RABBI Bruce Dollin began to realize last year that his work as the senior rabbi of the Hebrew Education Alliance had started to become less inspiring and more predictable. The feeling left him at a crossroads.
“Rabbis of large congregations are constantly multitasking trying to meet the tremendous expectations of their communities,” said Rabbi Dollin in a report to his board and congregational community.
“This happens every day of the week, even on the rabbi’s day off, even when the rabbi leaves the community for a few weeks each year for vacation. The congregation is always on his mind. The sometimes subtle, but mostly overt pressure is always there. And when one multiplies this year after year for decades, the burden simply gets heavier and heavier as the rabbi gets more and more fatigued.”
Dollin requested and was granted a several month sabbatical from the HEA congregation in order to renew his own participation in Jewish study and to travel the country and explore some of the most innovative synagogue communities in the US.
“I never understood how important it is for a rabbi to take a sabbatical. I understand that now and regret, quite frankly, that I didn’t take one sooner. After 25 years of running services, I realized that I never got to see colleagues around the country and what they do.”
During his travels, Dollin abided by a rule to improve his learning experience. He came to each congregation unannounced, so he could experience the service not only as a guest, but as a congregant. This helped him really immerse himself in the environment, and get an authentic feel for it.
Although he picked up bits and pieces everywhere he went, Rabbi Dollin says that two places specifically impressed him most. The Romemu Jewish Renewal congregation in New York and the IKAR congregation in Los Angeles each had innovative practices that Dollin has now brought to the HEA
Romemu held yoga and meditation before the service, and then provided a musical and engaging service that all could participate in.
“The process of meditation before the service allowed me to relax and clear my mind so I could fully take in the experience when the service began.”
“The great music included instruments and singing of great melodies to traditional prayers. This service was not an entertainment show, but a prayer service that clearly brought in the worshipper.”
In Los Angeles, Dollin experienced another creative service not only in the synagogue but outside it.
“This young, creative conservative congregation [IKAR] provided a musical service with singers and drummers. Different people took turn in leading the service, engaging the whole group.
“The prayers to music were very impressive, but outside of the prayer session, IKAR members participate in many social action projects to enrich the community, which can be just as important as the prayer service itself.”
TO bring ideas and innovation back home, Rabbi Dollin has formulated an entirely new prayer service for HEA. Entitled “Shir Hadash,” this new Saturday morning alternative service will encompass some of the creative practices that Dollin picked up from around the country.
This weekly service will be offered simultaneously with the current Saturday morning services, and will focus more on specific parts of the service rather than the entire service.
“It is a very exciting time now working to build a new service. The service will follow the standard formula, but in a two-hour time frame.”
“We will select psalms from all selections of the service, as well as explore Torah and Haftorah readings, and of course we will include a sermon.”
Over the past month, worshippers have been offered an opportunity to join Rabbi Dollin during musaf services to learn melodies for the new service. This invitation has had a great reception, as dozens of people have taken the opportunity to learn new melodies.
“The warm up classes for Shir Hadash have people picking up new material very quickly. This is a cool experience to watch. People are receiving the new project very well. The organic growth we will have in the coming months will be a very exciting time for all of us.”
Along with the new prayer service, Rabbi Dollin has emphasized the start of more social action projects at HEA.
“If we can work like IKAR to encourage members to take on community projects to benefit not only the Jewish community, but the general community, our congregation can grow together and also make a difference.”
Shir Hadash will hold its inaugural service on Sept. 1, at 10 at the Goldberger Youth Center at HEA.
Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News