Ufitchu Sh’arayich Tamid—a “ticketless” [River]Way into the High Holy Days

Erev Rosh Hashanah, September 16, 6:15pm

Kol Nidre September 25, 7:30-9pm

 

Headlining all of the Temple Israel stationary, the bulletin, the website, and even the employee business cards is a quote in Hebrew and English from the prophet Isaiah. “Ufitchu sh’arayich tamid—May your gates be open always” (60:11)For the Temple Israel community, as with many congregations, this is a treasured part of our collective aspiration—to ensure that among our great contributions to society is the sacred symbol of an open door.

But our translation of this text isn’t the only translation, nor is this the only way that we lift the text off the scroll and into life in our community. In practice, we translate the text differently—and in two distinct ways. First, let us read Isaiah’s verb not as “may your gates be open” but rather, “you shall open (“ufitchu”)” your gates. Second, let us consider a different translation for the word, “tamid,” in modern Hebrew meaning “always.” In biblical Hebrew, and the context of the ancient sacrificial cult the word “tamid” did not mean “always or perpetually” as it does now. Rather, tamid meant “routinely” or “repeatedly”—that is, something we do regularly, reminding ourselves time and again of our sacred responsibilities. Therefore, we may also read our headlining quote from Isaiah not as an aspiration but as a mission: “You shall regularly open your gates.” Over the High Holy Days this is the translation that the Riverway Project pursues—it’s our mission to actively open gates that are closed. 

It’s no secret that people in their 20s and 30s oftenperceive the institutional Jewish community as a series of closed doors. Most synagogues throughout the country focus their mission exclusively on those who have already begun building their families—and the economic challenges that many institutions face only exacerbate this tendency, with organizations necessarily focusing engagement efforts on those with capacity to give. At the Riverway Project for more than a decade, we have swam upstream, against the current of widespread neglect for individuals in their 20’s and 30’s, and actively opened doors to a generation of meaning-seekers, creating a space for intellectual and spiritual nourishment. 

This year will be our second year partnering with Combined Jewish Philanthropies to create a worship space specifically for 20s and 30s. Last year was a pilot year, and our goal was to reach 65 individuals; we ended up with a room filled with 330 people—from all over Jewish Boston. Our feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and we ended up with a new wave of individuals whose Jewish identities were nourished because of the wide-open gates into community.

This year we will be expanding upon our partnership with CJP and creating open “ticketless” services for both the evenings of Rosh HaShanah and Kol Nidre. Like last year, our service will involve invigorating music (with fantastic musicians), Jewish learning, and opportunities to build relationships. Also, after our evening Rosh HaShanah service we’ll offer what we’re calling a “Great Big Schmooze”—an oneg-style dinner/hangout that brings together lots of folks throughout Jewish Boston, but also provides a “buffet” of information on how to connect to Riverway, Temple Israel, and Jewish Boston*.

What we learned from surveying our attendees last year, and what inspires us now, was that the largest cohort in attendance in these gatherings are people who are neither connected to the Riverway Project nor Temple Israel nor CJP. In other words, we found that by following Isaiah’s advice and “opening gates regularly” to create a welcoming space that is a devoted way into community, we are able to engage so many unengaged and, hopefully, inspire so many uninspired.

 

L’Shana Tova,

 

Rabbi Matthew V. Soffer
Director, Riverway Project

 

*Register for the Open Door High Holy Day Services online.  For questions, please contact Riverway Project Coordinator Meg Evans (mevans@tisrael.org) or call 617-566-3960.

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