Chicken soup for the spirit
Ever since he was in the seminary half a century ago, Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins has been looking at the world from the perspective of an anthologist, culling inspirational and illuminating writings from everything he reads.
When youre an anthologist, everything rings a bell, said Elkins, who has served as religious leader at synagogues in Princeton and Montville. When I find something, I plug it in. Thats my anthologist work. Your mind is always focused on looking for something that fits into teaching and preaching. Everywhere, theres a sermon in everything I experience, everything I see, everything I read.
Now Elkins, author, coauthor, or editor of some 35 books and anthologies on Jewish themes, including Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul, is inviting readers in to share his collection of inspirational readings for Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashanah Readings: Inspiration, Information, and Contemplation (Jewish Lights, Woodstock, Vt.) is a companion volume to Elkins 2005 work from the same publisher, Yom Kippur Readings: Inspiration, Information, and Contemplation.
As in Yom Kippur Readings, Elkins writes in his introduction to the new, 366-page book, it is our intention to offer the lay and scholarly public a variety of stimulating thoughts and ideas that will make of these holiest of days a period of sacred time that is ever more memorable and influential in our daily lives.
Each of the 17 sections of Rosh Hashanah Readings includes essays, poems, prayers, and meditations that illuminate various aspects of the Jewish New Year. The anthology delves into themes from the Torah and inspirations from the prophets; explores the concepts of repentance, justice, prayer, and belief; looks deeply into the prayers of the High Holy Day service; and contemplates the rituals and customs of the sacred days. Each section is punctuated by a passage from These Are the Words, Rabbi Arthur Greens book on Jewish spiritual life.
Among the 165 rabbis, authors, poets, philosophers, and teachers whose writings are included in the anthology are such well-known names as Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Al Gore, Rudyard Kipling, Rabindraqnath Tagore, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Steven Spielberg.
New Jersey contributors, in addition to Elkins, include Rabbi James Diamond, former executive director of the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University; Rabbi Eric Lankin of Highland Park, chief of institutional advancement and education for the Jewish National Fund; Rabbi Kerry Olitzky of North Brunswick, executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute; and Rabbi Marcia Prager, an author and teacher who serves as religious leader of Pnai Or Princeton.
At the heart of the book, Elkins suggested, are the notions of tikun olam (repair of the world), tikun mishpaha (repair of family relationships), and tikun nafshi (repair of the soul and the spirit).
The whole purpose of the book is to enrich the liturgy of Rosh Hashana, which can sometimes be obscured by archaic language or lost in the length and tedium of the service, Elkins said during a recent interview.
Yet when you dig a little deeper, the themes are so relevant, so powerful, he said.
Rabbis and other leaders of services can use Rosh Hashanah Readings to augment and illuminate the liturgy, according to Elkins. Lay people can use it to deepen the experience of the service, and students of Judaism can use it as an adult education text.
My feeling is, the rabbi has to enrich the liturgy, to make it relevant and understandable, he said. People can bring the book to services, put the Mahzor (High Holy Day prayer book) aside, read through and find meaning, and then go back to the service and feel refreshed.
Today, we all recognize that theres a great deal of apathy in the Jewish community, as well as ignorance and assimilation, he said. The one time we get the vast majority of Jews together in one place is shul on the High Holy Days. So if you dont grab them and catch them, heart and soul, on that day, youve lost them for another year. Im hoping that through this book, people will have an experience of a kind that will be memorable and powerfully spiritual.
Seeing the new anthology in print is especially satisfying, the rabbi added.
Its a wonderful feeling, he said. Its like giving birth to a baby especially a book that has been the result of a lifetime, really. Its almost 50 years that Ive been working on this book, in a sense. It makes me very happy to feel Im having an impact on the Jewish world.
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