A quick and easy guide to understanding the themes and meanings of our Hebrew High Holiday liturgy.

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our Daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.

These are the notes from a class I gave entitled, “High Holiday Service Crash Course: A Quick and Easy Guide to Understanding the Themes and Meanings of our Hebrew High Holiday liturgy.” There are links to some of the materials to which I referred, so all you need are some really good cookies and you can almost have the same experience as those who joined me for the discussion.

With the High Holidays just around the corner, now is a great time to start to prepare for them. Here is a quick reference guide for making High Holiday services a more personally meaningful experience. By following some of these suggestions, services can become more of an active rather than passive process for you

A Reading Readiness

* Look over the Machzor (High Holiday prayer book), borrow one from the Synagogue if you wish.* Read through a copy of our High Holiday companion See the link at the end of this post) which explains the prayers of our Machzor * Compare different versions of the Machzor; find alternate readings or translations. * Visit the Library or a Jewish book store and select a book about the prayers or about the Holidays.

B Personal Experience

* The function of many of our prayers is to place us back into the history e.g. to “feel” what it was like to get the Torah at Mount Sinai: write down and be prepared to think of a time when you felt the presence of God, or felt profoundly Jewish.

C Z’chut Avot:

* May times during service we appeal for forgiveness due to the merit of our ancestors; find out about your own ancestors/family and share the results with other family members. * Ask kids to interview grand parents etc. and discuss the results during festival meals or before services. * Find out about and discuss past Holiday experiences such as sitting next to a grand parent in services.

D Personal Prayers/Meditations

* Personal prayers/meditations are provided for at various places in the services (e.g. at the end of the Amidah or silent prayer) * Bring a list of things you want to thank God for; things you want to ask for; or things you have trouble understanding. * Write poems that you can include in the service similar to the Piyutim, or liturgical poems, that are already part of the service. * List things about your self you a proud of or would like to improve in the coming year. * Think about plans or goals for the future.* before Yom Kippur it is costmary to ask for Michilah(forgiveness) from any individual you may have harmed either intentionally or inadvertently, think about who these individuals may be – family members are always a good place to start.This is an opportunity to enter the New Year with a clear conscious and rekindled relationships.

F By CD’s or MP3’s of Holiday Music

* Playing music in the home as you prepare for a Holyday always helps set the appropriate tone and builds excitement for the upcoming occasion.

E Buy You Own Machzor:

* Paper clip in you own: prayers, readings, meditations or personal lists from above, transliterations, names of family members to be remembered at Yizkor or during the Martyrology, which is said during Yom Kippur.
F Quick Guide to Prayer book Hebrew

Hebrew, as you may know is based a system of three or four letter roots around which all of the various forms and conjugations of words are formed. By looking at a few of these, you will be able to receive an idea of some of the concepts the author of the particular prayer is seeking to convey. These roots can be expressed in English transliteration as a series of letters separated by dashes. So here we go:

  1. B-R-Ch. This conveys the concept of Praise or Blessing. Thus the word BRaCha, means blessing, as in Blessed are you our God. Any time this root is employed we are evoking the presence of the Creator in what we seek or in that for which we are grateful. So BiRCHat Kohanim, is the Priestly blessing recited on the Holidays, Festivals and on other significant occasions. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “knee” is BeReCh; we often bend our knee when acknowledging God’s presence.
  2. K-D-Sh. This conveys the concept of Holiness. God is the Holiest of all entities because there on one God in the universe. So we have KidDuSh, the sanctification of Shabbat or a Festival usually made over wine. KiDuSha, the expression of God’s holiness found during the public recitation of the Amidah. KaDdiSh, the prayer said by mourners and KiDuShin, the Hebrew word for a wedding.
  3. M-L-Ch (K). This conveys the concept of monarchy. God is described as MeLeCh Ha Olam, the ruler of the universe. We have a section of the Rosh Hashanah service that cites texts demonstrating and focusing on the monarchy of God called MaLCh Also we often sing the popular prayer, Avinu MaLKeinu, Our Parent Our Monarch, pointing out the continuum between Justice and Mercy that defines our relationship with God.
  4. Z-Ch(K)-R. This conveys the concept of Remembering. So we have ZiChRonot, a section of the Rosh Hashanah service that cites texts demonstrating and focusing on the past and the memory of the relationship between God and our ancestors. Many gather on Yom Kippur and other festivals for the YiZKoR, memorial service. Also we have the Israeli version of Memorial Day; Yom Ha ZiKaR
  1. Tz-D-K. This conveys the concept of Justice or doing that which is right. Thus the bible implores us, “TzeDeK, TzeDeK Tirdof; Justice, Justice shall you pursue.” We come to the realization before God during the High Holidays that we are not TzDiKim, completely righteous people like our great sages, but that we have indeed committed transgressions. During Yom Kippur we may be motivated to support the Synagogue or other worthy cause by giving TzeDaKah i.e. doing that which is right and just.


Mahzor 101 by Samuel Rosenbaum

This excellent guide to High Holiday prayers was the last creative work by Samuel Rosenbaum, z”l. The commentaries offer short explanations of the major prayers and services.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Survival Kits

A delightful, down to earth approach to understanding the High Holidy services. Written by Shimon Apisdorf.

Inspirational Readings by Rabbi Dov Perez Elkins

Collections of stories and other sources of reflection and insight that are perfect for before, during (not while the Rabbi is speaking of course) and after services. Rabbi Elkins is a world renowned motivational speaker and author.

Beth El Synagogue High Holiday Companion

I created this booklet so that it would be the equivalent of having me sitting beside you in services and explaining each prayer as it happens. I include the page number in Machzor Lev Shalem for each prayer as well as indicating particular points of interest throughout the service.

The Spirit of the High Holidays

Part of a joyous series of music CDs jointly produced by the Cantors Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism featuring music and prayers sung by members of the Cantors Assembly. Familiar favorites and new compositions, includingHebrew texts, translations, and commentaries on the selections are presented.

For example, here is a beautiful, uplifting setting from the Rosh Hashannah Musaph service entitled, “Kadosh Atah,” “You are Holy,” sung by Hazzan David Lefkowitz and the Park Avenue Synagogue Choir.

Please feel free to contact me for help with any of the above suggestions or to explore other possibilities. By doing a small amount of preplanning, the services that we experience together this year can be the most meaningful ever.

Best wishes for a Shanna Tovah – a year of Goodness and Blessing

Hazzan Michael Krausman, Beth El Synagogue hazzankrausman@bethel-omaha.org 402-492-8550


Share a Prayer: Private Prayer in a Public Context

We all know that prayer is both a communal and an individual experience. Our tradition is replete with volumes of prayers that have been composed and codified throughout our history. Psalms and other Biblical sources are thousands of years old, yet they still have the power to sustain our liturgical yearnings and help us to reach out to The Holy One. Interestingly, though most of our prayers are couched in the plural – pertaining to the entire community, baked into our formal liturgy are opportunities for individual, personal prayer.

The first place to look for such private prayer opportunities is the very opening pages of most prayer books that begin with the morning service. Originally intend to be recited at home; these prayers were transferred to the synagogue to serve as private mediations which would help prepare the worshipper for the public worship to come. In October 2010 I wrote:

“Those who are familiar with the Siddur (prayer book) will note that even before the formal service begins there is a collection of personal prayers and reflections that can be offered. ‘Elohai Neshama – My God the soul that You implanted with in me…,’ the passionate prayer dating back to Talmudic Times (Berachot 60b) is a perfect example of such a prayer. The text reflects the notion that at night-timeis that part of God that is inside each and every one of us. Elohai Neshama gives us the opportunity to express gratitude to God and to remind ourselves of our connectedness to our Creator and to each other.”

Here is a stirring setting called Elokai Neshama by one of the greatest and best know Hazzanim of all times; Moshe Koussevitzky. Taken form an album entitled; Moshe Koussevitzky Earliest Recordings; a compilation of material originally recorded in Europe, this record was copyright 1967 by the Collectors Guild. The recording is part of a magnificent collection of Jewish Music Located at Florida Atlantic University, the Judaica Sound Archives.
Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

Following the recitation of the Amidah, (see below), is a liturgical compilation known as Tachanun. Tachanun is a section of personal petitions and supplications that are inserted in the weekday morning and afternoon service. So intense is the recitation of Tachanun that we rest our heads on our forearms and say part of the Tachanun in a hunched-over submissive posture. Based on biblical president, our sages felt that since we are at a time in the service when we are most focused on our relationship with the Almighty, we should expand this intense period of concentrated prayer and introspection by adding Tachanun.

On Monday and Thursday mornings we extend the Tachanun with additional supplications. However, Tachanun is not recited on happy occasions such as Purim or Hanukah in the presence of a bride or groom or when a Brit Milah  (Bris) is about to take place. Remarkably, this set of supplications is also omitted in the presence of a mourner and on Tisha B’Av, our day to grieve for the fallen Jerusalem Temple, so as to not too greatly increase our sadness.

Personal prayers by such great liturgical sages as Sa’adia Gaon and Rav Amram as well as some poignant psalms are found in this plaintive collection. These prayers ask God to help us personally through whatever difficult times we may be currently experiencing.

We ask that God “assuage our fears, establish the works of our hands, heal our wounds and save us from our tormentors.” Even in our deepest time of despair we appreciate the ability to place ourselves in God’s hands.

Some of the other themes related to in Tachanun include, the value of a good friend, guidance in avoiding evil or temptation. Sephardi congregations often include the confessional as part of Tachanun.
All versions of this supplication include the prayer Shomer Yisrael – guardian of Israel which, as Rabbi Reuven Hammer notes, reflects the trepidation of the medieval European Jewish community. Tachanun concludes with the declaration, “alone we are helpless”; we rely on God for compassion and guidance. Here is a recording, again from the FAU archives, of Hazzan Israel Rand singing a popular setting of Shomer Israel.

Above I made reference to the Amidah the a formal series of 7-19 blessings that form the core of every synagogue service. Certainly an entire Blog post could be devoted to this quintessential prayer. We begin the Amidah with a most extraordinary process. It is customary to take three steps backwards and then three steps forward while reciting the phrase, “Adonai S’fatai Tiftach…Lord open my lips so that my mouth can find the proper words to address You.”(Ps 51:17) According to the great liturgical scholar Ismar Elbogin, this phrase was introduced by the sage Rabbi Yochannan in the 3rd century. The purpose of this ritual is to symbolically separate ourselves from the rest of the congregation enter into a private audience with the Holy One. In essence, at least three times a day we have the opportunity to have individual “face time” with our Creator.

This private conversation with God is guided by the age-old Blessings of the Amidah – some of which date back to the time of the Ancient Jerusalem Temple. Built into the process of reciting the Amidah, however, are specific opportunities for individualized prayer. Chief among these personal prayers is that contained within the eighth Blessing, the Prayer for healing. Our Siddur, contains a formula into which the names of those for whom we pray can be inserted. Moreover, the version found in both the Sim Shalom Siddur for Shabbat and Festivals and the Weekday Sim Shalom contain an extra line asking the Holy One also support the caregivers of those who we mentioned.

Similarly, the sixteenth blessing, “Shomeia Tephila – The One who listens to prayer”, is also a traditional point at which to insert a personal petition. Rabbi Hammer cites the Talmud (Avodah Zara 8a) for the origin of this custom. Not only can any heart-felt supplication be inserted at this point but prayers for comfort on the national days of sorrow are customarily included here as well. Thus prayers for Tisha B’Av, mourning the destruction of the Holy Jerusalem Temple and Yom Ha Shoah, the commemoration of the Holocaust are added to the Shomeia Tephila prayer. Interestingly, Hineni, the personal plea of the prayer leader on the High Holidays, ends with the same concluding phrase.

Just as the opening phrase of the Amidah is based on a psalm as instituted by Rabbi Yochanan, the concluding passage also contains a verse from a Psalm (19:15) “may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart …” Preceding this is a moving personal mediation –“Elohai N’tzor L’shoni Me’ra – May God keep my tongue from evil.” This prayer is cited in the Talmud by the sage Mar Ben Ravia.

Although several permutations of this concluding meditation have existed in different liturgical traditions, offering some personal thoughts is an essential part of the process of the individual recitation of the Amida. At the conclusion of the Elohai N’tzor, with the words “Oseh Shalom,” we take three steps backwards and bow to the left and the right symbolizing the conclusion of our formal chat with God. Perhaps our sages felt that since we began by asking Divine guidance for our words, we should conclude our conversation with The Holy One with the hope that our language continues in this sanctified vein.
Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

The provision of opportunities for individual prayer in the context of public worship reminds us of the nature of our relationship with God. We are connected to The Holy One on a personal level at all times, even when experiencing the power of communal prayer. It is clear that God is at the same time within us and part of the community at large; the more that we seek God, the closer we feel to God and the deeper our connection to our community through the Almighty.

Share a Prayer: Sim Shalom; a Prayer for Peace

After several months of hiatus, I am pleased to submit this new edition of “Share a Prayer.” In the time since my last post, both personally and professionally,  I have experienced the gamut of feelings – from disappointment to despair, to discomfort to apprehension to anticipation to appreciation. I have, in the process, made a somewhat bumpy journey from Hollywood FL to Omaha NE in order to join my wonderful new congregational family at Beth El Synagogue. Now that things are starting to “normalize,” I hope to continue to post on my E-Hazzan blog with some regularity. So, that having been said, I will begin as I did in the beginning:  

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our Daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.

Perhaps more so than any other supplication, prayers for peace remain foremost in the hearts of those who seek to communicate with their creator. Not only does the core of every formal prayer service contain prayers for peace, but even the Kaddish, an Aramaic elegy that is often recited by mourners, concludes with requests for peace in both Aramaic and Hebrew. In fact, as Dr. Joseph Lowin, noted author and scholar points out in his book of insights into Hebrew language, Hebrewspeak, “Peace is such a fundamental value in Jewish Culture that the capital of the Jews, Jerusalem [city of Peace] is named for peace.”

It is noteworthy that the Hebrew word for peace, “Shalom” is derived from the same root as the word “Shalem” or “complete.” Peace, then, according to the Jewish understanding, is much more than the absence of war, strife or conflict. Shalom conveys a notion of completeness or wholeness; a state in which there is no sense of yearning for that which is missing.

At the core of every formal prayer service is the Amida, a series of 7-19 blessings. The last blessing of every form of the Amida, weekday, Sabbath or Holy day, is always, the prayer for peace. In the Morning and Additional (Musaph) services the prayer for peace is preceded by the Three Part Priestley Benediction or Birkat Kohanim: “May Adonai bless you, and keep you; May Adonai make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. May Adonai lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” This blessing, originally recited in Biblical times by Aaron the high priest, (Numbers 6:24-26) began to be offered as part of the liturgy during the time of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. In some communities it is customary to have the Kohanim, the descendants of Aaron the High Priest, formally bless the congregation using the ancient Biblical text during morning services in the context of the public repetition of the Amida. While Sephardi rites have the priests offer the Formal Blessing on a daily basis, the Askenazi rite reserves the Formal Priestly Blessing for the Musaph (additional) service of the Pilgrimage Festivals and the High Holidays. This mysterious and moving ceremony evokes memories and traditions that originate hundreds of generations ago.

The idea of a standalone prayer for peace grew out of the last words of the Priestly Blessing, “… and give you peace.”  Thus, prayer for peace or Shalom concludes with the formula, “…Ha’mvorech et Amo Yisrael Ba Shalom, Who blesses His People of Israel with Peace.”  The text of the prayer for peace that precedes the concluding formula has a few variations.

During the morning and additional services the oldest form of the text beginning with the words “Sim Shalom, Grant Peace” is used. This reflects the fact that the prayer for peace originally flowed from the conclusion of the priestly blessing as noted above.  Ismar Elbogen a foremost authority on Jewish liturgy notes that the evening and afternoon version of the text of the prayer for peace beginning with the phrase, “Shalom Rav, a Great Peace…” is original to the Ashkenazi rite. Shalom Rav is not found until a 11th Century reference to the prayer by the Talmudic scholar and author of liturgical poetry, Eliakim of Speyer. During the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the paragraph, “B’seifer Haim, [inscribe us] in the book of life,” is appended to our prayer during all services. The concluding formula during this holy period is, “… Oseh Ha Shalom, Who makes peace” which, according to Elbogen, is the original concluding formula of the Prayer for Shalom.

An additional variation from the traditional form of the Prayer for Peace can be found in introduction into the text of the word “Ba’Olam, in the world.” This appearance is found in Siddur Sim Shalom, the Conservative prayer book published by the Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Rueven Hammer, a premier authority on Jewish Liturgy, in his commentary on the Conservative Siddur, explains that this addition was inspired by the works of the classic scholar and liturgical poet Sa’adia Gaon. The editors of the Siddur felt that rather than focusing on just the people of Israel as is in the case of the Priestly Blessing, their rendering of the prayer for Shalom should evoke the prophetic vision of universal peace.

Shalom, Peace is the most compelling and meaningful of all Blessings.  Machzor Lev Shalem, the new Rabbinical Assembly High Holiday Prayer Book, encapsulates the power of this Bracha in a beautiful and succinct fashion:

“When the blessing of shalom is lacking, however much we have of other blessings– wealth or power, fame or family, even health– these all appear as nothing. But when shalom is present, however little else we have somehow seems sufficient.
Shalom means “peace,” of course, but it means so much more as well: wholeness, fullness, and completion; integrity and perfection; healing, health, and harmony; utter tranquility; loving and being loved; consummation; forgiveness and reconciliation; totality of well-being.
And even all of these together do not spell out sufficiently the meaning of shalom. But though we cannot accurately translate or adequately define shalom, we can experience it.”

Here is a beautiful setting of Sim Shalom by the renowned American composer Max Janskowi performed by one of the greatest Hazzanim of our time Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi together with the choral group Selah.

This video is from a live concert with the Zamir Chorale of Boston at Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, MA, June 3, 2007 of Jeff Klepper & Dan Freelander and their world famous setting of Shalom Rav.

Here is the text in Hebrew and English.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

May we always be recipients in abundance of the Blessing for Peace.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Featured Link: The Cantors Assembly, the largest body of Hazzanim in the world, is the professional organization of Cantors which serves the Jewish world.

Share a Prayer: El Melech Yoshev


Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or High Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.

The official liturgical kickoff of the High Holy Day season is the Selichot service. Selichot is a poignant collection of prayers of repentance and supplication that is recited for a week preceding Rosh Hashanah in the Ashkenazi community and for an entire month by the Sephardim. In most Ashkenazi synagogues, the beginning of the period of Selichot is marked by a special late night service held on the Saturday evening preceding Rosh Hashanah. Selichot prayers facilitate the worshipper’s ability to acknowledge those areas in which improvement may be required and embark on a path that leads to forgiveness or Teshuvah.

Although many of these prayers originate from earlier times, some as far back as the time of the Mishna, the first collection of Selichot, can be found in the Siddur of the great Ninth Century sage, Rav Amram. Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld, who served for many years as a Hazzan is a noted complier and editor of prayer books. In the introductory section to his comprehensive, annotated compendium of Selichot prayers first published in England in 1956, Rabbi Rosenfeld indicates that although some of these moving supplications date as far back as the seventh century of the Common Era, the service compiled by Rav Amram is very close to the Selichot service we still perform in modern times.

The various types of poetry which make up the Selichot service; some have repeated refrains; some are alphabetical acrostics, are comprised of biblical verses stitched together by some gifted liturgical poets. These writers include Sa’adia Gaon (882-9420) and Rav Amram Gaon (821-875) who also authored texts that appear in our Machzor (High Holiday prayer book.) Also included in the Selichot service is the Vidui or confessional and portions of Tachanun – prayers of supplication. Serving as a refrain between all of this prayer and poetry is the recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of God introduced by the prayer “El Melech Yoshev Al Kisei Rachamim, God is the Monarch who sits on a thrown of mercy.”

El Melech Yoshev is first found in the siddur of the 9th century liturgical pioneer, Rav Amnon Gaon as noted above. As the introductory verse suggests, this composition depicts God as a merciful, compassionate ruler who forgives our sins and mitigates the severity of the punishment we really deserve. The image is evoked of Moses as he conferred with God in on Mount Sinai. Moses asked how he, as a human, could approach our Creator. The answer can be found in El Melech Yoshev. God instructed us to recite [and model] His attributes. Just as the best way to honor our physical parents is to practice and follow their qualities, principals and values; our divine parent requires that we strive for holiness by being guided by Gods characteristics. Mercy, compassion, justice, slowness to anger, performance of acts of loving kindness and the pursuit of truth are examples from the litany of divine qualities that are recited throughout our services. Moses learned that not only is this emulation the best way to serve the Lord but also the path which can lead to developing a personal relationship with God.

As we prepare for and experience the Holy Days, we can be mindful of the fact that since there are many ways to communicate with the Almighty, possessing a tremendous knowledge of the prayer service, while being a goal towards which we should strive, is not an absolute requirement. By participating in the silent meditation or humming a melody along with the Hazzan or choir, or by offering sincere personal prayers, one can be a vital part of the communal offering of prayer. Most importantly, as we to enter the Holy Day Season, we must bear in mind the lesson learned and transmitted by Moses as described in the El Melech Yoshev Prayer: striving to reach closer to the Almighty by emulating Gods Holy attributes is the essential way to approach God.

Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

Here is a  modern setting of  El Melech Yoshev by Joshua Lind (1890-1973),  Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi, one of the most talented and influential Hazzanim of our era. He is joined by New London Children’s Choir and Schola Hebraeica conducted by Neil Levin. This piece is available on the recording entitled, Introducing The World Of American Jewish Music (Milken Archive of American Jewish Music.)

 [audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/141011/sharedmusic/eyomfiles/El_Melekh_Yoshev.mp3]

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at cantor@sinaihollywood.org.


To learn more, please check my Ehazzan Blog and subscribe to my Tephila Tips Podcast: https://ehazzan.wordpress.com/

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share A Prayer: In Times of Tragedy

This Post is dedicated to the memory of Andrew Silvershein a 16 year old Ramah Darom Camper who died tragically in a white water rafting accident on Sunday June 19 2011.  Our hearts go out to Andrew’s family and the entire Ramah Darom mishpacha.


Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.

Responding to tragic news is one of the most difficult challenges a person can face. What do I say? How do I articulate my feelings? As with so many other situations, Jewish tradition provides the vocabulary to at least begin the conversation. Interestingly, Judaism mandates the following Bracha (Blessing) upon hearing of the death of a dear one:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha Olam, Dayan Ha Emet: Blessed are You Our God, Ruler of the Universe who is the true Judge.”

At first glance, it may seem strange to utter a blessing at such a heartbreaking moment; why would one possibly think to express gratitude? In fact, the actual purpose of saying any Bracha (Blessing) is to acknowledge and reach out to God’s presence at a particular moment. When we say a blessing over bread, we become cognizant of God’s presence with us as we enjoy the bread God provided. Similarly, in this horrible instance, through uttering a Blessing we seek God’s presence to help us cope with the desperate situation in which we find our loved ones and ourselves. Additionally, by acknowledging God’s righteousness at a time when we might lose our faith, we are reminded that, as Rabbi Harold Kushner has said, “God is on our side, God is not on the side of illness or death.”

There are several other sources of comfort one can turn to at a moment of tragedy. This morning as I was praying, a segment of the Tachanun , a selection of personal petitions and supplications that are inserted in the weekday morning and afternoon service following the Amidah, spoke to me in a unique way. Crafted from verses from various Psalms (see below) the prayer is part of the first section of Tachanun:

“Remember Your compassion Adonai, and Your kindness, for they endure forever. Adonai will answer us in time of trouble;
the God of Jacob will uplift us. Adonai, redeem us – Sovereign, answer us when we call. Avinu Malkeinu [our Parent /our Monarch], respond to us graciously though we lack merit. Be kind to us for Your name’s sake. Hear our pleas; remember the covenant with ancestors and save us for You are merciful.”

As I have mentioned in past writings, for generations, we have turned in times of tribulation to the book of Psalms, a collection of 150 exquisite liturgical poems attributed to the biblical King David. Among the most touching Psalms are Psalm 121, “I turn my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come,” Psalm 130, “… From out of the depths I called You Adonai…” and Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want…”  Rabbi Harold Kushner, to whom I referred above, is the author of an exceptionally insightful and comforting book on Psalm 23 entitled The Lord is My Sheppard.

Psalm 23 is the subject of numerous classical and modern settings. Gam Ki Elech, (click on link to listen) “Even though I pass through the shadow of the valley of death…” is a strikingly powerful setting by Elliot Kranzler, who is both a psychiatrist and a Jewish Recording Artist. This setting is found on his CD Ki Ata Imadi, as well as on a wonderful collection of songs of comfort entitled;  The World is a Narrow Bridge .

Of course texts relating to tragedy are not limited to ancient times. Many modern authors and poets have written meaningful, relevant and poignant prayers. Here is a Prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy, a gifted and sensitive spiritual leader and author.

A Prayer When a Loved One’s Life Is Cut Short by Tragedy

I can’t believe I will never see your sweet face again. I am shattered. I keep thinking I’ll wake up from this cruel nightmare. But day after day I find myself alone with my pain and my tears. I wish I could make sense of the senselessness of your death. I wish I could understand God’s silence. I wish I could have done something to save you, to protect you from harm. I feel so helpless and so alone. I pray that you are at peace now, far away from this world’s horror. Your life ended in tragedy, but that’s not how I will remember you. I will remember your smile, your wisdom, your touch. I will remember your laughter, your kindness, your generosity, your determination, your love. I know that you wouldn’t want me to sink into despair. You always taught me to live up to the best in myself. And that’s what I will try to do. I will strive to search for the goodness in every soul, and to live up to the goodness inside my own soul.

Levy, Naomi (2007). Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration (p. 214). Knopf. Kindle Edition.

Coming to the end of this I find that I still lack the words to express the deep sadness in my soul or my heartfelt sympathy for a family and friends that have suffered a tragic loss. I am, however, somewhat comforted by the fact that my connection to God to the Jewish community and to our sacred tradition gives me a place to start. I pray that those who are personally affected by the horror of a devastating loss will find strength in these connections or at least will somehow find in them the ability to begin the conversation that will lead to a measure of comfort and peace.

Here is a link to the Psalm texts in Hebrew and English.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at cantor@sinaihollywood.org.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a Prayer: Akdamut


Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.

The festival of Shavuot is recognized in the Bible as the second of the three pilgrimage festivals. While it is also known as the festival during which the first fruits were brought to the Holy Jerusalem Temple, we are most familiar with Shavuot as the time of the giving of the Torah. It is traditional to stay up all night on the eve of this festival and study – reenacting the excitement and trepidation of our ancestors as they anticipated receiving the Torah. Preoccupation with the Torah and the majesty of the Holy One Blessed Be He is continued into the services of the first day of Shavuot, with the chanting of the epic hymn, Akdamut, which is said just prior to the reading of the first verse of the Torah portion.

“Were the sky of parchment made,
A quill each reed, each twig and blade,
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
Were every man a scribe of skill,

The marvelous story
Of God’s great glory
Would still remain untold;
For He, Most High,
The earth and sky
Created alone of old.”   

Akdamut, is a rich and extremely complicated tapestry woven in tooth-breaking Aramaic, an ancient Semitic language, by  the 11th century Rabbi Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai in the city of Worms, Germany. Rabbi Meir who was the son of Hazzan Isaac Nehorai and a contemporary of the great biblical commentator, Rashi, used lines beginning with each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet twice through. The Rabbi also added, the letters of his name, his father’s name and of a short blessing asking for strength (which he no doubt needed after this huge work). The resulting composition is a 90 verse panegyric proclaiming the majesty and greatness of The Creator, the beauty and wisdom of the Torah and praise and hope for the Jewish people. Each verse of the opus contains exactly ten syllables and always ends with the syllable,’TA’.

Akdamut is usually recited responsively. The melody used for Akdamut (click to hear an example) is an ancient chant that is characterized by a downwardly cascading motif (very short musical phrase) that occurs at the end of the first of each of the pairs of verses that characterize the Hymn. Interestingly, the music for Akdamut, which is not found any where else in our liturgy, is sprinkled throughout the Festival Kiddush.

It may be said that the reasons for emulating the Biblical Israelites night long vigil and for reciting Akdamut with its ancient melody are identical: We are invited to share the excitement of our ancestors at the foot of Mount Sinai together with the passion of Rabbi Meir over G-d, his Torah and of the life that the Torah conveys. Perhaps, by looking through the eyes and hearing through the ears of our predecessors, we will, in our hearts, minds and bodies feel, understand, and emulate their steadfast commitment to Torah and the Jewish way of life.

Hag Shavuot Samayach

Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at cantor@sinaihollywood.org.

To learn more please check my Ehazzan Blog and subscribe to my Tephila Tips Podcast: https://ehazzan.wordpress.com/

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a Prayer: Echad Mi Yodeia


Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.

As we get closer to Pesach I wanted to take a quick look at one more item from the Hagadah. One of the best known selections from the Seder Service is Echad Mi Yodeia: Who Knows One? This clever piece of poetry is in effect a Jewish Trivia Game that challenges the participants to match a significant Jewish concept with every number from one to thirteen. Each verse then recaps all of the previous answers.

Quoting the Encyclopedia Judaica, the website Jewish Reflections .org  notes that this song is based on a secular German folksong from the 15th century, “Guter freund ich frage dich – Good friend I ask you.” Echad Mi Yodeia first appears in the Ashkenazi Hagadah in the 16th Century.

There are a multitude of melodies that exist for this very popular song which is often sung, not only in Hebrew but also in the vernacular. Thus there are Yiddish, Ladino and of course English versions that abound. One of the most interesting arrangements is found in a collection of Seder melodies produced by David Levine, George Kirby, Hankus Nefsky, Rebecca Shrimpton & Theodore Bikel. This clever arrangement combines the Yiddish, Ladino and Hebrew version into one. Click Here to Listen

Our Rabbinical Assembly Hagadah, The Feast of Freedom; points out that while it is indeed fun to sing Echad Mi Yodea, the poetry also has significant meaning. Coming at the end of the Seder, this song hints at the reason for the redemption from Egypt: the perpetuation of our society as founded by our patriarchs and matriarchs, our meaningful life cycle events and of all of the other significant elements of our beautiful and ancient heritage.

For me, the final line of each verse of this song, which comes about as we are about to wrap up the Seder experience, loudly proclaims the “bottom line” and essential foundation of all that we do and all that we stand for as Jews – “One is God in Heaven and the on Earth.”

Here is the text in Hebrew and English.

Here is a link to a piece discussing some of the other elements of the Pesach liturgy.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at cantor@sinaihollywood.org.

To learn more please check my Ehazzan Blog  Also please subscribe to my Tephila Tips Podcast:https://ehazzan.wordpress.com/

Take care,

Best wishes for a Zissen (sweet) Pesach.

Hazzan Michael Krausman