Monday, September 20, 2010

A High Holidays experience with Mavens Annie Levy and Melissa Zimmerman

This past Yom Kippur, Melissa Zimmerman and I returned to Temple Emanu-El in Closter, NJ, to wrestle with the challenge of bringing an authentic Maven ritual to a multi-generational audience that explored the meaning of Yom Kippur, not exactly the most family friendly of Jewish Holidays.

Traveling with Shawn Shafner and Emily Warshaw, who had facilitated a Maven ritual for the family services at Emanu-El on Rosh Hashana, while Melissa and I led workshops for the Temple’s religious school, Melissa and I went over our lines and expressed our anxieties about the impending performance: Had we found the right tone to explore the meaning of the day that would still be engaging for families? Would hearing the details of how Yom Kippur used to be practiced be scary for young children? Is Yom Kippur the one day of the year where people prefer to not know exactly what’s being said in the Hebrew?

Our Maven ritual dealt with the preparations that the High Priest had to go through in order to safety and successfully enter the Holy of Holies and pray for a good year on behalf of all entire community. Asking the congregation to time travel with us back thousands of years to the days of the temple in Jerusalem, the congregation found themselves as High Priest studies Majors at “Kedoshim University,”classmates of Tzair, a young “HP” in training (played by Melissa) on the first day of class with Professor Zaken (played by yours truly). This teacher/student character dynamic in our Maven ritual we hoped would set us up for many opportunities for “teachable moments” as, we explored what it logistically meant to enter Holy Of Holies -- the rules, the costume, the scapegoat ritual and the many many many animal sacrifices -- all of which are absent in the way that Yom Kippur is practiced today. We don’t even have a High Priest!

After the first two aliyot, during the stretch, I pointed out the distance between the ways that Yom Kippur had been laid out for the High Priest and our practices now and asked the congregation how they bridged the gap. One of the youngest participants pointed out that all of the tasks the High Priest was charged with back in the days of the Temple are now our responsibilities, that we are now the High Priests. It was one of those perfect moments of “Ah-ha! Yes they are with us,” as this was where we were hopping the conversation would go, allowing us to organically take the Maven ritual to a place were we could point out that there is a High Priest within each of us and the Holy of Holies is no longer an actual location only to be entered by the Highest of the community, but a place within each of us that we access when we allow ourselves to do the work.

At the end of the ritual, the women whose daughter had pointed out that we are all our own HPs came up to us to share her own “Ah-ha!” moment where she saw the connection between past practices and present day rituals because of what her daughter had said about each of us being a High Priest. Now that’s a teachable moment.

1 comment:

  1. Annie - that's beautiful - thank you for the sacred work in the trenches and the spot on telling of the telling.