Shiru Ladonai, Shir Chadash,” Sing unto God with a *new* song, we are told! But, how do we keep our prayers fresh? How do we create meaning in prayer? How do we find the balance between repeated recitation becoming rote and our continued enjoyment of the comfort of reciting the same words that our grandparents would say?
Somewhere along the way –and I’m not sure where –many people stopped believing in the efficacy of prayer. Perhaps it was in the post-Holocaust, which would be completely understand-able. For many of us today, prayer can feel ancient, outdated, forced, and maybe even meaningless. This is one our great-est challenges as Conservative Jews; this is certainly one of my greatest challenges as your Rabbi.
Today, many prefer to talk about meditation or spirituality -but not in a Hebrew-words-on-a-page sort of way. “Rabbi, I’m not religious; but I am spiritual” –if I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me!! We look for inner peace and calm, but through breathing, yoga, experiences in nature, and other forms of practice and devotion. I understand where this is coming from, and I appreciate the challenge of finding holiness and meaning, sitting in a pew, dressed in less-comfortable clothing, and with a siddur in a language that we do not fully understand. And yet, I firmly and whole-heartedly believe there is a way. Prayer *can* be relevant in our lives, and it can become meaningful, spiritual, calming, and yes, even enjoyable. One of my roles as your Rabbi is to constantly search for ways increase the relevance and meaning of our traditional prayers, even if our wider society is swimming in the opposite direction.
Last month, the Jewish Community Center of Harrison purchased four hundred Lev Shalem siddurim, our new prayerbooks. Our Siddur Hadash was not so hadash (new!) any more. If you have been at our High Holiday services in recent years, you’ve seen our new Machzor. Over these past two years, many people have told me how much they love that new High Holiday prayerbook. The Machzor editors have just-now produced the same kind of siddur for Shabbat use and we were one of the very first congregations to purchase copies of the Siddur. Thank you to those whose generous donations made this purchase possible.
“Lev Shalem,” the name of the siddur means “a full heart,” and my heart is definitely full and excited to be sharing this new book with you. The English translations have been updated; more prayers are transliterated and accessible; the readings and meditations in the margins are beautiful, thought-provoking, some contemporary and some ancient. In short, we’re super-excited for this new phase of prayer at the JCCH. Over the coming weeks, we will be rolling out new uses for our siddur as we explore the rich variety of ways it allows us to connect in prayer.
Over the years, many members of our synagogue have dedicated copies of our Siddur Hadash in honor of a simcha or to remember a beloved friend or family member. Once again, with this new siddur, we have this opportunity. Contact our JCCH office to dedicate copies of the siddur. We also encourage every member of the congregation to have your own copy of the siddur at home. You may purchase a copy for your own personal use through the JCCH Office as well.
In his introductory remarks to Siddur Lev Shalem, Chancellor Arnold Eisen writes: “Siddur Lev Shalem invites us to ‘dream the dream of God,’ as Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, in words that join our hearts and minds to those of our ancestors. May we all enjoy the company of this siddur for many years to come.” I hope you’ll have a chance to join us for services in the weeks and months ahead, to see what you think of the new Siddur, and to challenge yourself to find new meaning and holiness in prayer. Amen.