For the first time in decades I found myself immersed in a New Year with new personal beginnings. After 40 years with one congregation (Temple Sholom in Bridgewater), this year I spent Rosh Hashanah “down the shore” in Wildwood NJ where I began serving as Beth Judah Temple’s interim rabbi.
Entering the synagogue for the very first time was a spiritual experience unto itself. Almost one hundred years old, the sanctuary radiated light from its beautiful stained glass onto the lovingly burnished wood of the original pews. As I tuned my guitar and tested the acoustics, the arched ceiling rounded out and echoed my notes back to me. Gratitude for the opportunity to use my vocal gifts and guitar to create a very different Rosh Hashanah celebration washed over me. In a very short time the community came together through song and sharing. The congregants joined enthusiastically in the singing – which only further nourished my energy and spiritual experience. When participants in the service took opportunities to lead the congregation in readings, we asked them to briefly introduce themselves before leading their part. Each told of their current and past connections to the community. One gentleman proudly proclaimed that he was the Temple’s oldest member – and that he had celebrated his bris at Beth Judah. The sounding of the shofar was one of the highlights of the service. Leora (my wife) was the ba’alat tokaya (shofar blower). Each clear note pierced the air – and I was struck by the way an ancient practice was made new by a woman blowing a magnificent hand-painted shofar. Everyone’s skin tingled when the final tekiah gedolah was sounded from the Temple’s balcony – which had once been the women’s gallery!
Tashlich was also a “first” for me – the first time I ever cast away my sins on the Atlantic coast. We gathered at an off-shore lake (because the beach was not accessible due to excessive rain earlier in the week). As we cast our bread into the waters, a swarm of sea gulls flew in to catch our bread crumbs – even before they hit the water. At the conclusion of Tashlich we gathered in a circle with our arms around each other’s shoulders, and sang the Shalom chant. Even two Wildwood police officers who were there for our protection joined for the service and the circle of peace.
Psalm 96 has always been one of my favorite psalms. It begins with the exhortation: “Sing a new song to God.” Over the past few days I have lived those words. Accompanying the service with guitar, drum and tambourine and introducing some new uplifting melodies has renewed my spirit. Following the injunction of King David the Psalmist that God wants to hear a new song, this New Year has truly been a time of renewal and rejuvenation of mind, body and spirit for me. Like the prophet Ezekiel who was told by God that he would get a new heart (mindset) and a new spirit, I now feel that I know what God had in mind as I am experiencing it first-hand.
I hope that God will enable all of us to feel the full joy available to us in these holy days. My experience these past days has surely reminded me of the possibilities of growth and the power of renewal. I plan on embracing the coming year with my whole being and will try to strive and reach toward having an even deeper experience of the all the blessings of life. I hope that you will as well. Wishing you all an inscription in the Book of Life for a Year of Blessings and Renewal!