Shabbat Unplugged | Congregation Beth Am

Shabbat Unplugged

By Rabbi Jonathan Prosnit on
March 8, 2019

1869 three Rabbis, one in Louisville, one in Cleveland and Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise in Cincinnati, in the face of public in-attention to the Shabbat morning worship, introduced a late Friday evening Shabbat service at a fixed time.  It soon became one of the most long lasting successes of the Reform Movement and ushered in a sea change in American worship. 

Rabbi Mayer Wise wrote:   “Our readers know that innovations for innovation’s sake do not suit us.  Reforms must have an object, What is the object of this particular one?

(I’m abbreviating here)

First - evening services are much more solemn than the day service

Second - during the hottest months of the summer, in this climate at least, the Sabbath morning service also was neglected;

Third -  There are a great many in every congregation who cannot attend divine service in the morning.  We need hardly remind readers that there are businessmen, clerks, bookkeepers, apprentices, female servants, and even many mothers who cannot leave their houses always in the morning and attend divine service. 

There is no excuse left to anybody.  Seven o’clock in the evening. every Israelite in this city … can attend divine service.  Those who do attend their temples on Sabbath morning and those who cannot, the old the young, those who are and those who are not their own masters, can come and spend one hour in higher reflections, in worship and prayer, in divine lessons and solemn contemplations.   (Isaac Mayer Wise) 

All of us who come to Beth Am tonight and to hundreds of Shabbat services across the country stand on the shoulders of that early reform movement decision to emphasize fixed Friday night Shabbat worship.  If you grew up at a reform synagogue, chances are Friday nights were the most central part of Shabbat worship.   I grew up at two classical reform synagogues Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto and Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan and friday nights worship were led from grand beautiful sanctuaries, with professional choirs, and clergy wearing black robes while sitting on a high bima.  

No doubt the worship has evolved - at those places and also here at Beth Am.  Some places the time of services have changed from 7 to 8 to 6 or 6:15.  If you grew up at a reform synagogue last century, you might not remember Bar or Bat Mitzvah at all, because in many places the ritual wasn’t performed - instead the synagogue favored high school Confirmation.  If you do remember Bar or Bat Mitzvah,  you might remember them as part of Friday night services.   It’s likely that the weekly torah portion was chanted on Friday evenings - some places - including Central Synagogue and Temple Emanuel in Manhattan still chant torah on friday evening.  

Many of you likely have used the blue siddur -Gates of Prayer -  the Reform Movement prayer book that came out in 1975.  GOP - don’t worry this isn’t a political sermon - sought to accommodate new trends in Jewish life while maintaining traditional patterns of Reform worship.   The GOP included ten themed services for Friday night, all in contemporary English as well as an unprecedented selection of new prayers, readings, and meditations to accompany the Hebrew text.  For the first time there were services for Holocaust commemoration and Israeli Independence Day; and an extensive section of song texts. The first CCAR prayer book available in an optional Hebrew opening format, it signified the Reform Movement's growing openness to tradition. GOP achieved immediate success, selling 50,000 in its first year

If you’re of a certain age, perhaps the siddur you prayed with was the Union Prayer Book.  The Union Prayer Book was published in 1895 and was shortly used by, according to the Central Conference of American Rabbis yearbook, the 55 most prominent congregations in the United States. 

The Union Prayer Book Revised attempted to respond to the theology of the day  and not only eliminated references to a personal Messiah and to the  Davidic dynasty, but also all references to kohanim, priests and sacrifices, including the entire Musaf service, along with references to chosen-ness and to the return to Zion.  (https://www.ccarpress.org/content.asp?tid=471)  Temple Emanuel in New York City still has some of its Shabbat worship with the UPB.  

My mom story tells the story of visiting her grandmother on Rugby Road in the Midwood section of Brooklyn on shabbat evening.   Her grandmother, and anyone else who was in the house would gather together and listen to WQKR 96.3, for the radio broadcast of Shabbat evening services from Temple Emanuel of the City of New York.  My mom remembers sitting in her grandmother’s brooklyn living room and if the Emanuel rabbi said please rise, her grandmother made everyone in the entire room stand.   

Throughout our history, we’ve found special and meaningful ways to welcome Shabbat.  I know many people who choose Judaism later in life ,say the part of Judaism they are most taken with is Shabbat.  Tonight and tomorrow, at Beth Am, and this month at communities across the globe is called Shabbat Unplugged - A program by the Jewish Organization Re-Boot which created the Shabbat Manifesto : in the same spirit as the Slow Movement, slow food, slow living, by a small group of artists, writers, filmmakers and media professionals who, while not particularly religious, felt a collective need to fight back against our increasingly fast-paced way of living.

Here are the 10 components of the Shabbat Manifesto: 

  1. Avoid Technology
  2. Connect with loved ones.
  3. Nurture your health.
  4.  Get outside.
  5. Avoid commerce.
  6. Light candles.
  7.  Drink wine.
  8.  Eat bread.
  9.  Find silence.
  10.  Give back.

10 simple, powerful, positive actions.   Deeply rooted in our tradition that challenge us to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and be with loved ones.   Each of the components of the manifesto is created that we have the ability to seize it for ourselves. 

Rabbi Art Green writes:  “Shabbat is needed now more than ever, We Jews should be missionary about Shabbat.  It may be the best gift we have to offer the world.    The idea is that one day a week you say no to our new master, the computer.  You turn off the modem (or the iphone) look away from the screen and toward those around you, exercising a talent that may become rare in the age;  the cultivation of real community.  My bumper sticker for slogan for shabbat reads, visit people not websites

Beth Am has been participating in Shabbat unplugged for a number of years now and our Shabbat committee has committed to promoting and advocating shabbat unplugged.  You’ll see a shabbat slideshow in just a few minutes.    I know so many people here for whom shabbat is the most important part of the week.  A chance to connect with loved ones, to reflect on the week, to sleep, eat good food, spend time refreshing and recharging:    Take our member Marlene Levenson:

Shabbat is such a special day, a time when everyday responsibilities are put aside. All week I look forward to celebrating it with my sister, Rosalin.

Almost every Shabbat morning I attend  Torah Study at Beth Am and then drive to the Jewish Home in San Francisco where Rosalin has lived for the past 4 1/2 years.

I try to arrive in time to enjoy the oneg following services conducted by Rabbi Shelly Marder that my sister regularly attends.  Afterward we spend a peaceful afternoon listening to music, going through the New York Times or sitting outside in the fresh air.  

Although Rosalin can barely speak, her eyes speak for her. It is remarkable how she can communicate and how we understand one another.

I know that before too long these times will become a cherished memory.  But for now, every Shabbat I celebrate with her fills a space nothing else can.

Or,  Our member Debbie Lafetra:

“How is Shabbat special to you?” I ask my 17-year old daughter. She gives me a look. “How do I answer that? Shabbat just is. It’s what we’ve always done.” I press her a bit but the best she can do is, “Shabbat just feels different and special. It’s removed. Friday night and Saturday morning. It’s Shabbat.”

I think of all the things we do on Shabbat. We light candles and eat homemade challah. We bless the children. We go to Torah study and the Torah minyan. We listen to Jewish music and play music and sing. Sometimes we have family reading-aloud time. We have discussions. We’ve developed our own little family rituals and Shabbat in-jokes. But for all the things we do, I think my daughter captured the essence of it: Shabbat simply is – a space and time removed from the ordinary, a reliable weekly break from daily concerns, a special recurring theme in the rhythm of life.

  1. Avoid Technology
  2. Connect with loved ones.
  3. Nurture your health.
  4.  Get outside.
  5. Avoid commerce.
  6. Light candles.
  7.  Drink wine.
  8.  Eat bread.
  9.  Find silence.
  10.  Give back.

What a wonderful gift we are given each week - the gift of shabbat.   May we open our hearts to the majesty and joy of shabbat.   

 

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We strive to live as a holy community whose study and practice of Judaism inspires and challenges us to "do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).