BY BRAM BESSOFF / AJT //
What do Dave Matthews Band and Yom Kippur have in common? My rabbi’s sermon.
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A huge win for the assimilation of new and old Jewish cultures, for the mix of music and prayer, and the joining of secular and non-secular thought together as one.
He based his Yom Kippur sermon around the lyric “We gotta do much more than believe if we really wanna change things” from the song “Gaucho” on Dave’s latest studio album, “Away From the World”.
It’s not my favorite DMB tune; in fact I’ve never listened to it until now or any DMB record since “Everyday”. But, as always, Dave’s lyrics are impactful and chock full of meaning.
Never have I heard a rabbi start a sermon by mentioning a pop culture icon, so naturally I skipped my usual service nap to give this one a listen. The rest of the sermon was about getting off your tuchas and make something happen.
For far too long now it has become acceptable for Jews to open their pocket book, write a check and call it support. And thanks to their tzedakah, our buildings stay open, our children get some level of Jewish education but the culture is still dying. Why?
Because in order for a culture to remain relevant, it requires participation to stay alive. That’s why I sit on the board of the AJMF and play any musical event when called upon by any congregation in the community.
I often wonder why every Sunday morning temple parking lots are filled with cars and alive with children attending Sunday school. But Friday nights and Saturday mornings there is barely anyone there accept for the usual core crowd and occasional Bar Mitzvah attendees.
Perhaps this is the reason why many Jewish kids feel their Bar Mitzvah is more of a graduation from Judaism rather than the true beginning of their adult life as a Jew. Instead of treating it like a chore to an end goal, if we all participated more, the culture would be nurtured instead of dying on the vine.
This is why I love the holidays so much and why this time of year is the best time to be Jewish.
The holidays roll in one after another and they are all highly interactive and tons of fun.
If Yom Kippur is the slow and purposefully painful tow up the rollercoaster, then Sukkot is the first drop and Simcha Torah is the wild ride.
Our Chavera had a Sukkah party this past weekend and it was a blast. I have heard over and over again from those who build a Sukkah that it was a therapeutic exercise that actually got them reconnected with Judaism – again participation.
The kids did arts and crafts, we ate, drank and socialized under the Sukkah’s semi-thatched roof and all had a great time. I highly recommend you give the Lulav a quick shake, too. Smell the Etrog and say the prayer; this is a ritual that is so unique that many who see you do it would be amazed in wonderment as to what it is all about.
It’s about participation, or at least the coming together of the different types of Jews so the sum is greater than its parts – the kind of terminology I use to describe a great band.
Each part of the Lulav and Etrog represent a different Jewish personality: Those who study Torah and perform Mitzvoth; those who study but do not perform Mitzvoth; those who perform good deeds but do not study Torah (most likely me) and those who do neither.
All four are needed by the Jewish community and further the cause of Am Yisrael – the people of Israel.
The Sukkah calls for all of us to reunite as one and move forward. We’ve got to do more than believe, we need to get active. And this doesn’t mean attend more services, but it means more than sending in a check.
You can read more about the mitzvah of unity by checking out this website: http://www.judaism.com/resources/lulav.asp
So, start your path to being more active by attending Simcha Torah services, by far my most favorite holiday, beating out Chanukah and many others by a land slide.
There is no better holiday to connect with the Torah than this one. Most everyone gets a turn to hold and dance with a Torah during the seven Hakafot (circuits). If you have nowhere to go, than I personally invite you to join us at Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell. And since this article will most likely be published after the holiday, this is your invitation for next year.
One of the coolest things that happens in my temple during the holiday is that we unravel the full length of the Torah around the sanctuary by resting the edge of the parchment across everyone’s fingertips so all can see the scripture in a new perspective. There are many hidden things inside the Torah that can only be appreciated this way.
It brings a whole new meaning to Gematria and Kabbalah that would keep even the most agnostic person engaged. For me, the coolest part is when we get to Exodus and the scripture is in the shape of bricks where “The Song of the Sea” (Shirat Hayam) is inscribed.
This portion is where we celebrate the crossing of the red sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army – no one ever gets to see this stuff and if they did, I bet we would all be inclined to learn more about it.
Rabbi Green spends time explaining other cool facts like why some letters are larger than others and why each column of the Torah starts with the letter ‘vav’, which means ‘and’, the letter of connection, hinting that we are all be connected by Torah and no culture can be sustained without connection.
I bet your kids will have a different outlook on Torah if they experience it in this light. Which reminds me, when I attended High Holiday services at my folks temple in Memphis last year at Temple Israel, the cantor actually stopped between lines of the Torah to translate their meaning in real time.
It so happened that the section was about Abraham’s commandment to sacrifice his son Isaac and the translation made the reading much more meaningful, to the point that I actually shed a tear in thought of myself having to go through that with my own child.
Not to mention that I was holding my little one in my arms on the Bimah when this all went down.
I challenge more of our clergy to do this in services. I guarantee it will help all of us connect to the Torah more, bring out more participation and revive our culture.
Here’s to a new year where we all go out of our way to make an impact on the local, national and global culture of Judaism – whether it is religious, musical, personal or social, get off your tuchas and go do something Jewish.
About the writer
Follow Bram’s experiences on, off and backstage @bram_rocks. Interact with him at #InItForTheMoment and share thoughts, comments and ideas about this column.