Depending on when you read this message, it may be old news. After more than thirty years, you will hold in your hands a new High Holy Day prayer book - a mach'zor - that I expect will inspire you as much as it has inspired the Hazzan and me.
Lev Shalem is the name of the newest liturgical publication of the Conservative Movement, the work mostly of the Rabbinical Assembly under the direction of my teacher Rabbi Ed Feld. While preserving and even restoring most of the traditional service that binds us to God and other communities, the book makes good use of the commentaries, supplemental readings and outer margins to enhance and expand the collective AND personal experience of prayer.
There are two practical consequences of this change for the coming year. The first requires your patience: having conducted services out of the "Harlow mach'zor" for thirty years, I had the timing down pat. Hazzan Dienstfrey and I will be feeling our way through services this year without the ability to take notes! I know you will forgive us if things run shorter or longer (well, if they run shorter...) as we find the best combination of music, readings and supplemental material, as well as the right balance of Hebrew and English.
The second has to do with the reflections booklet. In years past, much of the material we included was designed to enhance and amplify the plain text of the prayer book. Now, that material is integrated into the volume itself. As a result, the booklet will mostly contain original writings of congregants and (this year) excerpts from the other new Rabbinical Assembly publication, The Observant Life, the remarkably comprehensive guide to living as a Conservative Jew.
Any time a change is made it is unsettling. I am sure many people will look at the new book and bemoan the pieces missing from their favorite pan of the liturgy (I certainly did!). Yet, I think you will find that the beauty of the language, the layout and the genuine holiness that pervades this mach'zor will make you grateful for a new look at a familiar text. And I am confident, given the wealth of material, that the excitement of encountering these texts will last for many years. I found many readings and commentaries that resonated with a younger self, and many that challenged the person I have become. That's the mark of staying power.
Finally, you all receive my thanks. We acquired these prayer books because of the small acts of generosity you have performed over many years. Our prayer book fund was filled with sufficient donations to enable us to purchase all the books we needed. Most of your prior donations have been long recognized in the siddurim we use daily and on Shabbat. We have accumulated the dollars we needed to maintain, replace and acquire the texts that enable us to pray together as a community. As you know, dedication opportunities are available for Lev Shalem also.
Lev Shalem means "a whole heart." May you find yourself whole-hearted in the days ahead.
Please accept the deepest wishes for a good and sweet year from Ann and me, from Jennie and Kevin, from Julia and from Max.