My wife and I belong to a Liberal, Progressive Reform Jewish Congregation in central New Jersey (www.congregationkolam.org). Our prayer books (sidurim) were authored by our distinguished and learned, Rabbi Brooks Susman.
In good weather, our Friday evening services (Shabbat) are held outdoors among the multihued and sweet-smelling flowers of a lush Garden of Eden. The distinct fragrances of spring and summer are often accompanied by the angelic voices of the choir and the soft guitar instrumental, which add to the heavenly ambiance of our setting.
Our bucolic and sensorial worship experience is greatly enhanced by the poetic phrasing of inspiring and melodious stanzas and prayers written and recited by Rabbi Susman (see one such example, included here) during services. Oh how beautiful it is when the heart is encouraged to sing a soulful tune.
Within the pages of our prayer books are many passages that call for congregant participation. Everyone is
encouraged to actively take part in our services and to become a single voice united in reverence for God. There are many italicized stanzas designated to be read aloud by individuals. These spiritual and secular words follow those spoken by Rabbi Susman in a call and response manner.
Passion Resides in All of Us: Let it Out
“Within the triangle of heart, soul and mind is found a well tended, often walked in, garden of love. A space for memory stands before a bench, on which we sit, lost in reverie for those we loved. Though some flowers may be dead, the scent of their being lingers, joining with the aromas of those flora blooming still. They have left their mark long after they have left our presence. And we, tenders of that garden, give thanks for all that was, for all that we held precious. We know that just as seasons pass, so also loved ones are born and then die. We, the living, inhabit the oasis between those two certainties of birth and death. We reminisce; and as did the gardeners before us, we stop at the place where once bloomed the flowers we loved and smile tenderly at their remembered beauty
– Rabbi Brooks R. Susman, Congregation Kol Am – Freehold, NJ
The Rabbi requests participation “as the spirit moves you.” Congregants respond under their own free will; often moved by some personal connection with words and their meanings. It is an incendiary flame that ignites a passion within most of us to read these words aloud with true conviction. It is like that when words inspire us. Is it not?
Those we refer to as the “Masters” are revered for their masterpiece works, which have endured throughout the ages. It is likely that they produced their greatest contributions to the arts and sciences, as the spirits moved them.
Motivated by his passion, Michelangelo spent four years creating his image of heaven above the altar of the Sistine Chapel. He did so with the utmost respect for art and Christianity and with a painstaking attention to detail and near perfection. Michelangelo’s each and every brushstroke was guided by his loving hand – seemingly – under the watchful eye of the God he so wished to please. He painted heaven on plaster and moved people to believe it was God’s “sky” on the eve of creation.
It took Beach Boy Brian Wilson forty uncompromising and passion-filled years to – finally – complete and release his “unfinished album”, better known to most as SMILE. In 2004, the critics acclaimed it as his long-awaited masterpiece – the watermark of his wonderful career. We applaud Wilson’s ability to overcome his many personal demons – moved by spirit – to create this wonderful music for his many fans to enjoy.
Rabbi Susman’s personal standards were equally uncompromising, as he magnificently wordsmithed every stanza of his inspirational prayer book. The finished product serves as an inspirational work, designed to move the spirit and to praise God; celebrating his mastery in creating the universe and populating the earth with a diversity of life forms. We are humbled and moved by every written word and stanza of this prayer book. We are inspired by the Rabbi’s own passionate words, as well as the Torah excerpts and Talmudic verses he chose to include in praise of God. Rabbi Brooks Susman’s work may just be an undiscovered masterpiece in the mainstream, though it is already acknowledged as such among the Kol Am small and growing congregation.
Everyone Appreciates the Power of Language When it Moves Others
Bringing the crux of all this closer to the Blogosphere – there is a powerful “take-away” for bloggers, like you and me. Isn’t it true that forced blogging usually results in mediocrity at best? Does not having passion and taking pride in a quality effort often lead to better results?
When one’s conviction is self-evident within the spoken and written word, it serves to inspire an audience and gain agreement (with the message) from many more people. In the days of Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas and Joshua Chamberlain, rhetoric was considered to be an admired art form. Today, many see rhetoric as little more than a political smokescreen and vote-getting “tool”. Some may go as far as considering rhetoric a form of “brain-washing.” Too bad. Back when our great leaders were trusted and admired, the written and recited word carried much more beauty, weight and integrity. The words of old inspired so many more people than the speeches given, today. Fortunately, there are still many worthwhile volumes and articles to read and inspirational places to go and listen to eloquent oratory. Bloggers have an opportunity to inform and influence many on the web, if they write well and show passion and conviction.
When our minds and hearts work together in unison, it seems very much like a metal detector seeking lost metal objects on a sandy beach. In a similar sense, we regularly “Google” our souls for obscured thoughts and creative flair, which resonate inside of all of us. Once discovered, it is our nature to want to own and trademark our thoughts and ideas. We prefer to share them with others for the value and comforts they may provide. We seek to unleash their inherent power to move others, as they once moved us. Some of the greatest minds in our history produced their greatest achievements when the spirits moved them. They, in turn, moved millions with their inspired contributions.
Our Greatest Accomplishments Reside Within Each of Us. We Must Release Them to the World.
We all have – inside of us – the ability to create our own masterpieces. Every one of us does. Many of us are either too closely guarded to share what is in our minds or are too sensitive and easily influenced by the myriad of negative opinions tossed at us daily. If we allow ourselves to be stifled and governed by the deflating words and negative advice of the people around us, our ability to create and share (with others) is often shut down. “Don’t write about that or paint something like this“, you will often be told by those too afraid – them – to open up and share with others. Negativism less often comes from our enemies and more often from family and friends looking out for us. These people are unintentionally doing us more harm than good. Those inhibited by fear of risk-taking and paralyzed by negative opinions are often the least creative, productive and inspirational. What a loss to themselves. What a loss to others.
Many, who are able to “breakthrough” (the negatives) and engage the world, do so by overcoming their internal demons; thereby allowing their creativity and spirit to surface. For writers and bloggers, restricting the flow of ideas is one underlying cause of “writer’s block”. We worry: “will others like what I have to say and the manner in which I say it?” So, we wait… and wait… and then, we wait some more for the spirit to move us to start writing again. True, there are other reasons for “writer’s block”, but it is much better when writer’s block springs from the impetus of concern for quality content, rather than from inhibitions imposed on us under the advisement of naysayers.
No doubt, Rabbi Susman has encountered “writer’s block”, periodically. We all do from time to time. To recognize that Brooks Susman is a product of 60’s anti-establishment liberalism, offers great insight into his success as a writer, public speaker and reform rabbi. He openly accepts and defends gay rights and gay marriage; the human/civil rights of all, and interfaith marriage in Judaism among other past and present controversies. Through the years, the Rabbi has openly opposed a number of unpopular and unfair political, religious and public positions on behalf of the oppressed. His, are the convictions of a caring soul and a great leader of men and women. He is willing to stand with and fight for those without a voice. His are the convictions of a bonafide thought leader and eloquent public speaker. His are the convictions of an acclaimed wordsmith – an uninhibited contributor of inspirational words and thoughts that speak volumes from the heart and are capable of moving the spirit.
Bloggers take note. Let your words and thoughts flow freely from your heart and mind; none self-serving and only those with good intentions. If you allow the spirit to move you, your passions and convictions will move others.
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