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Dr. Seuss Questions

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Dr. Seuss asks children if they rather be a cat or a dog. My question is if you would rather pray in a brand new synagogue or an ancient one? The new one is modern and airy, probably with lots of light. The old one most likely has dark wood furniture and molding, undoubtedly with some stain glass windows.
 
The old synagogue has a definite history. The new one has definite potential for the future. The old synagogue can almost tell you about the various prayers held throughout its existence. Prayers for the sick, for safety and for happiness. It could also tell you about the Jews who lived in the area over its life span and the smachot (joyous celebrations), various activities and learning which took place within its walls.
 
The new synagogue wants to elaborate on what is to come. What its walls can hold, if people devote some time and attention to it. It is a clean slate looking toward the future. There are plans on how to use its space and how it can give comfort. It expects to keep up with modern, high tech times.
 
Do you prefer to use a new prayer book or an old one? A new prayer book would have clean crisp pages while an old one would have soft smooth pages. A well-used book may have stains, while the new one would be pure white or cream. 
 
An old book is filled with tradition, thoughts, emotions, and devotion. A new book is filled with potential. The potential of connecting someone to deep devotion and religion, with all that that denotes.
 
Old or new? Which do you prefer?
 
Does it have to be one or the other? Sometimes the word “old” is used to indicate something outdated or tiresome. But, in the illustrations above, I think that you can see that “old” can be well-loved, full of meaning and insight.
 
Insight, from a synagogue or prayer book, you might ask? To begin with a prayer book is a composition which had a lot of hard thought put into it. The prayers may be standard now, but it took understanding and vision to come to the decisions of how to write each prayer and which ones to include.
 
I suggest that we combine the tradition, devotion and love associated with an old prayer book or synagogue with the new which is full of potential. Both demand some sort of involvement to give you meaning. No one gets too much from looking at a building or a book unless they have already had an involvement with it. But what would happen if we took warmth, love, devotion, expertise and tradition and mix it with our own twists, style and love?
 
Let’s take a concrete example of Rosh Hashana for how we can mix the new and the old. Although Rosh Hashana is considered a major Jewish holiday, to many people, sitting in a synagogue and praying for hours just isn’t meaningful.
 
Many communities across Israel, the United States, South Africa and Canada now have made a move to bring the old and new together. There is a movement to blow the shofar in parks. Children and adults come to hear the traditional blows of the shofar. Some of these people would have already heard the shofar in synagogue and some wouldn’t think of walking into a synagogue. But together, the religious, traditional and non-affiliated, participate in a non-threatening atmosphere, in the mitzvah (commandment) of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana.
 
If this sounds interesting, find out if there is a program to blow the shofar in a park near you. Check out the Tzohar or Ohr Torah Stone movement in Israel and your local Chabad in other countries.
 
If the place that you contact does not have a program, ask them if they know of someone else in the area that does this. If no one in your area is providing this service, try and get a synagogue near you to start a new tradition and send a representative to a local park.
 
Remember the new prayer book and new synagogue cry out with potential. There is no reason that your local park can’t call out to you. Just as a prayer book has to be opened and read to be meaningful and a synagogue has to be entered and felt relevant, so too a park has potential for meaning and holiness. After all, Judaism is not meant to be confined to synagogues. This year you can give an old law, of hearing the shofar, a new twist!
 
Happy New Year! May this year bring lots of meaningful twists and turns to your Jewish life!
 
Marcia Goldlist is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online. She was the author of one of the blog postings selected for the Second Quarter 5779 Jewish Values Online Best Blogs.
 
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
 

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