Yom Kippur At JRC: Part One

I have written about our time at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, better known as JRC. It is time to write again.

Though my family was not overly religious I grew up in a very traditional synagogue. By that I mean long services, prayers mostly spoken in Hebrew (for which I can sound out words but do not know what they mean), and professional shushers that would roam the aisles should any congregant attempt to chat with his neighbor. Shhhhsh.

The Rabbis’ sermons were of the hell-fire and brimstone variety. He would either be telling us what we were doing wrong as sinners or alternatively to  telling us to support the state of Israel, there were no other topics. Women had no role in these services. They were lucky not to have to sit in a partitioned off area as they do at an orthodox service. These were serious and stern services. The dress code was suits and ties, though admittedly this was decades before business casual changed our sartorial expectations.

It’s not that I disliked my family synagogue. I knew of nothing different. The cantor had a beautiful voice and many of the tunes I learned there are hauntingly beautiful. This was my opportunity as a terrible but enthusiastic singer to belt out songs under the cover of prayer and of being one of hundreds of voices.  I learned to pray solemnly–even if I did not understand the words I was pronouncing.

The JRC has a radically different approach to the holiday services and to the ideas of community and the role of a synagogue and its congregation. It did take me awhile to get past what I consider to be “prayer–lite” and the relatively casual dress of the congregants. (Yes, I can be shallow enough to judge people on how they dress as opposed to who they are.)

Once I saw past the superficial the substance of what Rabbi Brant Rosen and Cantor Howard Friedland brought to me as a Jew and a human it was hard not to like this place. Our time as a congregation on Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days of the year will be a good example of what JRC is all about.

Throughout the night and next day that make up this holiday, Rabbi Rosen communicated themes of community, commitment to the improving society, finding a connection to G-d both individually and collectively and understanding the spirit, not just the law of the holidays. The individual prayers are shorter than the tradition I grew up with (which bothers me at times) but the level of spirituality is higher.

If you are looking for a stern lecturer spewing fire and brimstone, you are in the wrong place. Rabbi Rosen– Brant– is passionate about many things but his delivery is that of an everyrabbi. He is calm, casual, caring, and funny (including a willingness to laugh at himself). He sets the tone for the service and for the service and for the community. Or perhaps JRC  found a rabbi that reflects his congregation. I am not involved in the congregation though we have been members for 12 years. But during the high holidays I get a sense of the long time and involved members and they appear to  share Brant’s characteristics and the desire to do good as well as be good.

Then there is Cantor Friedland–Howard. I have a strong distaste for people who pretend to care but are clearly insincere. I have come to refer to these people as the anti-Howards. While many care only if a cantor has a great voice, I care about whether the cantor has a great spirit. Howard brings both.  He is a perfect complement to Brent. I have not yet found the “team” to compare them to. Certainly not The Lone Ranger and Tonto for Howard is not a in a secondary role. Perhaps Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, at least as we know them from their portrays by Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Both men of substance who work well together. ( I am not sure that the characters fit completely but Brant/Howard any objections being compared to Newman and Redford?)

Since the set up has taken so long I am splitting this story into parts one and two. Part Two will discuss the wonders of this particular Yom Kippur.

Before I go, let me share two more things. First, below is JRC’s self-description form its website which can be found here.

 JRC is a Jewish community known for our joyful spirituality, life-long learning, and a deep commitment to social justice. Located in Evanston, Illinois, our members come from all parts of Chicago and its suburbs. We are an inclusive congregation, reflecting the rich diversity of the American Jewish community – our JRC family includes interfaith families, blended families, young people, senior adults, people of color, and gays and lesbians.

JRC is much more than a synagogue – we are a community committed to a Judaism that makes a difference in our lives and in the world.

The second is a point I found out when I went to the website . Rabbi Brant Rosen has been listed in Newsweek as one of the “Top 25 Pulpit Rabbis in America” . Read more about this here.

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