Monday, September 13, 2010

Rosh Hashana Maven in Closter, NJ

A High Holidays experience with Mavens Shawn Shafner and Emily Warshaw

This past Rosh Hashana, Emily Warshaw and I had the pleasure of facilitating a Maven ritual performance for the family service at Temple Emanu-El in Closter, NJ (Annie Levy and Melissa Zimmerman led workshops simultaneously, and will be leading the Yom Kippur Maven). Sitting and praying with the community before the Torah service, we watched the diverse, multi-generational crowd slowly trickle in, eventually filling the chapel. I wondered how things would go; no two congregations are alike, and what may have worked in the past does not always work in the present. Yet from the moment Rabbi Steve Suson introduced us, Emily and I could feel that they were ready to hear an old story in a new way; you could almost feel the ears prick up as a pregnant 90-year old Sarah took the bimah. How would this service be different from all other services?

As the guests at Isaac's weaning feast, the congregation joined in to sing Siman Tov and Mazal Tov, only to be cut off by Sarah when she witnesses a "mitzachek" between Isaac and Ishmael. Mythically speaking, this is a moment of great change--a split from one large family of Abraham into two families, one of Isaac and one of Ishmael. During the stretch, I break out of my character (Eliezer the butler) to ask Emily if we can break things down--what is this mitzachek? What are other choices Sarah could make? And what might Hagar be thinking throughout this. Though we were honored by many thoughtful, eloquent answers, what struck me most was the silence. You're familiar with a family service--people coming in and out, young children asking for a snack or playing with Legos on the floor--yet, as we brought the community through this journey of questioning, you could hear the focus and the turning of mental wheels.

At the end of the service, a woman approached Emily and me and thanked us. "I have never known how to deal with this story. There are so many things I don't understand, or find hard to agree with. So...I guess what I mean is thank you. Thank you for being brave enough to ask the important questions." As someone who likes to talk, I normally prefer to answer. But perhaps the lesson for me this Rosh Hashana, is knowing when to sit tight, to prick up your ears, and just listen.

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