Water and Fire – Unetaneh Tokef

By Student Rabbi Stacey Z Robinson

Ribbono shel olam,
Master of eternity,

Who numbers the stars
and the dust,
Who counts our souls –
our deeds –
our days.

You, who remembers
what time has forgotten,

Who writes and seals –
though we tell our own stories,
and live our own lives –
Blessed is the One
Who opens the gates
that we, ourselves, have closed.

God of stillness and secrets,
whose name is hidden
within our own,

Let me draw near
so that I may know
water and fire,
sword and beast,
famine and thirst,
riot and plague.

Sound the shofar!
I will hear your call
while angels tremble,
That I may know
rest and wandering,
harmony and dissonance,
peace and suffering.

Write upon my heart
poverty and richness,
degradation and exaltation.

God of power and compassion,
of mercy and hope,

Breathe into me repentance.
Sing into me righteousness.
Fill me with prayer.

Let me return, God.
Fling wide the gates.

On Rosh Hashana it is written
On Yom Kippur it is sealed.

Cantorial soloist, theatrical entertainer, and rabbinic student

This month we meet cantorial soloist, theatrical entertainer,
and rabbinic student Charlene Clinkman Brooks!

 

Charlene, you have been enrolled in Hebrew Seminary’s rabbinic program for a little more than a year now.  As a cantorial soloist at Congregation Bene Shalom (CBS), were this years’ High Holidays any different for you given all that you have learned at seminary?

I’ve always loved to share my passion during services by singing the liturgy and writing songs that reflect Rabbi’s sermons, but this year was different.  People seem to look at me now not only as the cantorial soloist but as a rabbinic student.  This gives me tacit permission not to hold back.  People have responded well to me throughout the years, but this year there was a different intensity and connection to my involvement.

My enhanced understanding of Hebrew and Jewish history has brought me such joy and appreciation for our services.  I feel even more grateful for the opportunity to participate and I feel deeply the blessing and responsibility I have.  I want every prayer to have meaning even if people don’t understand all the Hebrew.  I hope I am able to convey the intention and the passion of the liturgy.  I believe Judaism can be a very passionate religion, and I think people appreciate that through the singing of liturgy.

Rabbi Goldhamer was unable to be at Yom Kippur services this year and people commented that there were three of his students on the bimah this year – Rabbi Shari Chen, Sari Daybook and myself.   I believe we rose to the occasion and we all felt his inspiration encouraging us to reach further into our soul than we ever have before.  The congregants were very receptive to us.

This year you sang a song that brought tears to your eyes and we all felt your connection to the lyrics.  Can you tell us about that experience?

I sang “Feels like Home.”  It has deep meaning for me because this temple is my home and this rabbi is my teacher.  The song touches me because I’ve raised my family here at CBS.  I’ve grown as a human being here; I’ve come from a secular background and now am a student in the seminary.  This temple has changed my life and yes, I’m emotional about it being my home

You are a part of CBS’s Kabbalah services and I sense that you have a real commitment and connection to these practices.  Can you tell us about your experience studying Kabbalah with Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer and how these meditations have touched your life?

Kabbalah is a spiritual, intellectual, and emotional journey.  I have always appreciated its importance, but it means something more to me now.  I intellectually understood the meditations, but as I’ve learned to teach them and incorporate them into my life they have become far more meaningful.  The practice of Kabbalistic meditation is not an easy journey or a quick fix.  In healing meditation Rabbi urges us to feel the Sephirot’s vibrations and that takes practice.  The first time I had an overwhelming experience with vibrations was as we were praying on my leg after surgery.  I was surrounded by our two rabbis, and people I care about.  I felt the vibrations so strongly it actually made me cry.  There was no denying the power and its effect.

Using the meditations that Rabbi Goldhamer teaches with congregants and friends I’ve seen them reap the benefits right before my eyes.  In my own daily life I call upon the chants and the meditations that I feel will help me at different times.  I’ve come to rely on them.  It’s wonderful knowing that there is something available like this to focus and center me.

At difficult moments I will do the Shema chant in my head.  I do the Shiviti chant to give me strength.  I also do the Modeh Ani every morning to start my day with gratefulness.  You can find these meditations and chants here: http://beneshalom.org/sounds-of-shabbat/

Tell us about your career performing as a singer in the Chicagoland area.

I’ve been performing for 35 years.  I started in clubs singing with trios, then with bands and orchestras in a variety of different formats. Then I began doing my own theatrical shows and I’m still doing that.

I’ve had experiences from the humorous to the magnificent.  I traveled for years with The WGN noon show at state fairs all over the Midwest.  I’ve performed before audiences in the thousands and on a stages located by the pigpens at the Illinois State Fair, sometimes w/in the same week.  It’s a very interesting life.

20 years ago I started singing at Congregation Bene Shalom.  I joined with my family as a congregant 22 years ago and a couple of years later became the cantorial soloist.  Coming from a secular background, I got my Jewish education at CBS.  I continue to learn through leading the services and now through classes at the seminary.

You often include personal and historical references to your Jewish background as part of your stage persona.  Tell us about that choice.

I always have a point in my theatrical shows where I include a message.  I find the right moment and it works because they’ve been entertained, and laughed, and shared in some joy.  When I take it to a place where it’s very real, very important to me. People are willing to hear it, it makes me very happy.  For example, I remind the audience to enjoy today.  You never know what’s going to happen.  I tell that to myself and my husband all time.

We worry so about the micro-moments and lose sight of the big picture.  You can’t put off moments with your family until it’s convenient for everybody.  Grab those moments.

My shows are so very different now than they were 10 or 20 years ago.  I think what makes them unique is that I come to them with all my experiences, even if they are not always visible in the shows.  When you sing at the temple you are not just singing, you are singing liturgy with all its meanings.  When I do theatrical singing, I always try to convey the meaning behind these songs as well as just having fun.

Do you have a vision or goal for how your life might unfold once you are ordained as a Rabbi?

There are so many possibilities, although I will say that I want to work with the Rabbi doing healing.  I love working with the congregants.  And, I will always sing.  I find singing the liturgy is a wonderful way for me to share it.  As a rabbi, I hope to work with people in all their simchas as well as funerals.  I have an investment in helping people with funerals.  My parents’ family perished in the Holocaust and none of them had a funeral and this has bothered me my entire life. So helping families rejoice in their loved ones life and show respect to their lost loved ones and their families is one way I can give back.

 

 

High Holiday Narrative

When you find yourself amidst the soul-searching Jewish holidays, your personal narrative can offer contemplative passage. Bring awareness to your narrative. Does your self-talk, your story, lean toward self-criticism or towards an inflated sense of self-worth. Perhaps your narrative is somewhere in between and also offers room for both growth and self-compassion in the New Year.

Rabbi Alan Lew, Jewish meditation ‘guru’, views our identity, reflected in our narrative, as a construct we fear will crumble so we spend too much energy on propping it up. In the process, we live at some distance from ourselves. Estelle Frankel, Rabbinic Pastor and psychotherapist writes:

“The very formation of the ego and its defenses can be seen as a descent into a mitzrayim [narrow place, i.e. Egypt] of sorts for our spirit, which is essentially limitless. To some degree, the narrowing of consciousness that accompanies ego development is inevitable and necessary, for in order to function in the world we have to develop a healthy sense of our own autonomy and will. But that very sense of our separateness becomes a mitzrayim, which we must transcend in order to embrace the fullness of our true being.”

Mindful awareness can support the transcendence of our ego-heavy narrative. We develop and rehearse our story in an effort to make sense of our internal and external worlds. Occasionally this story, our narrative, does not “embrace the fullness of our true being.” When we bring awareness to the self-professed reasons for our life’s unfolding we can ask, “Is my narrative empowering?” From our narrative emerges our future choices.

“Awareness makes choice and change possible,” maintains neurobiologist Daniel J. Siegel, MD.  “… applying the power of narrative in healing can liberate a life. Narrative is the overarching integration of our life’s past experiences with our ongoing awareness and the way we create our future life of possibilities.”

“Our future life of possibilities” is indeed our High Holiday wish for all: Gmar hatima tova, a good signing/sealing! Perhaps in the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Ten Days of Repentance עשרת ימי תשובה, we could have the intention, the kavannah, of witnessing our narrative.

Designate a routine task as a prompt to bring awareness to your thoughts. For example, before you start the car or as soon as you sit down on the bus, take a few deep breaths and do nothing else but listen to your own narrative. Pick a narrative strand. Hold onto it long enough to discern what it expresses. Then let it go and continue witnessing. If you discover that possibility is the overarching theme of your narrative, share that energy with the world! If your narrative is holding you back somehow, try-on a Jewish spiritual practice or two throughout the coming year. Read Jewish texts. Ask the Shechinah to help you recognize your possibilities. During the High Holidays, she is closer than ever.

 

 

 

 

Hebrew Seminary Students post their High Holiday Homework

Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer teaches that each of us has the opportunity to create a Prayer Vision in preparation for the High Holidays.  “We need to visualize, think, and write down all the wonderful things that we want to happen to us in the New Year … and this is what I’m going to do for God in return.”  Below we share examples of this prayer vision process, as well as insights into HaShem’s 13 Attributes of Mercy, which we recite during the month of Elul and the High Holidays.

A Prayer Vision
By Student Rabbi Tirtzah Israel

The upcoming High Holy days, beginning with Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah, grants us the opportunity to reflect upon the blessings and challenges of the past year, while bestowing opportunities to revel in the prospect of renewal.  We let go of the old stuff in order to improve and to re-connect to our natural-selves.

As a candidate for rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Seminary, I envision for the upcoming year that I will be responsible for the following: (1) conduct Adult Education classes in the basics of Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism; (2) serve as an assistant rabbi at a Congregation providing life-cycle services and one-on-one Pastoral Counseling, and; (3) to further develop my private practice in the healing arts using the Kabbalah and Healing Meditations as taught by my mentor and teacher Rabbi, Dr. Douglas Goldhamer.

In return, what I will do for God is be more patient with myself, less judgmental and critical. I will develop deep self-compassion so that I will have compassion to give to others in my healing practice.  I believe, as my teacher reminded me, “you can’t give what you don’t have.”  I will focus my meditative energies towards understanding the divine attributes so that I can use those energies to activate connectivity and healing.

A Prayer Vision
By Student Rabbi Alison C. Brown

It feels as though some pretty wonderful things are already happening in my life this year.  My twin girls started college and so far, so good!  Now I have more time to focus on trying not to call or text them; to finishing my rabbinic thesis; and to worrying about the November elections!

Good health is of course my number one wish for my family and all those I share this planet with.  Good health is intricately connected to the health of our planet and I also wish for this, the good health of planet earth.  I count on God, on Makom, God’s manifestation in the physical world, for Her continuous creation.  Likewise, God counts on us, her human partners to protect creation.  In return for the gift of good health, I will work harder to live sustainably and support sustainable causes.  With prayers and blessings I will thank God for all that Her creation provides for me and I will try every day to minimize my environmental footprint.  I love and appreciate our farmlands and the farmers that tend them lovingly; I love and appreciate our Lake Michigan and the volunteers that protect it lovingly.  In return for these gifts this year, I will better consider my consumer choices.  (I’d give you examples, but I’m so spoiled it’s embarrassing!)

I also wish that in our upcoming November elections my fellow Americans will embrace our long- held values of equality, justice, safety and equal opportunity for all.  I wish that every eligible American registers to vote.  I wish that every registered voter votes.  I wish that those candidates who will fight for equality, justice, safety and equal opportunity for all will get elected.  The High Holidays continue throughout October; our elections are November 8th.  The timing is, I believe, besheirt (meant to be).  While we give thought to our personal vision for the New Year, we can soul search our vision for this great country and ask ourselves, “Can we take pride in the ongoing candidates’ political discourse and the values they represent?”  And, “What can I do to support the values I hold dear within the context of a democratic society?”  The Shechina embraces us all.  I too should try my best to embrace and be empathetic towards each and every person; so too should our elected officials.   In return for God’s support of my prayer vision, I will volunteer at voter registration drives and increase my volunteer commitments in general.  Additionally I will continue to practice and improve my Hebrew skills, as well as make time to practice the many Kabbalistic meditations that Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer has taught me, in hopes that my prayers will be more efficacious and my deeds less self-centered.

God’s 13 Attributes of Mercy
by Student Rabbi Sandra Charak

It is also suggested that we recite and meditate twice a day on Adonai’s 13 attributes of God during the month of Elul until Yom Kippur.  According to Kabbalah, Adonai is closest to us during this month, in spirit, energetically speaking.  The gematria of Elul אלול   equals 13 which is also love אהב. There are 13 attributes of Adonai, showing love to His children if they listen.  This is best illustrated on Yom Kippur when we get a chance to create a new contract with Adonai promising teshuvah, our turning, returning to God.  Any changes we promise to strive for, even minor ones as long as we are moving towards becoming better people, causes Adonai to smile.

Adonai’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, or His ethical attributes are repeated twice in the Torah, in Exodus and the prophet Micah, giving them extra important meaning.  These verses are the very core of the Selichot prayers said each day during Elul until Yom KippurS’licha means forgiveness.  During the month of Elul we do teshuvah knowing that we are all one and connected in God.

The Thirteen Attributes begins with Adonai, Adonai :

  1. יהוה

Adonai – compassion before a person sins;

  1. יהוה
    Adonai – compassion after a person has sinned;
  2. אל
    El – mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need,
  3. רחום
    Rachum – merciful, that humankind may not be distressed;
  4. חנון
    Chanun – gracious if humankind is already in distress;
  5. אפים ארך

Erech appayim – slow to anger;

  1. רב חסד
    Rav chesed –plenteous in mercy;
  2. אמת
    Emet – truth;
  3. לאלפים נצר חסד
    Notzer chesed laalafim – keeping mercy unto the thousands;
  4. נשא עון
    Noseh avon – forgiving iniquity;
  5. פשע נשא

Noseh peshah – forgiving transgression;

  1. חטאה נשא
    Noseh chatah – forgiving sin;
  2. ונקה
    Venakeh – and pardoning.

 

In Preparation for the High Holidays, Check Your Vision!

Part II, by Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

During the month of Elul, our Kabbalah teaches us that each of us needs to create a Prayer Vision.  That is we need to visualize, think, and write down all the wonderful things that we want to happen to us in the New Year.  When we create a prayer vision, our Kabbalah encourages us to create a vision of spirituality that is a vision in which we are doing good deeds, mitzvot and prayers in the coming year.  Inherent in our prayer vision and vision of spirituality is that we come to the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services with a written proposal in hand to God and we say it whispering very softly during two to three of the prayers: Hashem it is worth investing in my life and making my prayer vision a reality because this is what I’m going to do for you this year.  The return on investment (ROI) is definitely worth your while.  This is the contribution I intend to make to your global of tikkun olam.  You might propose, I will give more to the poor; I will help in the food pantry at my temple; I will become much more spiritual; or, just as I am doing Modeh Ani in Elul, I will do it regularly during the year; I will go to shul at least once a month; and/or I will read at least one book next year on Judaism.  A small investment of blessings by you on me will pay off because I will be generous in so many ways next year, you won’t regret your investment in me.

We write on the paper that we are bringing to shul what we promise to do to make this a kinder more gentler year, and in exchange we ask God to bless us with good health for us and our family; a strong financial earning for the coming New Year; and that the cancer that my family member is experiencing go into remission this year.

This prayer vision and proposal of spirituality should be written and spoken every day in the month of Elul and also during the silent prayers during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  The last thing we do to make Elul the most powerful spiritual month of the year, is to read Exodus 34: verses 6-7 in Hebrew.  The words in these verses contain highly charged vibrations that move Hashem to automatically send blessings to you when you recite them aloud during Elul.  With the reciting of these verses, you create a spiritual gravity wherein God cannot help but send down blessings for the entire year for you and your family.

All of this is what makes Elul the most powerfully charged spiritual month of the Hebrew calendar.  Do it and God will send to you great blessings which will heighten the power of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in your life.

Check Your Vision

 

You’ve Got Your High Holiday Tickets, but Before You

Consider What to Wear, Check Your Vision.

 

By Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

The month of Elul, the last month before the Jewish New Year is the most important theological month of the Jewish year.  In the month of Elul, God is closer to us than at any other time and our prayers are more powerful than at any other time, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

If we focus our thinking on God during the month of Elul, we will be so much in God’s thoughts that during the High Holiday services, when we pray in temple, we will “hear” God answer.  The word “hear” can be either hearing with your ears or feeling intensely a separate being inside of you speaking to you.  I pray so intensely during Elul that when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur comes around, I actually hear by feeling a separate being answer me who lives within me.  It is an amazing, frightening and yet inspiring moment.

We know it is our tradition to say the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon wakening, but if you say the Modeh Ani prayer during Elul you will feel the intensity of the prayer greatly.   You will feel the power of God flowing through you like in no other month.

Modeh (feminine: Modah) ani l’fanecha melech chai v’kayam shehechezarta bi nishmati bechemlah rabah emunatecha.

I thank you with my very being, living, enduring King, for restoring my Divine Soul to me in compassion.  You are faithful beyond measure.

The Modeh Ani prayer strongly opens the gates of our soul so that when we recite the Modeh Ani prayer during the month of Elul, God not only returns our soul to us every morning when we wake up, but our soul becomes so pure.  This is because, with a minyan of ten, the channels or gates open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and we can hear God.  There are two channels to the soul that allow us to hear God, if these channels are open.  The first channel is Nefesh, that part of the soul that resides in our blood stream.  When that channel becomes open, it allows us to hear God from the bottom up.  The other channel that opens during Elul, when we recite the Modeh Ani, is that part of our soul called Neshama.  The Neshama resides in Keter, in the crown of our head.  When the channel Neshama opens, we hear God from the top down.  So on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashannah both channels open when we say the Modeh Ani during Elul and our godly experience is enormously intensified.  The Modeh Ani is the single most mystical prayer that is said in the month of Elul.

Here is the optimal way of saying the Modeh Ani meditation during month of Elul: 1) Say the Modeh Ani prayer.  2) While you are saying the prayer, there should be a concomitant internal dynamic that we are thanking God for the channel of the Neshama that opens up and allows the presence of God to come down to us from Ayn Sof (the One without End).  3) Also imagine that there is a channel within us, Nefesh within our bloodstream that opens up and allows God to enter into us from the bloodstream up through our whole body.  4)  Imagine a lighted candle before you.  Visualize it.  See it.  5)  With your eyes closed, imagine the candle coming closer and closer to you as you say “The light of the Lord is my soul.”  (Proverbs 20:27).  6)  Visualize the candle entering you, see yourself filled with the light of God augmented by God’s extra light coming down into you through Neshama and God’s additional light coming up to you through Nefesh.  Like a booster shot, God’s extra light adds punch and power to light you already have now with the two channels open.  Up and down, these two sparks ignite the light that already is in you.  Know that this Elul morning experience will have tremendous mystical ramifications on hearing God during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Watch for Part II Proposing a Prayer Vision!