We hope you had an enjoyable and relaxing summer. It’s hard to believe that we are already gearing up for the High Holidays and another packed and exciting year here at Shearith Israel.
As we reconvene in these coming days and weeks, we want to share with you a few important changes in our ritual life that you will notice when you come to shul. Our first core value in our new vision statement is that we are a caring community—one that is inclusive, warm, and welcoming to members and guests. We believe that each of these changes will help ensure that each soul who walks into our building, and participates in the life of our community, can see themselves represented in our rituals and liturgy. We also believe that these new initiatives will make our services more accessible and inviting, building and strengthening connections between each of us and our tradition and between us and our fellow congregants.
- First, starting with this weekend’s Back to Shul Shabbat, and during all of our Shabbat, holiday, and weekday services going forward, we will be adding the names of the matriarchs—Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah–in the beginning of the Amidah and in other appropriate places reflected in our new Siddur Lev Shalem. We studied this issue with the Ritual Committee earlier this year and the committee overwhelmingly supported making this liturgical change. We are tremendously proud of the women in our community and we are excited to see their forebears take their rightful place alongside the patriarchs in our prayers.
- Second, we have purchased additional tallitot (prayer shawls) in different colors and patterns. These tallitot will be available in the coming weeks, and we hope this will help all of our congregants, women and men, feel more comfortable with the beautiful mitzvah of wrapping themselves in the warm embrace of the mitzvot.
- Third, we have already begun finding more opportunities for participation for non-Jewish parents and family members during our lifecycle events. For example, during generational Torah passing rituals at B’nei Mitzvah, non-Jewish parents or grandparents are invited to stand on the bimah with the rest of their family and narrate the passing of the Torah through the different generations of the family. They speak directly to their child or grandchild during this ritual, thus affirming their role in bringing this child to the Torah, pride in his or her accomplishments, and support for their Jewish journey.
- Fourth, shortly we will begin live-streaming our services on our website. This was another issue we recently discussed with the Ritual Committee and for which there was strong support. Our hope is that this will allow those who are homebound or recovering from illness to feel more connected to our community on Shabbat and holidays. We have purchased new high-definition cameras for this purpose and are partnering with a streaming service to provide this new point of access to those in need and those who might not otherwise be able to join us physically in shul.
- Finally, last year we introduced Siddur Lev Shalem to our Shabbat and holiday services. These beautiful new prayerbooks have both more explanations and alternative readings, as well as extensive transliterations of Hebrew prayers into English characters. All three of those features, which foster greater participation and engagement in our worship experiences, have been well received. Thanks to a generous gift from the Topletz family, we have purchased for our congregation Mahzor Lev Shalem, the Rabbinical Assembly’s mazhor developed in the same style, which will make its debut at this year’s High Holiday services. We are so grateful to the Topletz family for helping us to elevate and strengthen our prayers this High Holiday season and for many years to come.
Our doors are always open if you would like to discuss any of these changes with us. We know that new traditions often create some discomfort, but we believe that, in time, these steps will allow us to move forward in our effort to build a vibrant community, united in our values and in our commitment to Jewish life and to serving God. We look forward to sharing this journey with you!
Rabbi Ari Sunshine
Rabbi Adam Roffman
Rabbi Shira Wallach
Hazzan Itzhak Zhrebker