Rabbi Gold's Blog

Shabbat Voices

"I regard the old Jewish siddur as the most important single Jewish book—a more personal expression, a closer record, of Jewish sufferings, Jewish needs, Jewish hopes and aspirations, than the Bible itself. For one thing the Bible is too grand and universal to be exclusively Jewish (as Shakespeare is not the typical Englishman), and for another, whatever is quintessentially needed for daily use has been squeezed out of it into the prayerbook and so made our daily own.

And if you want to know what Judaism is—the question which has no answer if debated on the plane of intellectual argument—you can find it by absorbing that book. The Jewish soul is mirrored there as nowhere else, mirrored or rather embodied there: the individual’s soul in his private sorrows, and the people’s soul in its historic burdens, its heroic passion and suffering, its unfaltering faith, through the ages." — Dr. Henry Slonimsky, Essays, 1967

I’ve reflected on Dr. Slonimsky’s words, above, many times over the years. The siddur – the Jewish prayerbook—is indeed all of those things, and much more as well. It is also the calling-card of a community; a statement of a congregation’s identity and sense of aesthetics.

Just as a siddur is no ordinary book, Shir Tikva is no ordinary Jewish community. When I first stepped foot in our sanctuary, I was struck by the black binders from which our community davvened. There, I thought, is the do-it-yourself ethos of this community written on its sleeve! An amalgam of tradition and modernity, put together in a format that gave us the flexibility to tweak and revise the text, which we’ve done every year and a half or so. I loved the informality and that DIY attitude, even if some people considered them schlocky.

However, their time has come and gone. It is with great excitement this month that we debut the latest siddur to serve the Shir Tikva community, and officially retire those black binders. Our Ritual Committee has called it Kolot Shabbat, “Voices of Shabbat,” and it will serve as our prayerbook for Friday night Simchat Shabbat services and for our Shabbat morning Bar/Bat Mitzvah service (that is, our “Late Shacharit Service.”) (Our 8:30 Shabbat morning services – our “Early Shacharit Service” – continues to use the beautiful V’Ha-eir Eineinu prayerbooks that our Ritual Committee put together two years ago.)

Why didn’t we simply buy Mishkan Tefillah, the official liturgy of the Reform Jewish movement of North America? We considered it seriously; MT is a beautiful siddur. But in the end, our Ritual Committee wanted to spend their time studying Jewish prayer and crafting a beautiful book that is distinctly Shir Tikva’s, with all its unique quirkiness and its personal imprimatur.

I see this book as the next natural step in the evolution of soulful liturgy at Temple Shir Tikva. Someday—G-d willing, in the not-too-distant-future—I envision a complete Siddur Shir Tikva, that will also incorporate weekday prayers, home liturgies (such as the Shabbat table service, prayers for hanging a mezuzah, and the like), and prayers for special occasions that occur in our everyday lives. And I envision that book on the home bookshelves of every member of our Jewish sacred community.

Kolot Shabbat is the result of a lot of hard work on behalf of many people: the professional and office team at the Temple, the Ritual Committee, members who have contributed creative prayers and poetry, volunteers who contributed their artistic skills to its beautiful design, and certainly the wonderful family who underwrote the expense of the whole project as an amazing gift to our community.

It is my deepest desire that Kolot Shabbat serves as a conduit to open the souls of our Shabbat worshippers, by being open, inclusive, accessible, and delightful (just like Temple Shir Tikva itself). May it free the wings of our soul to soar. And may it draw us closer to G-d, the Source of Being. Come join us this week and every Shabbat to experience the beauty of our Shabbat community.

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