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Day by Day towards the New Year:
Reflections from Sinai Temple
1 Elul 5771
August 31, 2011

Dear Friends –

I’m writing these words on Monday evening, August 29, after a glorious day. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. There was even a delicious touch of autumn mixed in with the sunshine and blue sky!

Of course, this was only one day after Hurricane Irene swept across the country. It was also the same day floods continued to ravage many parts of the USA.

Here in our tiny part of the world (except for those of us who waited for the electricity to come back on), we were mainly a happy group of people. Elsewhere, as is so often the case from Vermont to Libya to Afghanistan, it was not so easy to savor the sweetness of the day.

That seems to be the human situation.

Some people rejoice while others (continents away or only moments removed from each other) endure pain.

Our challenge is to remember the disconnect and never take what is often our good fortune for granted. Our challenge too is to somehow live with an eye and ear open to the sounds of those in need.

The whole matter makes you think. Makes you think hard about life and all its coincidences, surprises, disappointments, and unexpected blessings.

Which is a perfect introduction for the Jewish month that begins today. We call this month ELUL. It is the month in which we begin the process of “thinking” that prepares us for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

During the coming four weeks, the Cantor and I will be in more frequent contact with you. Our “regular” e-vents with Temple news will arrives on Tuesdays. Our ELUL THOUGTS AND INSIGHTS will arrive on other days.

We’re on a journey. We’re heading into a New Year.

I look forward to preparing and thinking together.


Rabbi Mark Shapiro

Day by Day towards the New Year:
Reflections from Sinai Temple
3 Elul 5771
September 2, 2011

I was very grateful yesterday morning when I opened an e-mail that contained a complaint.

One of our congregants felt that he had not been treated as well as he should have by the Temple. For a number of reasons, he felt Sinai had let him down. Our community hadn’t worked for him.

That was the complaint and I was grateful to receive it.

I was grateful because of our congregant’s honesty. He was upset but, instead of letting his feelings fester, he spoke up. Instead of speaking to others about what had gone wrong, he turned to Sinai and me.

You could say it was courageous for him to send me his complaint.

You could also say it was honest.

And that is why I was thankful that he shared the problem with me. You see, when he told me there was a problem, he actually gave me a gift. He allowed me to respond to him. I spoke with our office yesterday; I reviewed some of our procedures; I discovered where we may have gone wrong and, for that matter, where our congregant may have misunderstood. Then I was able to telephone our congregant. We spoke. We heard each other. There was an apology. And I think both he and I felt better when it was all over.

The key, for me, was the honesty.

Speaking his truth allowed us to clear the air and renew our connection.

It was, in fact, a perfect introduction to this new month of ELUL. For honest communication is one of the themes during Elul and the holidays that start next month. Jewish tradition encourages us to use these days before Rosh Hashanah to look ourselves in the mirror and make changes. Stop a grudge. Hold back on the anger. Speak to someone we may have excluded from our lives. Apologize. Listen more. Be honest with our words, feelings, and actions.

It’s a huge agenda. Probably an agenda for a lifetime – or at least an agenda that becomes more important as this month Elul leads us to the New Year.

Day by Day towards the New Year:
Reflections from Sinai Temple
8 Elul 5771
September 7, 2011

The synagogue where I grew up had only one rabbi from the time I was a child until well into my adult years. He was THE RABBI, and I admired him for all his wisdom, eloquence, and personality.

That’s what made something I learned last week so very special. In talking with someone older than me who had known the rabbi as a peer, I discovered one of the ways in which the rabbi used to welcome Rosh Hashanah. He would, of course, write his sermons (and they were remarkable.) But the High Holidays weren’t the High Holidays without a gift his mother used to give him every year during this pre-New Year month of Elul. He lived in Toronto. She lived in Boston. And every summer she would send him a new white dress shirt for the holidays!

I love it.

A new white dress shirt for a New Year.

And he didn’t buy it. His mother sent the new shirt to him.

Fresh, clean, crisp, a new beginning.

Isn’t that the way it should be? Isn’t the promise of Rosh Hashanah the promise that we can begin again. We can do teshuvah, which means we can get back on track. We can make a “U” turn, as it were, and refocus our lives, refresh our relationships, and revisit our connections to Judaism, our roots, and our faith.

We can be new.

We can be renewed.|

I know the process is seldom that dramatic. But still the hope is there. During the High Holidays and during this Elul month that leads up to the holidays, we can at least dream about a better way for us and our community. We can take stock of the past and lift our eyes towards a different future.

A new dress shirt! Maybe it’s not a bad idea for all of us. I know I bought my new shirt this past weekend. What can each of us do that is new or different or restorative as we anticipate the sound of this year’s shofar?

Day by Day towards the New Year:
Reflections from Sinai Temple
9 Elul 5771
September 8, 2011

From Cantor Levson

I know that we are all painfully aware of the upcoming tenth anniversary of 9/11 that will be observed this Sunday. In 2001, I was serving a Reform congregation in New York State, about an hour northwest of the George Washington Bridge. One of our congregants perished in the towers that morning. That year, Rosh Hashanah morning was celebrated one week after the tragedy. I made the following remarks during services that morning, which I offer (with minor revisions) for your consideration during this month of Elul. May the memories of all the victims of 9/11 be for a blessing.


We are called B’nai Yisrael, the children of Jacob/Israel, the God wrestler. We Jews have a long tradition of wrestling with God, and of wrestling with our sacred texts. Our faith is not an easy one; and it demands that we confront some difficult ideas and theologies.
We now confront a piece of liturgy that is difficult and troubling even in good times. This year, after the events of last week, this text is very problematic. In the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, God is presented as the Divine Judge who determines our fate, and who decides whether we shall live or die in the coming year based on our deeds. On page 108 of the Gates of Repentance, a literal translation of the section of this prayer called B’rosh Hashana is found…

On Rosh Hashana it is written,
on Yom Kippur it is sealed:
How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be;
who shall live and who shall die;
who shall see ripe age and who shall not;
who shall perish by fire and who by water;
who by sword and who by beast;
who by earthquake and who by plague;
who by strangling and who by stoning;
who shall be secure and who shall be driven;
who shall be tranquil and who shall be troubled;
who shall be poor and who shall be rich;
who shall be humbled and who exalted.

Thankfully, we Reform Jews have never been confined to the literal meanings of our texts. While this prayer was originally written to provide comfort to the Jews of its time, it obviously raises difficult and painful images for us on this day. So I would invite you to consider this same section of the machzor in the Yom Kippur service, on page 311, which provides another, more modern interpretation of this medieval text:

On Rosh Hashanah we reflect,
On Yom Kippur we consider:
Who shall live for the sake of others,
Who, dying, shall leave a heritage of life.
Who shall burn with the fires of greed,
Who shall drown in the waters of despair.
Whose hunger shall be for the good,
Who shall thirst for justice and right.
Whose tongue shall be a thrusting sword,
Whose words shall make for peace.
Who shall be plagued by fear of the world,
Who shall strangle for lack of friends.
Who shall rest at the end of day,
Who lie sleepless on a bed of pain.
Who shall go forth in the quest for truth,
Who shall be locked in the prison of self.
Who shall be serene in every storm,
Who shall be troubled by the passing breeze.
Who shall be poor in the midst of their possessions,
Who shall be rich, content with their lot.

Finally, please notice that this section of the service does end on a note of hope: “Repentance, Prayer, and Charity temper judgment’s severe decree.” Our individual acts of goodness, of kindness, and of caring can make a profound difference not only in our lives, but also in the lives of our families, our community, our nation, and the world. We may never understand why terrible things happen in this world, but we can and must continue to try to make this world a better place. As Rabbi Hillel said centuries ago, “In a place where there are no human beings, strive to be human.”

Day by Day towards the New Year:
Reflections from Sinai Temple
15 Elul 5771
September 14, 201

Elul is the month of preparation for the High Holidays. During this special time, we are sharing reflections on the experience of the holidays. Today’s Elul message contains two commentaries from fellow congregants we have shared with you previously. I hope the themes raised here help you get into the spirit of the High Holidays.

Rabbi Shapiro


Everyday crises often seem overwhelming to me.

It is hard for me to see beyond the boundaries of self. After all, I place so much energy into the designs of the day, the week, the year, the decade, and so on. I need to feel in control of my fate (and sometimes the fates of others). The High Holidays, I always hope, will offer me a glimpse at a higher order. I find them humbling. They are terrifying. They are refreshing. And they are arduous.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have always felt bittersweet. A double-edged razor of redemption mixed with reject; festivities amongst the contemplation of one's failures, acceptance of alterations and the desire to maintain what is good. Family and community rejoicing paired with a somber reflection that God's gift of personal freedom is ironic. That with choice is often consequence. But of course, there is no guarantee of fairness. The holidays instill a sense that the Maker's designs are not meant for human comprehension. That the best of plans and the truest of intentions may (or may not) be written into the Book of Life.

With Rosh Hashanah, the world renews and a cycle begins again. We shed tears for things and persons lost. With Yom Kippur comes a time to reflect on accomplishments, atone for misdeeds. With the season's holidays come gatherings of small and large groups. We reconnect and rekindle relationships, often joyfully, but sometimes forcibly.

I approach the High Holidays hoping for a small transcendence-- a momentary glimpse at a larger tapestry, a chance to see beyond my personal boundaries. Somewhere in the services I attend, in the songs which are sung in a language I don't understand, through the hunger of the fast, or the discomfort of clothing worn only for special occasions, that I might feel less like an isolated drop of water and more like a wave-- moved and connected to the earth by forces and patterns incomprehensible to me. Heaving and breaking on the shore; or, never cresting, only to roll momentarily and disappear.

Maybe I might even see beyond all pretentious metaphors entirely...

Tom Brunell

For me, the High Holidays always mean 1. A high likelihood of beautiful weather; 2. A pleasant afternoon meal once we reach closure on the choice of a restaurant; and 3. My wife, Phyllis, struggling to jump into the annual, traditional family photograph taken on the front stairs of our house, using the tempermental automatic function on the camera.

I know there have been rainy days on Rosh Hashanah, but in my memories the weather has been beautiful each year. My wife always told my children that "God makes sure the world is beautiful at the start of each New Year," and my children believed her, at least when they were young. We always would start out with far-ranging restaurant choices but end up dining at the same old places, once we realized that we lived in Springfield, rather than New York or D.C.

My children have gotten bigger, my hair has gotten grayer, and some of our pets have gone to their reward, but after a number of miscues, my beloved Phyllis has taken another fine picture of "America's Favorite Suburban Family," and all remains right with the world, at least for one day.

On a broader level, the High Holidays represent to me an affirmation of our enduring Reform Jewish community. Attendance soars at the services, as we collectively restate that "Yes, we are part of the Sinai Temple Family." We are heartened to see that, however challenged we are, we continue to return to a place of reflection, spirituality and commonality.

We have Life. Moreover, we have Jewish Life, in a world that is both beautiful and bittersweet.

Steve Katz

Day by Day towards the New Year:
Reflections from Sinai Temple
17 Elul 5771
September 16, 2011

Elul is the month of preparation for the High Holidays. During this special time, we are sharing reflections on the experience of the holidays. Today’s Elul message contains two commentaries from fellow congregants we have shared with you previously.

Their comments are preceded by a reminder about another great opportunity for New Year preparation. I hope you will consider joining us for the Coffeehouse/Selichot event described below.

Shabbat Shalom…. Rabbi Shapiro



High Holidays in 140 Characters:

Fall in the air, loved ones gather, Grandma’s brisket and strudel, apples & honey for a sweet New Year, repentance and renewal: Clean Slate.

Loren Hutner

"What do the ideas of repentance and forgiveness mean for me?"

Every year at Yom Kippur I think back to all the ways I failed someone. Either as a parent, friend, daughter, businesswoman, sister, cousin, etc.. None of my failures or wrongs were intentional or meant to be hurtful, but they came about as a result of my weaknesses. Perhaps I was tired or distracted, stressed or impatient and my words and inactions caused emotional harm to others. Words were spoken that should have remained silent. Phone calls or letters were never addressed. I didn't embrace my Judaism, and at times, kept it at arms length. So again this year, I will ask God to forgive these things.

But this Yom Kippur I want to ask God to lighten up a bit and allow me a little slack. I'm no different than any other middle age person living in Western Massachusetts. I work full time and then some, raise a child and worry about my parents and relatives. I juggle schedules, pack 3 days worth of running errands into 2 and try to plan for college tuition and retirement. It is impossible not to feel overwhelmed a few times and to take my frustration out on others either through words or deeds. I always feel badly and know my reaction was unwarranted or misguided but by then, the damage is done. The aftermath of these is painful for me and I'm filled with regret and shame. I work hard to make amends and am very fortunate that those close to me understand "it was just a bad day." I replay the pressures that led up to my actions and wonder how I could have done things differently. I hold on to the hurt I cause and sometimes it overwhelms me.

But this New Year, I'm going to forgive myself for my lapses in judgment and move on. I won't forget the root causes and ask for repentance from the receiving party. But I will also acknowledge that I'm no different from most others and have strengths and weaknesses that move with the rhythm of my life. I trust that God will understand that I do try to the best person I can every day, let me wallow for a bit and then help me move on.

My role is to reach out for strength through prayer and surrender myself to the blessings of family and friends. If I can forgive myself of the sins I've committed, I believe God will do the same.

L'Shana Tova…Amy Cohen

Day by Day towards the New Year:
Reflections from Sinai Temple
23 Elul 5771
September 22, 2011

From Cantor Levson

I am fascinated by the way certain melodies can be given the status “traditional,” even though they are of relatively recent origin. When people tell me how much they love the “traditional” Avinu Malkeynu we sing on the High Holidays, I know they mean the magnificent melody written by Max Janowski in 1950. When someone asks if I can sing the “traditional” Oseh Shalom at a service, I know immediately that they mean the melody written by Israeli composer Nurit Hirsh in 1969. I am sure that in a generation or less, some of the contemporary melodies of Debbie Friedman and Jeff Klepper will be considered “traditional” by much of the Jewish world.

At the conclusion of the Rosh Hashanah’s evening service this year, we will sing Adon Olam to a “new” melody. For most Ashkenazi Jews, the “traditional” melody for Adon Olam is the one written by Eliezer Gerowitch in the 19th century. (My father used to refer to this tune as “the German drinking song.”) Ironically, the “new” melody we will sing on Rosh Hashanah evening is significantly older than the “traditional” one, and comes to us from the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community. The melody is probably about 500 years old! You can hear this melody on our Temple website (along with LOTS of other High Holiday music here).

This coming Wednesday evening, please join with me and the Adult Volunteer Choir as we sing this “new” old melody to conclude our Rosh Hashanah service. My best wishes for a Shana Tova U’mitukah, a Good and Sweet New Year!

Reflections from Sinai Temple
28 Elul 5771
September 27, 2011

"Dear Sinai

We’ve almost arrived at Rosh Hashanah, and I do hope you have enjoyed the e-mails that have arrived during this last month. As Elul now concludes I am excited to offer you a very 21st century way to continue the High Holiday process followed by some reminders. L’shana tova tikateyvu…May you all be written into the Book of Life for a good year. Rabbi Mark Shapiro

For the 21st Century ------

10Q: Reflect. React. Renew.
Life's Biggest Questions. Answered By You.
10 Days. 10 Questions

Answer one question per day in your own secret online 10Q space. Make your answers serious. Silly. Salacious. However you like. When you're finished, hit the magic button and your answers get sent to the secure online 10Q vault for safekeeping. One year later, the vault will open and your answers will land back in your email inbox for private reflection.
Click to get your 10Q on.
10Q begins Sept 28th, 2011
How It Works
Each day, from September 28th, a 10Q question will land in your inbox along with a link. When you click on the link, you will be taken to a private and personal space where you can answer the question. Your answer will be stored. The next day, you will receive another question and a link.
And so on, for ten days.
At the end of the ten days, you will then be invited to hit the magic button and send your answers to a locked online vault. Next year, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, your answers will magically appear in your inbox.
(Note from Rabbi Shapiro – I actually did 10Q last year and my answers did arrive in my inbox last week. It was remarkable and fabulous! Try this out. I think you’ll be impressed.)
Click to get your 10Q on.

A Few Reminders ------

ONE - If you want to revisit the unique music of the holidays, visit our Temple website. The Cantor has prepared some of the great texts from the prayer book. You can read the texts in English and Hebrew PLUS you can hear the Cantor sing the melodies!
TWO - While you are visiting the website, you can also find a link to blessings for the meals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These “home services” are can be accessed via the home page of the website where the holiday music can also be found. All of our Elul mailings are also there.
THREE - What if someone can’t attend services? Or what about your relatives who live outside our area and might want to be part of our Sinai Temple services? Our Caring Community is making arrangements for you to “hear” Sinai services over the telephone. Follow these instructions:
To Listen to Live Sinai Temple Services from your home:
Please call: 1-800-846-4808 (TRZ Religious Services)
You will be instructed to enter Sinai Temple’s Account Number 9-736-3619#. You should then begin to hear the service. There is no charge to members for this service. If you call for a second service from the same phone number, you will only hear music and then be placed into the service immediately.
FOUR - USHERS! We still need some USHERS. Your chance to get some exercise during services. Arrive a few minutes early. Greet people. Help make services run smoothly. To volunteer, call Steve Kessler 525-1243

For Total Fun ------

The Maccabeats have created a New Year song. Enjoy.


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