Rabbi’s Review – July – August 2017

Mishkan HaNefesh

Rabbi Charles K. Briskin


It’s only July, however I am already very excited about the High Holy Days. Why?

Not only because I am further ahead in my planning than I have ever been, but because I’ve begun a deep dive into the new mahzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, that we are using for the first time this year. My preparation is both exciting and daunting.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve prayed in many different types of synagogues. However, for the High Holy Days, my only experience has been in Reform synagogues and only using the enduring and very familiar mahzor, Gates of Repentance. Look at my well-worn volume and you will find Post-it® Notes dating back sixteen years with cues, names of those being honored, and other notes that have guided me. In truth, not much changes liturgically year to year. We’ve used that volume of liturgy that has ably guided our congregation and the Reform movement through the High Holy Days for forty years.

No longer. Mishkan HaNefesh, the new mahzor for the Reform Movement, provides a new and exciting change. Published just three years ago, over one third of Reform congregations nationwide now use it for their services having successfully navigated the transition from the old to the new. Now it’s our turn.

Cantor Davidson and I have been meeting weekly since May. We are reviewing the services, discussing what new readings we’d like to include, and how we might be able to provide opportunities for you to connect to the themes of the liturgy in ways you haven’t been able to before.

Every page offers a new insight as well as a new layout and design. Not only is every Hebrew prayer transliterated, making it more accessible, the translations and interpretations are contemporary. Additional readings, study passages, poetry and more will speak to the diverse theological perspectives of our congregants and enhance the worship experience. The volume and variety of readings will enable us to select new passages year to year.

Our mahzor will be new, however other elements will remain familiar. Most (not all) of the music will be familiar melodies from our High Holy Days repertoire. I’ll give a few sermons; we will still announce the High Holy Days appeal. And George Mayer will sound the shofar.

Please purchase your copy of Mishkan HaNefesh as soon as possible to ensure that you will receive it by the High Holy Days. Join me for our High Holy Days Boot Camp on August 27 where we will explore some parts of Mishkan HaNefesh together. And mark your calendars for the High Holy Days where a new experience with our ancient liturgy is certain to inspire you.