This week is all about Kosher Vegans, Tu B’Shvat and a big OneShul announcement!
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This week is all about Kosher Vegans, Tu B’Shvat and a big OneShul announcement!
Also, subscribe on iTunes!
As my voice rises with that of the cantor, I tell myself my enthusiasm more than makes up for my staggering lack of singing ability. Shul is the only public place where I will bust out song with abandon, disregarding the sidelong glances thrown my way. I am unabashedly loud, and also happiest, when worshipping through song.
In this week’s parshah, the righteous Miriam famously gathers the Hebrew women in song and dance to celebrate escape from the Egyptians. “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:20-21). The late Debbie Friedman rendered this moment in her own track. “Miriam’s Song” is on regular rotation during the “Rock Shabbat” services staged by my local Reform Temple, a favorite of both adults and children.
Most of the music in which we engage during services, however, is prayer. It is praise, it is gratitude, and it is supplication. Whether Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Humanist, Orthodox or Renewal, the prayers are largely the same. Shalom Rav, Hashkiveinu, Lecha Dodi, and V’Shamru are familiar standards, though they may be delivered somewhat differently by each movement in our collective tradition. No High Holiday service is complete without Avinu Malkeinu and any Passover Seder would surely fall flat without the inclusion of Dayenu. Communication with the divine encompasses innumerable languages, including music. Its power does not reside in literal, linear understanding, but rather its ability to foster a certain feeling within and around us. I know I am not the only Jew who can sing a perfect Yismechu without being able to translate what any of those beautiful words actually mean.
In addition to Miriam getting her groove on with her sisters, Parshah Beshalach also includes a lyric poem that gives us the Mi Chamocha prayer of our modern day services. I have participated in slow, sonorous versions, as well as riotously joyful renditions and have felt the tones fill me with awe, deep appreciation and peace. Our tradition tells us that it is this song the Israelites sang after emerging safe from the Sea of Reeds. It begins with the somewhat rhetorical question, “Who is like you, Oh God, among the gods who are worshipped?”
Music is contextual in my life. What I listen to in the gym is quite different than what I put on when making dinner which is certainly not the same as my getting-ready-for-work playlist or the road trip compilations capable of fueling hours of driving. For spiritual purposes, I prefer our Hebrew prayers. Some I find comforting, others electrifying. All rouse within me a sense of connection to something greater than myself. For me, they also feel like home.
This is not true of all Jews, certainly. I know many for whom these prayers are simply something to sit through as we wait for the Mourner’s Kaddish to signal the end. Those I sit beside in Shul are often much quieter, participating by phrases, and sometimes taking the opportunity to whisper to their neighbor. This is ok. It can feel inherently meaningless to worship in a language other than our own, no matter its holy status. We may feel self-conscious exercising our vocals in front of strangers or friends. Perhaps it’s altogether just uncomfortable. Some find divine connection through the sermon or the oneg. Others, in simply donning a kippah or tallit. And others still, in skipping services entirely and enjoying a Friday night cocktail with a friend. All means of connection are valid and one is not inherently better than another.
Our Torah reminds us that celebration, song and dance are inherently human behaviors. They may be individual but are more often communal – connecting us to one another as we connect with God. Today, we need not limit ourselves to the songs of the siddur. Holiness may be found in the music outside of synagogues and summer camps, as well. Certainly, Jews continue to make positive contributions to all areas of music. Maybe the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” can prove a compelling anthem for the story of the Maccabees. Perhaps we can hear “Raise Your Glass” by Pink and be reminded of Miriam and other outspoken women in our tradition. Personally, I can’t listen to Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” without thinking of our ancestors wandering the desert for 40 very long years.
We are fortunate to be Jews. We live within a tradition that continues to evolve through our sometimes intentional, but often unconscious, contributions. Our Jewish identities are not simply one small compartment of who we are, but a glorious container encompassing the totality of our lives. We breathe, we eat, we listen to music. When performed by Jews, these actions are inherently Jewish. It’s a beautiful phenomenon. The next time you update your Spotify playlist, take a moment to think of it in a Jewish context. What of our vast tradition does listening to your go-to Pandora station evoke? Test the possibility of connecting with God through Grooveshark. Who are you when you hear your favorite song? All music is potential connection and a reflection of our very personal Jewish journeys. Music is language, it is prayer, and it is life.
Even Higher: A Rosh Hashanah Story adapted by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Jill Weber is a wonderful story to read aloud to children about a Rabbi who is thought to go “even higher” just before Rosh Hashanah.
Every year just before Rosh Hashanah Rabbi Nemirov disappears. He’s not at home, or in the synagogue or in the village of Nemirov. The villages believe he’s gone to heaven to beg G-d for forgiveness of their souls. But is this where Rabbi Nemirov really goes?
A skeptical, but pious man-a Litvak comes to town and tells the villages they are wrong in their thinking. He uses the writings of ten Rabbis to back up his conclusion. However days before Rosh Hashanah the Litvak follows Rabbi Nemirov and what he finds makes him believe and declare that Rabbi Nemirov might go “even higher.”
What makes something a custom? Why do we do the things we do? Over time, as things change are we to change too or do we hold fast to the past?
The book When the Chickens Went on Strike: a Rosh Hashanah Tale adapted from a story by Sholom Aleichem by Erica Silverman and illustrated by Matthew Trueman asks and deals with these very questions in a manner accessible to children.
This story takes place in a Russian-Jewish village, many years ago so many in fact that most if not all of us were never around to witness to take part in Karpores (the Jewish tradition of holding a clucking chicken above the head of a person and saying a prayer to rid the person of his or her bad deeds. The little boy in this tale wants to behave very badly to make his papa proud, but he also wants to make his sister, who, I have to point out has to sit in the women’s section of the Shul, laugh. The boy’s father tells him to go outside because he causes such a disturbance. Outside the boy sees the chickens clucking. “Strike! Strike!” the chickens declare.
At first the boy is taken aback because he too, like the other villagers, believes in Karpores. He’s afraid there is no other way to get rid of his “bad deeds.” But perhaps there is after all as the story tells us: “Customs come and customs go.”
Tashlich is another Jewish custom of Rosh Hashanah, but unlike the custom of Karpores, Tashlick is still practiced by some Jewish people today. Tashlich is a Jewish custom of going to a body of water during Rosh Hashanah and tossing pieces of bread, which symbolize mistakes of the past year, into the water.
Tashlich at Turtle Rock by Susan Schnur and Anna Schur-Fishman and illustrated by Alex Steele-Morgan is a great way to look at or start your own family or friend customs or traditions during Rosh Hashanah.
Annie, Lincoln along with their mom and dad are off to do Tashlich. This year Annie is in charge of coming up with the family’s route. Annie chooses to stop at Turtle Rock first and to have the family write one good thing from the past year on the rock with the rock. After the family does this, dad washes their words away with water. Next they stop at Billy Goat’s Bridge and toss a piece of nature that represents something they want to throw away or ‘cast off’ from the past year. Annie chooses to stop at Gypsy Landing thirdly where each member of the family makes a promise for the New Year. Finally the family walks together to Old Log where they enjoy some yummy apples and honey.
So what are your families and friends traditions leading up to Rosh Hashanah and during the High Holidays?
Reviews are by Tamara Levine, who works in a children’s library and is active in our online community at OneShul.org.
Several years ago, a few of us here at PunkTorah bounced around the idea of a video siddur. Jeremiah, aka @circlepitbimah, was one of them.
The idea is pretty simple: a series of YouTube videos that played each portion of a siddur. Instead of opening a book, you would pop a DVD in (or go to a YouTube channel) and start your davvening. You could skip the parts you don’t do by pressing the forward button, in the same way you might flip over a few pages.
This is already somewhat possible through the power of YouTube playlists. While sitting next to my friend and colleague Don Kramer, I combed through the Shabbat service, picking videos and dropping them into the playlist below. Feel free to suggest better/different videos, as I did this in about 15 minutes.
The big questions are:
Or, if its all too much, just make your own playlists and post them below! We’re happy to share them.
Written by Rabbi Patrick
Miriam is a badass. Elder sister to both Moses and Aaron, she emerges in our Torah as a respected community leader and is defined by our tradition as a prophet. Limited details in the Torah portray Miriam as action-oriented and outspoken. And where her story falls silent, midrash howls speculation.
In parshah B’haalotkha, Miriam confronts Moses, objecting to his marriage with a “Cushite woman.” Aaron provides backup, but Miriam does the talking. Exactly who the Cushite woman is or why the marriage is problematic remains a mystery. Our sages brainstormed at length and offer a variety of interpretations. Rashi argues the Cushite woman is Tzipporah, named earlier as Moses’ wife from his time in Midian. He suggests that the dispute between Miriam, Aaron and Moses arose from Moses’ separation from Tzipporah. Rashi’s grandson, the Rashbam, provides a different explanation culled from midrash. The Cushite woman married Moses while he was King of Cush, prior to his time in Midian. The marriage with the woman from Cush had never been consummated, and Miriam simply finds the woman unsuitable for her brother.
Regardless of the specific circumstances, Miriam and Aaron defend their position by reminding Moses that they, too, are messengers of the divine. “They said, ‘has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” (Numbers 12:2).
Moses does not respond, ostensibly because of his monumental humility. But, do you really need to fight back when you have the most powerful heavy in the world? “The Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, ‘Aaron and Miriam!’ The two of them came forward and He said, ‘Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses; he is trusted throughout my household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!’ Still incensed with them, the Lord departed. As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales!” (Numbers 12:4 -10).
As punishment for her sin of slander, Miriam is afflicted with a skin disease and exiled from the community for seven days. Aaron escapes punishment, presumably because his sister was the ringleader. Notably, the entire community awaits Miriam’s return before continuing their journey.
Across the pages of my JPS Tanakh, Miriam’s frustration is palpable. As the oldest sibling and only girl, she’s had a hand in raising her brothers. Indeed, it was Miriam who devised a plan to save Moses and orchestrated an encounter ensuring their mother remained close to him while raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. A midrash tells the story of the divorce of Miriam’s parents and her point-counterpoint debate with her father that fostered reconciliation. It was Miriam who rocked her timbrel and organized the Israelite women. Miriam’s voice was strong and carried considerable weight. So respected was she that the entire community refused to depart without her.
I like to think of Miriam as the original Riot Grrrl. Exiled from her community, she might spend the week venting her indignation through visual art and composing monologues on the true costs of patriarchy. Perhaps, she would practice persuasive speeches in support of gender equity and tear apart her clothes to create new, hip fashion statements. From what I read in the Torah and midrash, I suspect Miriam would find some resonance with Kathleen Hanna’s words, “…I don’t know if being nice is my legacy.” At the least, the Bikini Kill command, “girls to the front,” would surely have made her smile.
Akiva Yael is an enthusiastic participant in all that is holy, including Torah study, powerlifting, and the beauty of our world.