From the Rabbi's Desk, May 2011
About five months ago, during Sukkot I took the initiative of incorporating the practice of Duchening (Birkat Kohanim) during Musaf services at Hillcrest Jewish Center.
The addition didn’t go unnoticed.
Following services many congregants approached me and shared with me their reactions and feelings: “It brought memories from my childhood” – said one person. “Beautiful” – said another. “Mystical,” “powerful,” “uplifting,” were some of the comments.
Not all the reactions were positive. “It looks like magic to me!” “We never did it at Hillcrest!” were also among the comments brought to my attention.
However, the most prevalent reaction from the congregants was lack of knowledge about the practice and its meaning. For many of those attending services on Sukkot it was the first time they were exposed to Duchening and therefore, after discussing the subject with the ritual committee, I was charged with the noble challenge to educate myself and the congregation about Duchening.
A lot was written on the subject and you can do a lot of reading yourself. Here are a couple of links which I hope you find helpful:
What is the Priestly Blessing? By Lisa Katz
Duchenen. A lesson about duchenen, the blessing given by God through the Kohanim during major festivals.
By Rabbi Steven Rubenstein.
Please take the time to read the article, to watch the videos and to learn more on your own. Bring any question you may have to my attention rabbikoganhillcrestjc [dot] org. Being a teacher is the main role of a rabbi and I always rejoice when I can exercise it.
During this coming holiday of Pesach you will have another opportunity to experience Birkat Kohanim. I invite you to approach the experience with an open mind and spirit.
May the LORD bless you and guard you -
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you -
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace -
May Hashem bless you and your loved ones with a sweet, joyous and meaningful Pesach.
From my heart,
Rabbi Manes Kogan
Rabbi Kogan Divrei Torah delivered on Rosh Hashanah 5774.
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Dear friends of Hillcrest Jewish Center,
Last month I participated in a nine day mission to Kiev and Israel, invited by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). With me were 31 rabbis, including my colleague and friend Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin from the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism.
The trip was a very enlightening one. The main purpose of the mission was to expose the participant rabbis to the wonderful work of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel, both in the Ukraine and in Israel. We visited senior centers in both countries; we met with the rabbinical leadership of Kiev; we were asked to teach Torah to young Ukrainian Jews and we got to do some touring as well. In the nine days of our trip we met with very prominent personalities, including the US ambassadors to the Ukraine and to Israel, the chief editor of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and former Soviet “refuseniks” Joseph Begun and Natan Sharansky. Finally we cried and prayed at Babi Yar, a large ravine, the site of a mass grave of victims, mostly Jews, whom Nazi German SS squads killed between 1941 and 1943.
God willing, I will get to put together a short presentation on the trip with pictures and more insights in the near future.
However I wanted to tell you more in detail about two special happenings during our last day in Israel on February 11.
First of all, I was privileged to attend the funeral service for Rabbi David Hartman, founder and visionary of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Rabbi Hartman was my mentor and teacher during the three years I participated in the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative (RLI) program of the Hartman Institute. Two of the members of our cohort were part of the JFNA mission and we were able to represent our group at the funeral (like here in New York, I was able to follow the service through the speakers outside the Beit Midrash where the body was positioned), together with hundreds of people who gathered to pay tribute to a giant of our generation.
Second, I was among the small group of men (mostly rabbis) who went to the Western Wall (the Kotel) to provide moral support for the 200 “Women of the Wall” on the other side of the Mechitzah (partition), who gathered for a beautiful Rosh Chodesh prayer service. The service went on smoothly without anything out of the ordinary happening. However, at the end of services, ten women who were wearing a tallit were detained, including Rabbi Fryer Bodzin. By now I am sure most of you know the details of the event but I wanted to share with you my motivation for joining the “Women of the Wall” initiative. The main reason is that I believe, like Rabbi Fryer Bodzin and many of my colleagues, in Halakhic pluralism. What Halakhic pluralism means is that within the parameters of the Halakha (Jewish law) there is room for different religious expressions. In this particular case scenario, there is room for women davening with a tallit and for women davening without a tallit (by the way, the overwhelming majority of the “Women of the Wall” davened without a tallit). Halakhic pluralism means that some of them covered their heads with a kippah, some of them with a full head cover and some of them didn’t cover their heads at all. Halakhic pluralism means that among the “Women of the Wall” are those who pray every week together with men, and those who prayed in the women’s section on the other side of the Mechitzah.
I believe in Halakhic pluralism because I believe in the words quoted by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her biography of Voltaire and then quoted by Winston Churchill (a great cigar smoker): “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it!”
Silvia and Daniela (two of the three women in my immediate family) made the choice not to wear a tallit when they are called for an aliyah. I don’t know what Abby will do in three years from now, but she already knows that her father will fight for her right to express her Jewish religious devotion in the way she chooses.
Supporting Women of the Wall is not only about women’s rights. It is about fighting for a Jewish society in Israel without religious coercion - first of all because I believe it is the right thing to do and also because I am convinced that it is good for Israel and good for the Jewish people.
With blessings for a joyous and kosher Pesach,
Rabbi Manes Kogan
Rabbi Kogan Divrei Torah delivered on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 5773.
Dear Friends of Hillcrest Jewish Center,
On April 12, the Board of Trustees of Hillcrest Jewish Center unanimously approved our mission and vision statements of Hillcrest Jewish Center. The mission and vision statements are the product of the hard work of a few individuals and of the input of many others. Although not every single suggestion was incorporated into the final version, many of them were indeed incorporated and all of them were considered.
Those of us who worked on the project believe that mission and vision statements are works in progress. We also believe that they will help us tell our story better: Who are we? What do we stand for? What are our priorities? Where are we concentrating our efforts?
In the months to come I hope to create an opportunity to explore, together with you, how what we do at Hillcrest Jewish Center reflects our mission and vision statements.
May Hashem bless the work of our hands!
From my heart,
Rabbi Manes Kogan
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