I recently learned from Elaine Kleinmann, a former STAR consultant, about how her rabbi is using technology in a very simple way to help his congregants prepare for Rosh ha-Shanah. While this was done for Elul, it could be adapted to work with any holiday. With thanks to both of them, I’m sharing it with you.
– Rabbi Hayim Herring
Rabbi Neil Kurshan of the Huntington Jewish Center in Huntington, Long Island, NY, started a lead up to Shabbat called “Torah Teasers”. These are emails based on the parasha of the week, and raise questions which elicit responses that do not require additional knowledge of the Torah to answer. The emails are sent to all those who had requested to be on his listserve, and it is a way to engage people and tie the Torah into personal experience. Participants can then respond to the entire network. On Shabbat morning, in lieu of a sermon, Rabbi Kurshan gives some background of the parasha, raises the questions again with the congregation, asks for responses, and shares some responses from the listserve. Following the give and take, he uses that opportunity to share his learning and perspective.
He sent a new request this summer to all those who are on his Torah Teaser listserve. He asked to “be able to share with all of you during the month of Elul some of the experiences that make Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur meaningful for all of us… just a paragraph about a High Holiday experience that was particularly meaningful for you. It can be an experience from your childhood or from more recent years. It can be an experience at services, within your family, in your home or from anything else connected with the holidays. I just want you to describe in some detail the experience–what happened and what it meant to you. I would then like to share these experiences during the days of Elul with the online community in our shul that makes up our Torah Teasers network.”
As a member of this network, I have been receiving these responses since Elul began. One is about blowing the shofar, one from someone who underwent a health crisis in the past year, one was about childhood memories of Rosh HaShanah dinner, and one from someone who had moved (with her nuclear family but away from her birth family), and had her first encounter at our synagogue on the high holidays. Rabbi Kurshan’s request inspired and motivated me to write about my Russian born father, his ambivalence about Judaism in general and Yom Kippur specifically, and the irony of his death occurring a few hours before Kol Nidre 18 years ago.