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BRS Siddur Party: Why Are We Transitioning to the New RCA Siddur?

on Wednesday, November 7 2018. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for rca siddurWhen R’ Yosef Mendelevitch was sent to a Soviet prison, among his most precious possessions was a small Rinat Yisrael siddur he smuggled in.  He did not know the words of the prayers, and barely knew how to read Hebrew, but the siddur was his connection to God, and he consequently lived in constant fear that the siddur would be discovered and destroyed.

In his autobiography, “Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story Of Faith, Courage and Survival,” he writes:

Then I hit upon an idea. I would copy the prayer book into an inconspicuous notebook. I volunteered that night for the night shift, knowing that when I returned in the morning the barracks would be empty, giving me a few precious hours while everyone else was at work to do the copying. This I did eagerly, knowing that in the case of a search, I wouldn’t stand a chance. After several weeks of my new daily ritual, I finished copying out the daytime prayers, and began to pray properly. Still, I feared that notebooks full of Hebrew letters might draw undue attention, so I copied the prayers once more, this time to small pieces of paper that, like my vocabulary words, I could hide in matchboxes. I copied out two sets of prayers like this, wrapping the matchboxes in plastic and burying them.

And then something surprising happened. I discovered that I knew the prayers by heart – that in all this covert copying the words had become a part of me. The discovery felt like I had acquired another freedom; I could now pray anytime, anywhere, whether it be at work or in solitary confinement. Prayer could never again be taken from me.

While the recitation of Shema is a Torah commandment and the Shemoneh Esrei was adopted by the Anshei Knesses HaGedola around the time of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the first formal siddur was curated by Rav Amram Gaon around 850 CE.  In the 11th century in France, the siddur known as Machzor Vitry was printed based on the teaching of Rashi.  The Rambam had his version of the siddur and appended it to the laws of prayer in his Mishneh Torah.  Rav Yaakov Emden published a siddur, and we have siddurim based on the views of the Gra, Arizal, and countless others that reflect different times, places, traditions, and hashkafos, worldviews.

In 1984, the Rabbinical Council of America collaborated with ArtScroll to publish an RCA edition of its then-new, amazing siddur.  Since that time, it has become a staple in many of our shuls and schools.  Although our prayers and liturgy are essentially fixed, over time new commentaries emerge, and our community has particular observances and sensitivities that demand an updated edition of the siddur.

The RCA has just published a new siddur, this time in collaboration with Koren.  R’ Basil Herring, the project’s editor-in-chief, did an outstanding job providing commentary throughout the siddur from Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kook, Rav Lichtenstein, and many others. The detailed halachik instructions were written by our own Rabbi Josh Flug, and were reviewed and approved by Rav Herschel Schachter.

Just some of the features of the new siddur are:

  • A contemporary, relatable translation
  • Additional prayers for life cycle events
  • Prayers for the observance of Yom Hashoah, Yom Ha’atzmaut, and Yom Yerushalayim
  • Full Tehillim with translation
  • All five Megillos
  • Sensitivity to gender-specific prayers and practices
  • Essays on history, halacha, kavana and background to specific prayers

With the encouragement of the Rabbis, our board of directors voted to make the new RCA Siddur the standard at Boca Raton Synagogue and ordered 1,000 copies. As the new siddur was published, we had a special opportunity to print a BRS edition which includes a personalized dedication page and an embossed “Welcome to Boca Raton Synagogue” on the cover.  I am deeply grateful to our sponsors who dedicated our edition of the siddur in memory of their parents and sisters; may their neshamos all have Aliyos through the prayers that will be offered and generated in their memory.

With so many minyanim throughout our campus, we have a continued need for most of the old siddurim.  The bookcases in the lobby, however, will only contain the new siddur and the page announcements in the Rand Sanctuary will be based on its pagination.

Anyone who dedicated a siddur in the last few years will have the sponsorship sticker inserted in the inside cover of the new siddur.  To sponsor a new siddur in memory or in honor of someone for $54, please contact Gloria at gloria@brsonline.org.

Image result for shulem lemmerAt their Siddur Party, when children receive their siddur, there is a palpable excitement, energy and enthusiasm and we look forward to those same feelings at our BRS Siddur Party when we welcome the new siddurim on Shabbos Chanukah.  That Shabbos, thanks to the generosity of George and Stephanie Saks, we will have the privilege of hosting world-renowned chazzan and singer, Shulem Lemmer, a Belzer chassid who recently signed a record deal with Universal Music Group, one of the country’s largest music corporations.   We look forward to his magical voice leading us in tefillah from our new siddur for the first time.

Additionally, timed with the new siddur’s arrival, I look forward to beginning a new series called “Siddur Snippets.”  Each day, between Mincha and Maariv we will spend a few minutes exploring the words of our siddur in an effort to better understand and inspire our prayer experiences.  (The series will be recorded and shared in the weekly compendium of audio shiurim.)

The Gemara (Berachos 32b) says that four things need daily chizuk, strengthening, and one of them is prayer, which can easily become stale and rote.  Unlike Yosef Mendelevich, we don’t have to fear that our siddurim will be confiscated.  Nevertheless, we, too, can literally or figuratively annotate and personalize our prayers to acquire them and make them our own.

I hope and pray that the transition to our new siddur brings a renewed study of our tefillos and an reinvigorated excitement and inspiration to our prayers.

Tragedy Has Struck, Now What?

on Monday, October 29 2018. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for tree of life pittsburghThis weekend, our community lost an incredible woman, a young mother, extraordinary teacher and tremendous example, Dannie Grajower z”l. On the way back from her funeral in NY, I sent this letter to our BRS community reflecting on her loss and the horrific tragedy in Pittsburgh that is on all of our minds.

_________________________

Dear BRS Family,

This past weekend was filled with two horrific tragedies, one that shook the Jewish community globally and another that affected our community locally.  Before Shabbos was even over, word spread of the tragic murder of eleven innocent people in Pittsburgh who had come to their Synagogue, Tree of Life, simply to pray, celebrate, and experience community.  The ADL characterized this atrocity as the greatest anti-Semitic attack in US history.  The moment Shabbos ended, we got word from Rabbi Josh Grajower that his extraordinary wife Dannie, a treasured member of, and teacher in, our community and a young mother of three, had succumbed to her illness and passed away.  It is only now, on the way back from her funeral, that I have been able to take a moment to gather my thoughts and share them with you.

These two events, the loss of many lives due to the act of an evil, anti-Semitic madman, and the loss of one, a victim of a disease that cancer keeps winning despite medicine’s valiant declarations of war, are both incomprehensible and challenge our faith. How does one explain to their children how a person can arm himself with weapons, walk into a holy space and open fire with the intent of murdering as many people as possible?  And how does one answer children when they ask why God would make their beloved teacher suffer from illness and pass away at such a young age?

In a remarkable display of courage and conviction, Rabbi Grajower prefaced his eulogy by stating unequivocally that firstly, we work for God, He doesn’t work for us.  And secondly, he assured us it is alright to be filled with so much pain that we can’t feel closeness to Hashem.  Struggling to understand is not the same as struggling to believe.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch suggests that it is no coincidence that the words Aveil and aval are closely related.  An Aveil, a mourner, feels a profound sense of aval – “however,” “but,” as if to say things are different and will never again be the same.

To a degree, whether it is connecting with the global Jewish community mourning the victims of Pittsburgh, or the family, friends and our local community grieving with the Grajower and Epstein families, we can’t help but feel aval, things are different, they will never be the same.

So what will we do about that?  There are few things sadder than tearing keriah on a young boy and watching him say kaddish for the loss of his mother.  If this is a cliché it’s because it is completely true: this week, we need to hug our children a little tighter, love our spouses a little deeper, and generally work to recognize the blessings in our lives with at least a little more gratitude and appreciation.

When tragedy strikes, Rabbi Soloveitchik calls us to not ask, lamah, why, but le’mah, for what, what will we do now?  Certainly we pause to grieve, mourn and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh, but that is not enough.  This atrocity demands a greater response.

The brutal murder in Pittsburgh is a harsh wake-up call and reminder that as much as things change, they remain the same.  Anti-Semitism is as old as the Jewish people and while we can be lulled into a false sense of security and acceptance, we must always remain vigilant and proactive in confronting our enemies and defending our people.

Historian Robert Wistrich calls anti-Semitism “the longest hatred.”  The recent surge of anti-Semitism hasn’t happened in a vacuum.  It has grown in a climate of rhetoric, vitriol and demonization.  We must all take extreme ownership over lowering the temperature, being more careful with our words, and holding those filled with hate, discrimination or racism accountable.

In the Hagaddah we declare, b’chol dor va’dor omdim aleinu l’chaloseinu, in each generation they rise against us to exterminate us.  We continue, she’lo echad bilvad amad aleiynu l’chaloseinu, which we normally translate as, it is not only one who stands against us.  The Sefas Emes suggests an alternative reading.  She’lo echad bilvad, when we simply are not united, when we are divided ourselves, omdim aleinu, that is enough to fuel our enemies to stand against us and makes us vulnerable to their nefarious plans.

This week, we mourn and we grieve, but we also resolve to both fight hatred against our people and to purge hatred from within our people.  We participated in two community-wide events, memorials to the victims, the Jewish martyrs who died al Kiddush Hashem.  We pray that the people of Pittsburgh find the strength to endure, feel the love of the Jewish community, and good people everywhere and that the world’s oldest hatred finally come to an end.

The name of the Congregation in which the tragedy occurred is Tree of Life, Eitz Chaim. We are told la’machazikim bah, the Torah is a tree of life for those who grab onto it. Dannie z”l grabbed onto the Torah, Hashem and her faith and it carried her through hard times. We too must grab the Tree of Life, our tradition and the Tree of Life, the congregation, to lift one another during these times.

18 Million Reasons Why You Should Vote This Election

on Thursday, October 25 2018. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for voteDo you feel strongly about Israel’s safety, security and the US-Israel relationship?

Do you have concerns about the environment, gun control, or the justice system?

Do you have opinions about how the tax code impacts the economy and your personal finances?

Has the cost of tuition for Jewish day school impacted you or your family and do you have an opinion about the use of tax scholarships to relieve the pressure?

 

It is hard to believe that you didn’t answer yes to at least one, or some, if not all, of the above questions.  Who wouldn’t want to influence how much taxes they pay, the tuition crisis or this country’s strategic relationship with Israel?

Historically, only 40%, less than half of eligible voters, cast a vote in midterm elections.  With strong political feelings on both sides and much at stake, pundits are predicting and celebrating a major spike in voter turnout, with some estimates predicting turnout as high as… fifty percent.  That still means that despite consequential issues at the center of the upcoming election, half of those eligible will stay home and squander their sacred vote.

Many people sit it out because they think their vote doesn’t matter.  In some places and for some elections that may be true, but it isn’t for us.  In the year 2000, President George W. Bush won Florida by only 537 votes.  Put another way, fewer than the number of people who go the 9:00 a.m. Minyan on Shabbos morning at BRS determined a presidency.  That same year a Connecticut congressman won by 21 votes and a Representative from Vermont was elected by a margin of 1.  Vote for whomever you see fit, but vote because it matters, particularly here in South Florida.

On October 3, 1984, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, the greatest Halachic authority of America at the time, wrote a responsum regarding the obligation to vote.  It says:

On reaching the shores of the United States, Jews found a safe haven.  The rights guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety.

A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakaras ha’tov – recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy.  The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.

Therefore, I urge all members of the Jewish community to fulfill their obligations by registering as soon as possible, and by voting.  By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.

Rav Moshe saw voting as a halachic and moral imperative.  To stay home is not just to waste a right and privilege; it is an act of ingratitude.  We enjoy a freedom and opportunity so many others are deprived of.  The least we can do to say thank you, is to take advantage of that gift.

Showing up to vote is a start, but it isn’t enough.  Too many people fail to prepare or choose to be uneducated about the candidates and issues, and instead cast their vote based solely on who has a Jewish sounding name or which party they belong to.  But candidates are people with personalities, ideas, positions, and platforms.  They undoubtedly worked hard to raise money and likely gave of their own capital to fund their campaign.  They seek to make a difference, and whether or not they will be elected and realize their dream of public service depends entirely on the people who come to cast a vote.  How could we determine someone’s fate so callously?  Similarly, our ballot includes numerous proposed amendments to our state Constitution, some of which have a direct impact on our finances, our rights, and our lives. At the end of the day, how could we determine our own fate and what the election results will mean for us so flippantly and frivolously?

We are given a gift of inestimable value, a chance that others, including many of our ancestors, could only dream of: the opportunity to vote, to make choices, and to have a voice.  Squandering it is not just a lack of gratitude for the blessing of this country and the freedom it affords us, it is just irresponsible, and even worse it is foolish.  These issues matter to us and we can impact them positively.

This weekend at BRS is dedicated to Teach Florida, an amazing organization co-chaired by our own Daniel Adler, fighting for equitable government funding, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts, to make a difference for our students, families and schools.  As a result of their hard work, in 2017-2018, Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program helped 2,575 students attend 32 Jewish day schools in Florida through a total of $18 million in scholarships.  This year, the Gardiner and McKay scholarship programs helped 300 students with special needs attend Jewish day schools in Florida, totaling more than $2 million to Jewish day schools. Teach Florida also won $654,000 in first-time state funding for Jewish school security in 2017-2018 and a threefold increase of $2 million in the state’s 2018-19 budget.

These issues are complicated, and I fully acknowledge there are different perspectives on them.  Nevertheless, there is currently no greater solution or proposal to positively impact the cost of Jewish tuition than this movement.  This year, the schools in OUR community are receiving $2 million dollars and over 300 of our children are directly benefiting.  Many of these families could not afford a Jewish education if not for these funds. These efforts met success because of the broader movement for school choice, championed by John Kirtley, our speaker this Shabbos.  At the conclusion of the 9:00 a.m. minyan on Shabbos morning, John will help us understand the issues and provide practical advice on what we can do to help grow these already substantial numbers and benefit even more of our families and schools.

One of the most basic and yet greatest gifts and blessings God has bestowed upon us is our bechirah chofshis, our free will and ability to choose.  If you fail to vote or to be informed when voting, it naturally follows that you forfeit your right to complain, kvetch or bemoan the issues you could have impacted.

Choose candidates whose positions and opinions you share.  Be part of shaping your own destiny.  Nobody can or should tell you how to vote, or for whom.  But we can and must all tell one another to go out and vote, because it matters and it is our responsibility.

The Blessing in Being a Blessing

on Friday, October 19 2018. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for be a blessingEach year at the Rabbinical Council of America convention, an award is given to a chaplain.  To be honest, it has never been the highlight of the gathering for me.  A few years ago, however, I was grateful to be present when the award was given to Rav Zvi Karpel. When he accepted the award, he described what had driven him to work in chaplaincy. His words moved me to tears and touched me deeply.

וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ וֶהְיֵה בְּרָכָה:

“And I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you and I will make your name great… v’heye beracha.”

In a world of paganism, idolatry and moral depravity, Avraham discovered and chose God and now, in our parsha, at the age of 75 the Almighty reciprocates and chooses Avraham.  Hashem promises if you come with Me, leave your homeland, your father’s house and all you know, I will make you a great nation and shower you with beracha, blessing.

Hashem’s proposal to Avraham concludes with an interesting phrase – וֶהְיֵה בְּרָכָה.  It can’t mean “and you will be blessed” because Hashem has just told him, וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ, “I will bless you.”  So what does it mean?

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch writes: “It does not say והיית ברכה, or ותהיה ברכה, but והיה ברכה, become a blessing.  In these two words the whole moral task is summarized… All others strive, not להיות ברכה to be a blessing, but להיות ברוכים, to be blessed.”

With this charge, Hashem was not only promising Avraham that he would be blessed, but at the same time was challenging Avraham to take the richness of his experience, to learn from his own story and to use it to become a blessing for others.  Others pursue being blessed, satisfying their wants and needs and finding their own happiness.  To be progeny of Avraham is to take whatever blessing we have and to pursue becoming a blessing in other people’s lives, using it to help others find happiness.

This, in fact, was the true test of לך לך , go forth. The journey was not a geographical one but an existential one.  The destination was not a physical address but a journey of self-discovery – לך, go.  Where?  לך, to who you are meant to be.

Hashem was challenging Avraham and all of us – reflect on your life, identify your talents and skills, and contemplate the lessons you have learned from your life experiences, and then pay it forward.  Become a blessing.  Help others and enhance their lives.

When accepting his award, Rabbi Karpel shared the following (shared here with his permission):

I lost my father when I was five and a half years old. This coming yahrzeit will mark his 60th. Put in other terms, by the time I was Bar Mitzvah, I had been saying yizkor for half of my life. My mother z”l raised me on her own. She herself became seriously ill my junior year in high school, and passed away my sophomore year in college. I relate these events because in retrospect, I feel that losing both my parents as I did had a tremendous impact on my life and my decision making.

I grew up in Rockville Centre, New York, a town on Long Island void of any Orthodox presence. I attended the public schools there, and received my religious education at an afternoon Hebrew school in the Conservative synagogue. My first real exposure to Orthodoxy was spending a Shabbos at my Kitah Bet teacher’s home in Far Rockaway, Queens.

For college studies, I went away to the State University of New York at Albany. It was that fall that I decided to become Shomer Shabbos, at least as far as I knew how to be one. I emerged as one of five yamulka-wearing students on a campus that arguably boasted 4,000-5000 Jewish students.

I knew that I needed a plan as to what I was going to do after graduation. Since my yiddishkeit is what most prominently drove my thoughts, feelings and actions, I decided I wanted to become a Rabbi. In addition, I realized that having never gone to yeshiva, I needed to accelerate my Jewish education, so I decided to go to learn in Israel. When I returned here to the States, I was accepted into the semicha program at RIETS. Overlapping with the learning in the yeshiva, I matriculated into the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, and earned my MSW in conjunction with my semicha.

After working as a social worker for a couple of years in a day program for a Jewish nursing home, I began working as the full-time Rabbi at the Daughters of Israel. There I have remained for the last 32-plus years.

If I were to relate to you the single most significant aspect of my work, I would say it’s providing the spiritual and pastoral care to family members when their loved one is dying. In thinking way back to the experience with my own mother, I can tell you that when I heard her voice over the telephone and sensed she was close to the end, without hesitation I made the decision to leave the university to be with her. It turned out that I was to be at her bedside for her last week.

In reflecting back on that time, I know that I could have really used the support of a chaplain; I also know that I was not only a son at the bedside, I was my mother’s chaplain, walking with her during her final journey. The Shulchan  Aruch tells us in hilchos kibbud av v’aim, “Chayav l’chvodo, afilu achar moso”. A person is obligated to honor one’s parents, even once they have passed. I would like to think that my work with residents and their family members at the end of life provides some measure of kavod to my parents, may their memories be blessed.

Rabbi Karpel was orphaned at a young age.  He could have reflected on his life experience with a sense of bitterness, anger and resentment.  Instead, he decided to become a blessing.  He recognized that his personal experiences positioned him to help others and provide for them what he didn’t have.  For over 32 years, countless families at Daughters of Israel Geriatric Center in West Orange, New Jersey had support, love, guidance and help when their loved one was transitioning to the next world.

For all of them, Rabbi Karpel is a blessing.  היה ברכה  – look at your life and figure out how you can become someone else’s blessing.