Written by Leah Guren, Ohel Avraham congregant.
Over the years, I have attended High Holiday services at different shuls. It is fascinating that the same structure of prayer and ritual can vary so much depending on the denomination, the location, and even the style or personality of the congregation.
It is funny how we can be very forgiving with normal Shabbat services, but have much higher expectations when it comes to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Perhaps it is the seriousness and importance of the holidays that demands something special.
But let’s face it: how many times have you mentally disconnected from long, pompous services or tuned out during a boring sermon? Have you ever flipped ahead through the machzor to see how many pages are left? Or checked your watch?
For me, High Holiday services have always been a compromise. I could choose a traditional liturgy or modern relevance, but not both. I could be with congenial friends or enjoy musically rich services, but not both. I could have a “thinking” experience or a “feeling” experience, but not both. I could hear well-known tunes or be challenged with new melodies, but not both. Nothing was ever perfect and I often ended up feeling vaguely dissatisfied, knowing I would have to wait for another year to try again.
But this year, I had the pleasure of joining services at Ohel Avraham. As a new member of the congregation, I had been enjoying regular Shabbat services throughout the year, but I wasn’t really sure what would happen during the holidays.
To my delight, the services were a beautiful blend of all the elements that I could hope for. Services followed the traditional liturgical framework while connecting to modern, relevant issues. There was solid content to satisfy my brain and emotional warmth to satisfy my heart. I was in a beautiful shul surrounded by many new friends. And the music! Oh, my! Simply stunning.
Even during the long Yom Kippur fast, I didn’t zone out, flip ahead in the machzor, or check my watch. And each time I left shul at the end of services during that long holiday marathon, I felt a sense of joy and peace.
Magical services like that do not happen accidentally. Rabbi Na’ama Dafni-Kellen and Rabbi Gabby Dagan deserve special thanks for finding an ideal balance between tradition and modern relevance. They worked closely with many talented volunteers to create a well-run, beautifully satisfying services. So many people participated: singing, reading Torah, reading modern poetry, and more.
I hope that you can join us next year and experience it for yourself!