Amidst 5,000 Worshipers, a Sanctuary of Peace

It’s not often that a rabbi gets to sit back off the bimah and lean into inspiring prayer. The constant responsibility for creating T’filah for others, partnering with a cantor and other shlichei tzibur (prayer leaders), draws our attention everywhere but our own spiritual selves.

And then there are moments like this morning’s shacharit  service at the URJ’s Biennial Convention: 5,000 Jews, Jewish families, and gerei toshav (others dwelling amongst us) lifting up our voices and hearts and bodies and to praise the Holy One who brought us together. I felt like I was at URJ Camp Newman, and back in NFTY and right here, an adult feeling intensely youthful and openly spiritually engaged.

Movement and song, chorale and instrument, word and stories and silence invited each of us to find moments of meaning that spoke to our souls. The leaders were amazing; the experience transcendent.  

When the Torah was chanted simultaneously from multiple bimot (stages), the multivocality of Jewish text and tradition suffused the sacred space, bringing ancient words to life.

For this rabbi, this Biennial service was cathartic and refreshing. It served as a reminder that in the midst of the rush to create and the pressure to push forward, there is also an imperative to step back and slow down.

After we turn from more Shabbat study and more spiritual search, back into thoughtful exploration of how to enhance and deepen the Jewish world, I for one will return to this sacred work energized, engaged and inspired.

Thank you to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Rabbi/Cantor Angela Warnick Buchdahl, Liz Lermen, Amichai Lau-Lavie, Merri Lovinger Arian, Josh Nelson, the instrumentalists, chorale and everyone behind the scenes – and my fellow daveners – for creating a sukkat shalom, a sanctuary of peace, in which I could finds wholeness and holiness. Shabbat shalom.

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Rabbi Paul Kipnes

About Rabbi Paul Kipnes

Rabbi Paul Kipnes the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. He serves as rabbinic dean at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, and as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights). He also co-edited a national CCAR Journal issue on New Visions for Jewish Community. Under his leadership, Congregation Or Ami has won national awards for social justice programming, for innovative worship programming, for outreach to interfaith families, and for engaging family education, and for best overall use of technology in a synagogue. Or Ami also wins the hearts of its families for its Henaynu caring community, which reaches out during times of need. He serves on the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education clinical faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His writings can be viewed on his blog, Or Am I? He tweets @RabbiKip.

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