Nitzavim- Our Stories of Plain Old Ordinary Holiness

Atem Nitzavim Hayom— You stand here this day…
These words which open our Torah portion, capture our attention— past and present converge as we stand shoulder to shoulder with all the wilderness wanderers, amassed on the border of a new land of promise— our heads of tribes, our elders, our officers, all the men of Israel, our youth, our women, the non-Jews who are part of our community; from the hewer of wood to the water drawer; those who lived in Biblical times and those of us alive today.

Rosh Chodesh and the Women of the Wall

A very humble Sisterhood member and friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) wrote the following paragraphs to broaden my understanding and appreciation of Rosh Chodesh, and I would like to share them with everyone:

“Rosh Chodesh celebrates the new moon, the first day of the month of the Hebrew calendar. This Rosh Chodesh Tevet coincides with the seventh day of Chanukah.

On Rosh Chodesh (as with Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot), we add a prayer to our tefillah asking God to remember and bless us. On Chanukah we add a prayer to our tefillah thanking God for the miracles of the season. On Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and on the three pilgrimage festivals we sing hallel – songs and praise to God. We read from the Torah to learn from our traditions and sing the Mi Shebeirach for comfort and healing for those who are ill.

Rabbi Conover on Women of The Wall

On Rosh Chodesh, the new moon of the Jewish month of Av, I found myself in Jerusalem, in the plaza near the Kotel (the Western Wall of the Temple) surrounded by hundreds of people—and barricades.

I almost didn’t find myself there. When I first arrived at the Plaza, I was enveloped by a throng of curious Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) girls who tried to see what was happening as they approached the Kotel for their morning prayers. Still looking for a way in, I rounded the corner of the barricades and encountered a large, angry group of Haredi men, whose jeers rose louder and louder. But the sound of women praying in song rose above their taunts, and soon an Israeli soldier parted the barricades so that I could go inside.

Rally for Immigration Reform!

If your Shabbat practice allows, join Andrew Keene (NFTY President), Governor Quinn, Mayor Emmanuel and thousands of others this Saturday, October 5 at 9am for a rally immigration reform at Union Park.

On this Shabbat, we read a story with which many faiths are familiar: the story of Noah. The iconic dove– graceful, beautiful and brave– has come to symbolize the peace movement. I believe she is a fitting symbol for immigration reform as well.

You know the tale: God brought a flood that destroyed all living things on earth save Noah, his wife, children and the animals on the ark. After the rain had stopped, first Noah sent out a raven who never to returned from his search for dry land. Next Noah sent out the dove. She circled and circled, looking anywhere and everywhere to land. Finding no dry land, she returned to the ark.

Yom Kippur Service Sermon from Rabbi Conover

Shabbat Shalom.

Has anyone here ever heard of SCOTT GINSBERG? On a whim one night in college nearly 14 years ago, he decided to wear a name tag that said: “Hello, My name is Scott” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He never takes it off. He carries spares in in his pockets. Just about five times a day someone asks him: “What’s with the name tag?”

And here’s his response: “It represents friendliness in the midst of strangers.”

So today, we sit in this beauty of this awesome sanctuary. We pray this day together, but I am sad to say that sometimes, even amidst so many others here, we still feel like strangers. That is not a way to start a new year. We are not wearing name tags, so in just a moment, I will ask you to introduce yourself to those sitting around you. And if you already know your neighbors, ask them this question: “What do you hope this sermon is about?” Put another way: What message do you need to hear at this season this year?

And… go!

Hey, Rabbi! An Elul Q&A with Rabbi Shoshanah Conover

REPRINTED FROM REFORMJUDAISM.COM BLOG –

We asked clergy across North America which music, books, art, movies and more help them get into a reflective state of mind as they gear up for the High Holidays. Here’s what Rabbi Shoshanah Conover from Temple Sholom in Chicago, IL, had to say.

ReformJudaism.org: Any favorite musicians you tend to listen to during Elul?

Rabbi Conover: For the past decade, Bach’s Goldberg Variations have been a constant companion during the month of Elul. They remind me that life can be varied and beautiful in its variations—that, similar to this one composition, within our one lifetime, we can renew ourselves again and again. My favorite version is a recording by Rosalyn Tureck released by VAI in 1988. It’s so intimate, there are times it seems as if I can hear her breathing. There’s an apocryphal story that it was recorded in the living room of a home. When I listen to this version, I connect not only to the deep spirit of the music, but to Tureck’s creative life force. In that way, when listening to this recording, I feel closer to God.

Tisha B’Av and the Spirit of Chayim’s Violin

Very rarely would a person walk the streets of Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av (the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av) and hear the sweet Kabbalat Shabbat niggun (melody) of:

Zamru Adonai b’kinor, b’kinor v’kol zimrah.

“Praise Adonai with harp, with harp and voice of song.”

Psalm 98

Yet from under an open tent on the outdoor grounds of a nature museum in Jerusalem, these words wafted gently over a mourning city. On Tisha B’Av, we commemorate the many calamanities that befell our people, especially aching over the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. A week ago, I sat on cushions in this large open tent and listened to the chanting of Eicha (Lamentations) interspersed with modern poetry. Afterward, I raised my voice with others in the singing of kinot (dirges). The vivid images of the destruction of Jerusalem and the brokenness of the people who dwelled there inspired those around me to share spontaneous reflections and meditations on shattered souls. An older man shared a story that his uncle once told him when he was a boy.

Where is God? Wherever you let God in.

Where is God? Wherever you let God in.

– The Kotzker Rebbe

As the Shabbat sun reached far into the west, and the first relief of the afternoon’s heat sighed over Jerusalem, my husband, two young sons and I set out on foot for the Western Wall (the Kotel). Our five year-old son Eli protested leaving the cool air of our hotel room for this place that he did not want to go.

It wasn’t until half-way up the meandering path on a hill that leads to Zion gate that he asked:

“Wait, are we going to the KOTEL?”

I replied: “Yes.”

He said: “I thought you said HOTEL. Oh, the KOTEL… I love that place!” (as though he’d been there before).