Tradition & Innovation
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A Celebration of a Safe Return after a Year of Traveling

By Viviane Mercedes Topp

"From a narrow place, I cried out to God. God answered me with wide expanse." (Psalm 118:5)


Thank you all for being here to celebrate with me as I give thanks to the Universe, to myself, and to Sidney for the incredible opportunity and unique experience of traveling for a year without a care in the world.

I began this journey with your blessings. It is only proper to give closure to this momentous episode of my life by receiving your blessings upon my return.

Besides that I love giving parties. I decided to create this celebration and ritual of thanksgiving in order to share with all of you how much you mean to me and how important it was for me to know, during my travels, that I had a community to come home to. It was exhilarating, energizing and relaxing to be carefree and an independent world traveler, but it is sooooo good to be home. I feel blessed that I have friends who enjoy sharing my good fortune and hearing about my experiences.

In addition, this afternoon gives me an opportunity to apply my ancient and wise Jewish traditions to create meaningful, thoughtful and joyous experience and to nurture my relationships with family, friends and community. I am so pleased that in preparation for today, I continue my learning and understanding of my heritage.

This journey was not in vain. Finally in my fifties, I have reached the Promised Land - the land of Milk and Honey. My life parallels the story of Exodus. Many of you who have known me for a long time know that I have struggled all my life to find happiness and peace in my life. During my childhood, there were many circumstances beyond my control, which created a life of bondage. After my divorce, as a single woman, I began my wandering in the desert in search of my own voice. I was like Miriam (Moses' sister) standing by the Red Sea, facing the endless and still desert. Destination unknown. Taking one step at a time. "For a moment knowing nothing risking all " But always believing that one day I will hear "the song that has been in my heart silent unknown even to me."

I am back. I have entered the next stage of my life. And I am excited, confident, content and focused on making a wonderful Life full of change and spontaneity.

Thank you for bearing witness.
Thank you for participating.
Thank you for being you.

And a very, very special thanks to Erika Katske, who has the expertise to create this meaningful ritual. I could not have done it without her enthusiasm, patience and good humor.



Opening/Call to Prayer

Shehechiyanu Blessing the Moment

You are Blessed, Our God, Spirit of the World, Who keeps us in life, who sustains us, and who enables us to reach this season.

Barukh attah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam shehechiyanu v'kiy'manu v'higianu la-z'man ha-zeh.

B'rukhah at Yah, Sh'khinah, Eloheinu malkat ha-olam, shehechiatnu, v'kiy'matnu, v'higiatnu, la-z'man ha-zeh.

Blessing the Day

By Marcia Lee Falk

Ha-yom yom rishon ba-shabbat.
Na'atzor l'rega. Nittein datteinu
la-ma'avayim v'lakissufim
ha-olim bimrutzat ha-yom

U-n'ayyein bak'sharim
Ha-notnim l'chayeinu

Today is the first day of the week

We pause and notice
The desires and yearnings
That pulse through our daily lives,

And we call to mind
The sustaining ties
That infuse our lives with meaning.

I Shall Sing to the Lord a New Song

By Ruth Sohn

I, Miriam, stand at the sea
and turn
to face the desert
stretching endless and still.
My eyes are dazzled
The sky brilliant blue
Sunburnt sands unyielding white.
My hands turn to dove wings.
My arms
for the sky
and I want to sing
the song rising inside me.
My mouth open
I stop
Where are the words?
Where the melody?
In a moment of panic
My eyes go blind.
Can I take a step
without knowing a
Will I falter
Will I fall
Will the ground sink away from under me?
The song still unformed-
How can I sing?

To take the first step
To sing a new song-
Is to close one's eyes
and dive
into unknown waters.
For a moment knowing nothing risking all
But then to discover
The waters are friendly
The ground is firm.
And the song
the song rises again.
Out of my mouth
come words lifting the wind.
And I hear
for the first
the song
that has been in my heart
even to me.

Giving Thanks and Praise

Psalm 150

Halleluyah! Praise God in God's sanctuary;
Praise God whose power the heavens proclaim.
Praise God for mighty acts;
Praise God for surpassing greatness.
Praise God with shofar blast;
Praise God with harp and lute.
Praise God with drum and dance;
Praise God with strings and pipe.
Praise God with cymbals sounding;
Praise God with cymbals resounding.
Let every soul praise God. Halleluyah!

The Gift of Gratitude

By Marcia Lee Falk

Out of silence, in the opened space, the song of gratitude is born.
Our mouths filled with song, our tongues overflowing with joy-
We bless the source of life and so we are blessed.

Modim Anachnu Lach We Give Thanks

Eternal Source of good,
We thank You for the numberless gifts and blessings that fill our days
For life itself and its endless variety
For all that sustains body, mind, and spirit
For love and friendship
For the delights of the senses
And for the excellence of Your Torah, which deepens our life and enriches our days.

Retelling the Journey

"One who truly goes out to meet the world also goes out to God."

Martin Buber, I and Thou

Blessing for Deliverance and Good Fortune

A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another. By making a place for wholeness within our relationships, we offer others the opportunity to be whole without shame and become a place of refuge from everything in them and around them that is not genuine. We enable people to remember who they are.

Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings

Birkat Hagomel Blessing for Deliverance and Good Fortune

Blessed are you, Abundant One, our God, the sovereign of all worlds, who bestows good things on one in debt to you, and who has granted me all good.

Barukh attah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam ha-gomel l'chayavim tovot lani kol tov.

Congregation responds:

Amen. And may the one who has bestowed upon you good, continue to bestow upon you good. Let it be so!

Amen. Mi she-g'malekh tov hu yigmalekh kol tov selah.


"Love is not changed by Death, and nothing is lost, and all in the end is harvest."

Edith Sitwell

Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes from a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we know; that we are here for the sake of each other, above all, for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of others, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving. - Albert Einstein, adapted

El Maley Rakhamim God Filled With Mercy

Let God remember the soul of Sidney A. Cohen who went to his place of eternal rest. Please let his soul be bound up with the living in the continuum of life, and may his rest be honorable. Grant him abundant joy in your presence and sweet pleasures at your right hand for eternity. Amen.

Psalm 23

The Eternal is my shepherd; I shall never be in need.

Amid the choicest grasses does God set me down.
God leads me by the calmest waters,
And restores my soul.
God takes me along paths of righteousness,
In keeping with the honor of God's name.

Even should I wander in a valley of the darkest shadow,
I will fear no evil.

You are with me, God. Your power and support are there to comfort me.
You set in front of me a table in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.

Surely, good and loving-kindness will pursue me all the days of my life,
And I shall come to dwell inside the house of The Eternal for a length of days.

The Mourner's Kaddish

Yitgadal v'yitkadash shemei raba
b'alma di vra khirutei v'yamlikh malkhutei
b'chayeikhon u-v'yomeikhon u-v'chayei d'khol beit yisra'el
ba-agala u-viz'man kariv v'imru amen.

Y'hei sh'mei raba m'varakh l'alam u-l'amei almaya.

Yitbarakh v'yishtabach v'yitpa'ar v'yitromam
v'yitnasei v'yit-hadar v'yitaleh v'yithalal
sh'mei d'kudsha b'rikh hu
l'eila minkol birkhata v'shirata tushbechata
v'nechamata da'amiran b'alma
v'imru amen.

Y'hei sh'lama raba min sh'maya v'chayim aleinu v'al kol yisra'el v'imru amen.

Oseh shalom bimromav hu ya'aseh shalom
aleinu v'al kol yisra'el v'al kol yoshvei
tevel v'imru amen.

Let God's name be made great and holy.
May God complete the holy realm in your own lifetime, in your days, and in the days of all the house of Israel,
quickly and soon. And we say: Amen.

May God's great name be blessed, forever and as long as words endure.

May it be blessed, and praised, and glorified, and held in honor viewed with awe, embellished and revered; and may the blessed name of holiness be hailed, though it be higher by far than all the blessings, songs, praises, and consolations. And we say: Amen.

May Heaven grant universal peace and life for us, and for all Israel.
And we say: Amen.

May the One who creates harmony above, make peace for us and for all Israel, and for all who dwell on earth.
And we say: Amen.


We Remember Them

By Jack Riemer and Sylvan D. Kamens

In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.

In the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the year and when it ends, we remember them.

In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.

When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live,
For they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

Mi Sheberakh

Lyrics by Deborah Lynn Friedman, z"l

Mi she-beirakh avoteinu
M'kor ha-brakhah

May the source of strength
Who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage
To make our lives a blessing
And let us say, Amen.

Mi she-beirach I'imoteinu
M'kor ha-brakhah l'avoteinu

Bless those in need of healing
With r'fu-ash'lei-ma
The renewal of body
The renewal of spirit
And let us say, Amen

*Misheberakh prayers announce to the whole community individual times of joy and need. When reciting Birkat ha-gomel or/and a Misheiberakh , it is customary to contribute to Tzedakah . On happy occasions this serves as an offering of thanksgiving. The act of Tzedakah has been understood as a tangible way of expressing gratitude for the support and good wishes of the community. Just as the community supports the individual in times of need, so does the community depend upon the support of each individual. During lifecycle events, we seek to embrace our community's past and present. This process can build community as news communicated and support mobilized. The practice gives voice to gratitude and anxiety in a forum where it can be shared and transformed into connectedness and faith.


"The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers, and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden."



Od yavo shalom aleinu v'al kulam
Salam aleinu v'al kol ha-olam

May peace come to us.
Peace will yet come to us and to the whole world.

Reception to follow

Complete Ceremony