At West End Synagogue (WES), almost since the synagogue’s inception, congregants have been composing original liturgy to be included in our services. These pieces personalize our religious events, supplementing the traditional language of prayer with our contemporary voices—our modern vision of God. (Of course, each has her own interpretation, which our writings reflect.) This is very much in keeping with Kaplan’s definition of Judaism as an evolving civilization (the religion changing as the needs of its practitioners change). The prayers are most often used as kavannot (intentions) for specific prayers; they occasionally take the place of more traditional prayers, and sometimes they are musings or meditations on a particular topic.
Each year, the largest number of prayers sought is for our High Holiday services. Some of our pre-b’nai mitzvah students write pieces, as well as the oldest of our members. Modern versions of the Al Chet, sometimes written by individuals and sometimes by whole families, are, perhaps, our most personal writings. (We also recite the traditional prayer.) Additionally, attempts have been made to write contemporary versions of the Avodah Service and the Jonah story.
But people also write for Shabbat, commemorating events, reinterpreting prayers that seem to require a contemporary vocabulary, composing an original piece that speaks to a need, or participating in a project. The writings take the form of poems, meditations and prose. Our Rabbi, Marc Margolius, leads the effort to obtain pieces for the High Holidays, and has committed to use (at least) one of our writings during every Shabbat service.
Over the years, several special projects have been designed to elicit writings, such as:
· Writings on the Middah of the Month (an on-going project)
· Writing prayers for peace during the Iraq war
· Writings by participants in our Na’aleh program (for adults desiring to become b’nai mitzvah)
· Reinterpreting or simply reciting psalms—a program initiated by our previous rabbi who was facing surgery for breast cancer. She felt that if each person committed to recite the same psalm (traditional or reinterpreted) every day while she was sick, it would help her heal.
Until recently, these compositions were located in disparate locations: file folders, personal computers, commemorative WES journals and handouts for our Shabbat, festival and High Holiday services. Under the auspices of our Ritual Committee, I have collected and organized these writings into an online Innovative Liturgy Prayerbook, so that they could be reused during future religious services, and be available to the members of WES. To make it easier for new contributors, the Introduction of this Innovative Liturgy Prayer includes guidance on how to compose or reinterpret a prayer.
Our Innovative Liturgy Prayerbook for Shabbat is now available on the West End Synagogue website for access by all; the High Holiday version is being prepared for the web. Both will be updated periodically, as new writings are available.
The authors have given permission for all writings, and these can be used subject to the stated conditions included in the footer of each page.
Andrea Bardfeld holds a Master of Arts in Chemistry and spent most of her career working in IT. Her hobbies include music, photography, reading and innovative literature. She is a proud grandmother of five.
Explore rituals from the Innovative Liturgy Project on Ritualwell: