The Power Of Shul And Praying In And With A Community – By Marc

12954828685_1fecf2fbfe_hJoni Mitchell said it best:
“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone.”

No, they haven’t paved paradise and put up a parking lot…
Well, we DO live in LA, so they actually do that… A LOT!

But sometimes it takes truly missing something or losing it to realize how essential it is to our lives.

Unfortunately, I have been dealing with an array of ailments that kept me out of Shul for the past few days… and though I was able to stream a service online, I felt disconnected. The irony of that statement is not lost on me… Connected online, but disconnected. That seems to be the nature of the beast with the world-wide web and all of our electronic “necessities.” I tell so many friends that the internet is a place of make-believe and fantasy, where reality seems to be left behind too willingly. We “connect” so easily… so quickly… and yet true communication and actual connection is lost.

Don’t get me wrong. It does also serve a purpose… and yes, even a higher purpose. I have an online Siddur App… I am able to have a discourse with all of you, and I was able to share in a Rosh Hashanah service I otherwise would have missed.

It was a good service and kept me in touch… And thankfully I was able to hear a beautiful rendition of Mi Shebeirach… which I really needed to hear.

Unknown-1I was also able to hear the blasts of the Shofar (Still regret not buying a nice one in Israel), which I am really hoping will be my wake up call. I desperately need those mighty notes to help me to get up and fight, like the bell in the boxing ring. What the heck, just call me the Jewish Rocky!


Okay… it’s not Sly, but see what you can find on the internet! This is Aaron Liberman from Valley Torah High School while he was on the Northwestern University basketball team. (He now plays for Tulane).

So Ben’s three posts put the High Holidays into a great perspective and hopefully gave you ways to make the service an even more meaningful experience.

I would like to build on that and bring in parts of a book called Mahzor 101 (A Guide To The Prayer Book For The High Holy Days) by Samuel Rosenbaum.

Many of you may be rolling your eyes at the “101” but remember that  I was raised Conservative… spent the last 20 years in Reform Shuls and am having a very recent plunge into the deeper waters… A mid-life Mikvah, if you will.


For me, it is very much a starting over, and I am only at the trailhead… at the beginning of the path. I am reading anything and everything I can get my hands on, and just because something may be a “primer” does not mean there is nothing to glean. Samuel provides some straightforward and clear insight into the history of the Shul, the Congregation and goes through each prayer of the services.

What stood out to me, is how hard we have to work for our Emunah… how it is a daily and lifelong effort. How it requires study and learning and struggle.
“We do not assume it easily or naturally. It arises as much from doubt as from dogma, as much from uncertainty as from confidence, but more from study and experience than from idle speculation.”

I know this viscerally and personally, as I feel like I am in the middle of a major test. Seriously… it’s like I am getting the SAT, MCAT, LSAT, Rorschach and whatever other test you can think of all at the same time. Agh!!!

So I am trying hard to keep my faith strong and informed. And of course, this is the ideal time to reflect and do all of that. But to look in the mirror is sometimes a very difficult task.

Mr. Rosenbaum focuses these Days of Awe so succinctly and brilliantly…

“This is a time we are commanded to reveal our souls in all their grandeur and pettiness, a time for making those difficult decisions about changing and improving ourselves, our families, our communities… so that these Holy Days become Days of Meaning and Purpose.”

“This is a time for taking stock, for courageous decisions, but taking a personal inventory is only half our task. We must also examine ourselves to discover the potential in us which cries out to be recognized and realized, the dreams that ache to be fulfilled, the love that yearns to be born. Now is the time not only to discover what we have done with our lives to date, but what we still can do with them.”

The importance of these ten days has really hit home. I am desperately trying to live in the present… and to be fully present at all times… to embrace the philosophy of Eckhart Tolle… to not dwell in the past or beat myself up for previous mistakes… to learn from the past, yes… but not live there. And yet, these ten days force us to do exactly that… demand us to take stock… to admit our errors… to look them straight in the eye and battle with them. To find a way forward with wisdom and insight. Phew. Not easy.

However, there is a step we MUST NOT SKIP!!! We must also see our goodness… recognize our own kindness and strengths… and not lose the powerful, wonderful things we do!

Let us look at ALL OF IT… And let us pray. I need to pray… I must pray… The power of prayer is remarkable. It has been with us for as long as we can recall.

We learn that it all started with “gifted leaders chosen to pray to” Hashem.  Then came the “intercessor, the sheliah tzibbur, who at the people’s urging prayed at their behalf.”  Then the Hazzan.

Before the Temple in Jerusalem “they built themselves a house of worship”… The Tabernacle. During the Babylonian exile there were Synagogues (Shuls)… Then Rabbis… Then Congregations… so many different Congregations.

We spend a lot of time praying alone… but the power of being in a room, or space with your community… with your fellow people… your family and friends and loved ones… is so beautiful and mighty and majestic.

I did not realize how much I would miss this until I did. I longed for it… Wanted to be a part of it… and Hashem willing… I will be amongst all of you for Yom Kippur… and Sukkot… and whenever else I can be.

There is a power in prayer… but perhaps, an even mightier power in people.

images tovah

L’Shana Tova Tikatevu… May we all be inscribed in the Book Of Life for a good year.

(And sadly and strangely, as I say that… This post is dedicated to my dear friend Victoria Stern Whelan… While I have not seen you in years, I will always remember your beauty and talent and friendship. You will be missed by so many, and I know that your memory will always be a blessing to your boys and family and anyone who has ever known you.)






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