Every time the High Holy Day season approaches, I find myself reminiscing about the first Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of my youth that I can clearly remember.
I have unforgettable memories of my hometown and its fifty Jewish souls praying together in a small room filled with pictures of my ancestors. I remember the elders that led services and the respect and inspiration they conveyed to the rest of us. I was proud of my dad, of blessed memory, and his Tekiot Shofar, using his old black straight Turkish Shofar. I was in awe listening to his reading of Maftir Jonah, an honor given to him until his last Yom Kippur. But not everything was led by the elders of my congregation, there was a deliberate effort to encourage youngsters to participate in the service. We were asked to read, partake, sing and learn the Sephardic melodies of those beautiful “pizmonim” (traditional liturgical songs praising God) now taken out of the Mahzor. We even had a youth competition to see who would last, fasting the entire day, although at age 6 there was no need for us to do it. The deliberate effort to incorporate youth into a service was something I grew up admiring and I wondered if that was a local tradition or a tradition in communities around the Jewish world. Was it something we invented or a standard part of historical Jewish practice?
I was able to dig out a beautiful parable from the Dubno Maggid that illuminates my inquiry.
Dubno Maggid spoke to the youngsters of his community, charging them to do their part in the High Holy Day service. He told them: “A man, accompanied by his young son, once traveled on a long journey. Whenever they came to a difficult spot, the man raised the boy onto his shoulders and carried him over the difficult terrain. One day they arrived at a city encircled by a wall. The gates were locked. It was the evening and they were exhausted. Noting some small windows on one side of the walls, the father turned to his son and said: ‘My son, until now I have been kind to you, caring for you. Now I have no recourse but to ask you to be kind enough to climb the walls and enter the city through that little window.’ Turning to the youngsters, the Maggid said. Dear children, most of the burdens of life are upon the shoulders of your elders. We have the responsibility to clothe and feed you. Not so on this awesome day of teshuvah (repentance) because we are afraid the gates of Heaven will be locked and our prayers will not be able to enter the gates. But you, who are pure of transgression, your prayers, said in earnestness from the depths of your hearts, will enter through the little portals until they reach God’s throne. In this way, perhaps you will also be able to come before the Heavenly throne.”
The youth of Temple Beth El will enable us to create the new sanctuary we envision, as it is for them that we strive to build it. With their precious voices reading Torah as in years past they will climb toward the heavens, bringing our supplications on the holiest day of the year. Together with Hazzan Randall Levine, Emily, Henry and Michael the time has come to pass the Shofar to a new generation, to watch them pray and reach new heights.
Let us all have a most renowned, spiritual and meaningful New Year as we include everyone and open our tent to all people.
Silvana, Ethan and Lara join me in wishing you a Happy New Year.
L’Shanah Tova Tikatevu ve tichatemu.
Rabbi Leonardo Bitran