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From Rabbi David - What to Expect of our Online Rosh Hashanah Services

09/17/2020 07:40:47 PM


Dear Friends,

Given that this year’s High Holidays will not be like any other we have experienced, I wanted to write an overview of our online services as well as the thinking behind them.  My hope is that this letter will help you in a few ways: to guide you to the sections of the service that speak to you given our limited capacity for attention on screens; to help make the online experience more meaningful by altering you to some of its hidden features; and to help you figure out for which portions you will engage with the community and which you will reserve for your own personal practice.

In general, Felicia and I followed a few principles when planning the service: shortening the service where possible while keeping core elements; emphasizing live, spontaneous moments while pre-recording more passive experiences; centering the experience of the shofar on Day 2; finding opportunities to bring in the voice of our community into prayers for healing. 

With all that in mind, here is an outline of the two days of Rosh Hashanah:

1. Early Morning Meditation    This will be an opportunity for quiet reflection, drawing on some of the opening prayers, Psalms, and melodies of the day.  In place of some of the traditional Psalms, we will invite people to participate in more quiet niggunim and periods of silent meditation, framed by the rousing morning blessings and the melodies that frame the mood of the day.  


2. Singing Shacharit    The goal here is to provide a rich but streamlined morning prayer experience to heighten the spontaneity made possible by singing.  We will have the core elements - the Sh’ma, the Amidah, and the blessings that surround them.  But much as we do now on Shabbat, we will mostly skip over extended sections in which people pray to themselves.  On Rosh Hashanah, we will also forgo a full silent Amidah in place of a  “Heikha Kedusha,” in which we invite people to chant the Amidah with some of its piyyutim (poems) and singable portions with us.  While there is no Avinu Malkenu on the first day because of Shabbat, it returns with a roar on the second at the end of this section.


3. Two options for Torah service   In place of a full Torah service, we will offer a couple of choices.  One is an interactive study with me on the confounding, haunting, and yet grand Torah readings for each day.  My hope is that the opportunity to have some Torah conversation will be a highlight for people much as it has been on Shabbat.

At the same time, we will provide a link to a pre-recorded chanting of the Torah portion from the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) as well as the Haftarah.  This way, you may participate in one or both - participate in the Torah study and then hear the Torah and Haftarah chanted whenever you would like, or listen to Torah and Haftarah at the point in the service when we would normally hear them.  The choice is entirely your own.


4.    Prayers for Healing and Sounding the Shofar    As the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, we will sound the Shofar on Sunday, day 2.  While these prayers and songs have been mainstays of our service for years, on this year they take on special resonance.  We saw this as an opportunity to amplify the community voice by inviting people to share their yearnings for healing and their aspirations for the new year, which we will weave throughout these moments of reflection.  These prayers and songs build upon our individual longings to encompass our commitment to creating a more whole community and contributing a sense of healing to the world.  And at that moment, we will sound the Shofar.  When we do, please feel free to sound your own shofar if you have one!


5.  D’var Torah    After much internal debate, I decided to share a d’var Torah in real time on each day of Rosh Hashanah.  While I considered pre-recording the d’var for private viewing, I felt strongly that there is an improvisatory, “in the moment” feel that fuels how I present my ideas.  That being said, I did try to make my divrei Torah shorter than usual, which is always a good thing, but particularly now to accommodate our finite attention spans on screens.


6.  Musaf.  After hearing the Shofar, Musaf is the liturgical highlight of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, featuring the sounding of the Shofar again.  While keeping the central elements of Musaf, we have taken steps to make Musaf considerably shorter.  On both days, it features U’ne Tane Tokef, in which we confront the fragility of our lives and affirm the centrality of Teshuvah (return), Tefilah (prayer) and Tzedakah (acts of generosity and kindness) to bring wholeness to our lives.  On Rosh Hashanah, the middle of Musaf consists of chanting biblical verses related to attributes that the Rabbis of the Talmud ascribed God: Sovereignty(Malchuyot) in all its grandeur, Remembrance (Zichronot) as a manifestation of kindness and justice, and Power (Shofarot) to reveal truth.  At the end of each of these sections we sound the Shofar again.  To shorten Musaf to approximately an hour, we are skipping certain meditative prayers and poems, and we will begin by chanting Musaf out loud in place of an extended time for silent prayer beforehand.


This will be my last email to you before Rosh Hashanah - I want to say what a great privilege it has been to be in touch with you and offer opportunities for our collective reflection over this past month.  It has been a time that has shown me the depth of people’s yearnings for justice, for hope, and for personal and spiritual connection.  Rosh Hashanah will be just the beginning of 5781 - I look forward to continuing to walk with you in the weeks and months ahead.


L’shanah Tovah u’Metukah,


Wishing you a good New Year filled with health, joy and Shalom,


Rabbi Justin David

Mon, December 6 2021 2 Tevet 5782