A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 10.1.2020

Dear friends,

What an incredible Holy Day season this has been. Last year, or even just this past February, who could have imagined that we would be meeting for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services on Zoom and YouTube Live? And that, somehow, it would all work out ok? We all missed the face-to-face intimacy of our services in the sanctuary, the chorus and the octet, the communal singing of Avinu Malkeinu and B’rosh Hashanah Yikateivun, the socializing in the halls. But we seem to have gained something else, though I’m not sure I can quite articulate it. Several people have told me that they found the services to be more moving this year than ever before. I say this not to highlight Cantor Ostrov’s and my leading of the service, but rather to make the point that clearly, something exceptional was at play. I think that, after months of Coronavirus anxiety and all of the life-changes that came with it, we are feeling a collective fragility – a fragility that the spiritual impact of the Days of Awe at once underlined and alleviated. I think our services were cathartic to many, in a way that they never have been before. I know I felt that, though I was on the other end of the camera. It’s as if there was a great deal at stake, and so we all poured everything we had into the experience and came out the richer for it.

For me, it felt as though this journey began back in the final days of July, on Tisha b’Av, as we commemorated the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We were holding what turned out to be a beautiful and meaningful Tisha b’Av service on Zoom (I conducted services from a tent up at our cabin in Pennsylvania, with candles burning behind me and a Zoom screen in front of me). In some ways, that set the tone for the season, showing some of the possibilities that the situation afforded: for example, Aliza Avital and I made some recordings so that we would be able to sing Tisha b’Av songs in harmony (Zoom does not allow for simultaneous singing). On a couple of numbers, we got Aliza’s son Yoni to record another part (all the way from the Netherlands!), and we were able to sing dirges and rounds “together.”

Within just a few weeks of Tisha b’Av, we began our series entitled Elul: Get Ready, Travel Through, Arrive. Over the course of 4 weeks, we explored, together, our relationship to God, to one another, and to ourselves, all in the context of the upcoming Holy Days.

Now we have come through the climactic acme of a season that began back in July. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are behind us. But the season is not yet over. Now we move into the final phases: Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

Rabbi Alan Lew wrote a modern classic on the Days of Awe called This is Real and You Are Totally Unprepared. In it, he talked about the “dance that begins on Tisha b’Av and ends on Sukkot, that begins with the mournful collapse of a house and ends with the joyful collapse of the house.” And this Sukkot, again, more than ever, we will likely re-experience our own unprecedented fragility as we enter into the holiday whose very essence is an exploration of fragility.

I will elaborate on that theme over the course of the holiday. For now, what’s important is that we invite you to join us as we complete the cycle. Here are the highlights:

1. Yom Tov services:

   Friday night (ever Sukkot), 6:15 pm

   Saturday Morning (including Hallel) 9:15 am

   Saturday Evening (may be subject to change) 7:00 pm

   Sunday Morning (Hallel again) 9:15 am

   Sunday Evening 6:30 pm

2. Sukkah!

The EMJC Sukkah (a new version of it) has been erected in the courtyard. You are invited to come to the sukkah any day, Monday through Friday of next week, and say the bracha / blessing of “dwelling in the sukkah.” There will be a laminated sheet in the sukkah with the appropriate blessings. To observe social distancing, please sign up for a slot on the following Google Doc (just pick your time slots, from 9-4:30, and fill in your name). If you’re not comfortable with the technology, just call the office and they’ll slot you in.

Here’s the link to the Google Doc:


I don’t suspect that we’ll be over-run with takers, so help yourself to several slots, consecutive or otherwise.

3. Lulav and Etrog

Our dear friend and resident Priest, Father Michael Perry, graciously purchased a Lulav and Etrog to be donated to someone in need. We’ll place this lulav and etrog in the Beit Hamidrash and anyone can come and say the b’rachot /blessings over it. As with the sukkah, there will be instructions on how to bless and shake it, giving you another opportunity to fulfill an essential mitzvah of Sukkot. Many thanks to Father Perry.

Lastly, we’ll have more news about Simchat Torah in the coming week. Still trying to figure that one out…

Many blessings to you all for a chag same’ach, a gut yontif, and a sweet and healthful new year.

Rabbi Sam Levine