His answer reveals the existential dilemma of the modern Jew. We have lost our voice and our inclination to pray. Some of us have even lost our faith in God. Like the Rebbe, we grapple with communal prayer.
Oliver Sacks tells the story in Awakenings of a former music teacher who suffers from Parkinson’s. Ultimately, her motion and personality are restored “by music.” She said: “As I am un-musicked, I must be re-musicked.” It is the same with us. Modernity has un-musicked the Jewish people when it comes to our communal prayer life. And we must be re-musicked. We must learn again about the value inherent in sharing Shabbat with our friends, family, and neighbors in a communal context.
To that end, last year our synagogue kicked off a Worship Revolution, whose goal was to reinvigorate Shabbat worship. Thanks in large part to Cantor Becker and our Communal Worship Committee, we were wildly successful.
Shabbat is now the moment in our weekly schedule when folks come together - not just to pray - but to eat together, and to learn…either with our clergy…or with an exciting outside speaker. Our Brotherhood, in particular, has become an extraordinary partner in this work - enabling us to bring in well known experts like our own Mark Hoffman and CNBC journalist Steve Liesman; presidential historian Will Swift; our own Irving Picard sharing candid reflections on the Madoff case; and our own Bill Grueskin on “fake news”.
But our Worship Revolution isn’t just about study and current events.
The question of “re-musicking” ourselves…of setting off on a journey of the spirit again…is sometimes less about our wanting to find God…and more about needing God and others to find us.
As Avivah Zornberg, puts it: “The desire to see God’s face is at the same time the desire to be seen.”
She suggests that to be in relationship with God is to be in relationship with other people. And to be in relationship with others, we have to leave the comfort of our homes, and enter the space of community.
This is one of the great functions of synagogue life. We are conveners of community. We come together on Shabbat to get to know one another better. And to share in the highs and lows of our lives. That is how we begin to encounter God again. By encountering one another.
And in that sense, too, our Worship Revolution has been a resounding success. We have purposely increased the number of Shabbat dinners on our calendar - both catered and potluck - because the meal space, more than the Sanctuary or the Classroom - is the place where we have the freedom to get to know one another and strengthen the bonds we share with each other.
And increased attendance over the last year proves that the Revolution is having a wonderful impact!
Later this evening, we will be privileged to hear from two couples uniquely situated to speak about their respective families’ Jewish journeys in the context of our Worship Revolution. First, we’ll hear from Julie Glick and Danny Davis. Julie has been a leader in helping us envision this second year of the Worship Revolution, branching out to bring intergenerational and social experiences at the conclusion of Shabbat to our entire congregation, including young families. We’ll also hear from Dan and Kara Alpert. Dan is one of the co-presidents of Brotherhood, whose leadership team continues to inspire us with creative learning and dialogue opportunities in the year ahead. May their willingness to share their personal stories inspire you to share your stories with one another.
In the year ahead, Cantor Becker and I invite you to pray with us. Pray by singing with us. Pray by learning with us. Pray by dining and socializing with us. Pray with us because - as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes: “prayer is to the soul what food is to the body. Without prayer, something within us atrophies and dies. It is possible to have a life without prayer, just as it is possible to have a life without music, or love, or laughter, but it is a diminished life, missing whole dimensions of experience. We need space within the soul to express our joy in being, our wonder at the universe, our hopes, our fears, our failures, our aspirations - bringing our deepest thoughts as offerings to the One who listens, and listening, in turn, to the One who calls.”
May this be the year that we listen. May this be the year we respond to the call. May this be the year we pray together. Keyn Yhi Ratzon - may this be God’s will.