbi Brad Bloom