What are the tools you keep at hand to accomplish those specific tasks you deem important? A computer/smart-phone to help you stay connected? That rolling pin with the perfect heft that was your grandmother’s that helps you roll out dough to the perfect thickness? That snow-rake you had the foresight to purchase last year that helped you avoid dreaded ice-dams during this harsh Cape winter? That capo for your guitar that slips on and off with graceful ease?
Human beings are not unique in the world as tool-shapers and tool-users but I daresay that we are the only specie that has created that particular tool we call a “book”. As a faith community, we turn to that particular kind of book called a siddur–a prayer-book–when we engage in the task of worshiping together. For the High Holy Days the prayer-book has a special name: it is a machzor, from the Hebrew root meaning “a cyclic return”.
For virtually all of its three-decades-plus history, the Falmouth Jewish Congregation has utilized the machzor called Gates of Repentance. That maroon-covered prayer-book was first published in 1978.
Times change, we change, praying communities change. It is time for us to change our machzor and the news is that a new machzor is ready for us to embrace. It is called Mishkan Ha-Nefesh (“Sanctuary of the Soul”) and it is the sister to our Shabbat prayer-book, Mishkan T’filah (“Sanctuary of Prayer”).
Seven years in the making by the liturgy committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the new machzor will provide us with a worship experience richer and more engaging than what we have heretofore known.
Here is what a recent article in The Washington Post (3/9/15) had to say about Mishkan Ha-Nefesh: “In its attempt to inspire a diverse, liberal faith community with a complicated relationship to prayer, Reform Judaism is a pioneer among liberal denominations in adapting ancient texts to engage topics that are increasingly mainstream, from gay equality and interfaith families to doubt. [...] Rabbi Hara Person, head of the Reform movement’s publishing arm at the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the book’s executive editor, said over about seven years of discussion, test runs and edits, editors and writers tried to re-envision the concept of how Jews use prayer books .
They removed stage directions (things like “all rise” or “the congregation is seated”) and tried to make the book a personal guide that Jews can navigate as they wish, rather than a users’ manual to a service with a leader and followers. “We want people to find their own personal moment,” she said.”
All Hebrew passages in the new machzor will be transliterated, enabling those whose Hebrew is not yet what they wish it to be or who are not readers of Hebrew, will be able to voice Hebrew passages that hold meaning for them. A great quantity of additional readings, poems and reflections will afford wonderful opportunities to delve more deeply into the meaning of prayer passages, Torah and haftarah readings and other traditional readings for the High Holy Days.
Our congregation’s Religious Living Committee recommended to our Board of Directors that we acquire Mishkan Ha-Nefesh and the Board voted unanimously to do so. Such an acquisition is not inexpensive, but this new machzor is a prayer tool that we will enjoy and from which we will benefit for the next generation.
Mishkan Ha-Nefesh is being published as a two-volume set: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. To help us afford this important acquisition, we will be turning to the congregation, asking you to consider a donation to acquire Mishkan Ha-Nefesh. The exact cost has yet to be determined. You will be able to have a bookplate placed in each volume reflecting your desire to honor or commemorate someone, or something, significant to you. Watch forthcoming Newsletters for donation forms and specific instructions.
Pamela Rothstein, Director of Lifelong Learning, and I will be planning an end-of-summer opportunity for interested congregants to explore Mishkan Ha-Nefesh. As the person primarily responsible for leading our High Holy Days worship, I am very excited about the prospect of acquiring this exciting new tool, familiarizing myself with it and, with it, to helping our entire congregation have the deepest and most fulfilling kind of experience at the High Holy Days.