Holiday Kavanot

Throughout Shofar Sessions Ashreinu invited community members to share kavanot, intentions, before prayers and meditations to elevate the energy in the room. Many beautiful words were shared and submitted. We are cataloging them here for our community to return 


Malchuyot Shofar Service

Remarks by Fannie Bialek
Rosh Hashanah 5778/2017

In the Ashkenazi tradition, we blow through a ram’s horn, not a sheep’s, nor the elegant antelope’s used in many Sephardic communities, to commemorate the ram offered by Abraham on Mount Moriah after God stays his hand in the sacrifice of Isaac.  The ram is sacrificed instead, the horror of sacrificing a son to an all-powerful God escaped. So we proclaim the sovereignty of God, Malchuyot, through the horn that reminds us of God’s mercy, and also of God’s awesome, terrifying power. 

God’s power in the story of Abraham and Isaac is not the form of sovereignty I am eager to praise. It terrifies me more than humbling me, or it humbles me in terror, perhaps, in trembling and fear, not in joyful awe.

I walked into class on Monday to teach the modern figure of sovereign terror, Hobbes’s Leviathan, with white drops of milk of magnesia still dotting my shoes from Saturday night’s protests in the Delmar Loop.  There were reports that no tear gas had been used that night, but there were men weeping the strange tears that come of it, or of pepper spray, perhaps, or mace. I didn’t come prepared, but in a moment of chaos someone handed me a spray bottle and pointed to a victim who still needed help.  A friend and I helped him to his knees and talked him slowly into opening his eyes to wash the milky solution through them.  He clenched my ankle through the pain of it, for stability, or maybe relief and relinquishment of the shock.  

I didn’t think of Abraham then, or Isaac, trembling on his knees as God’s sovereignty is terrifyingly visited upon him.  I thought of Hobbes, and the Leviathan, the embodied sovereign force of the state that keeps us from killing each other—or so the argument goes—by terrifying us.  The sovereign state must be so scary, Hobbes says, that we don’t dare harm each other against its wishes, for fear of its retaliation.  It keeps us safe by consolidating our fears as fear of its power, instead of letting us fear each other, each and all, and act out against each other in that fear.  

My students are often surprised that the theoretical underpinnings of the modern liberal state define it as a force of terror—that the sovereign state, that the sovereignty of the state, is supposed to make us afraid, in Hobbes’s formulation, more than anything else.  This week they seemed less surprised by that point than in past semesters.  Sovereignty sat differently with them, and it might today with us.

In past years I have heard the shofar blasts proclaiming God’s sovereignty as a joyful sound, resonant with happy awe at the beauty and goodness of God’s works.  I have heard the shofar proclaim God’s good powers, God’s ultimate sovereignty as a sovereignty no one must fear, a sovereignty held not by terror but by love.  I have heard the shofar as a call to surrender to greater power, not because we are scared of it but because we are amazed—in joy, in delight, in the best of ways.  I have heard the shofar proclaim God’s sovereignty, in the words of Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, as a call to “strengthen our awe and our love / so that our prayers will soar,” a call to “Help us fall to our knees / and find home in your embrace.”  I heard the shofar and thought of God’s embrace, the embrace of the greatest powers, and the power of embrace itself.

Today, I am thinking of the fall to our knees.  I am unwilling to proclaim God’s power without wrestling with the terror of it, and the terror of all kings.  I am unwilling to hear the shofar as a happy call to surrender without hearing the terrifying intentions of other such calls.  But I am also unwilling to set the scene only in the terrors at Mount Moriah, or to frame the image only on the protestor kneeling in pain perpetrated by the powers of the state.  Those terrors are sovereignty at work.  But the milk we poured across his eyes has power too.  The embrace of strangers when brought to our knees has power too.  And the marching legs with which we kneel have power too—sovereignty, even, in our streets, and the power of surrender to sovereignty in our prayers.  

Let us proclaim God’s sovereignty by wrestling with sovereignty, by remembering its terrors in this loud blast of the shofar as well as its embrace.  Let us proclaim God’s sovereignty without surrendering to terrorizing kings, but by surrendering to the sound of a shofar that reminds us of both terror and embrace, fear and love, awe at the most horrible works of power and awe at the great powers of love.  The shofar blast is not an end to this negotiation, a relinquishment of the wrestling with power for which we are named the people of Israel.  It is a proclamation of the sovereign with whom we struggle, a celebration of God’s power in its most wondrous and most challenging forms. 

A Kavana on the Shofar

Remarks by Michael Getty
Rosh Hashanah 5778/2017

This blast

will pull from lungs weighed down

by the knee in the back

bent like the shofar

I can’t breathe

the mask

has broken

the voice, qol, is everything

Mommy, please stop screaming

beauty, shafar

birthed by Shifra, the midwife

the undocumented

I don’t want you to get shooted

this is what democracy looks like

so far

the small voice 

four years old 

if a she’s a day

like a clap of thunder

It’s okay, mommy

I’m right here with you

in t’ru’ah

is Arabic ra’a

the cry of injustice

is re’ah


bless this moment

the cry

the rocket siren 

for waking us

we’ve made it so far

this time 

the torches blare

command us


to listen closely


to all that is broken.


A Poem by Leanne Ortbals
Yom Kippur 5778/2017

When the final note of a song is wrong, it disrupts the air’s energy with disharmony, the resolution missing so that all the notes that came before seem wrong too. We cannot unravel time to right this wrong, but must move forward to repair the dissonance haunting the air by finding the generosity to forgive the self and the bravery to try again. Through purity of voice the discord will heal, not forgetting the mistake but learning with intention so that the next time we sing or play or hum that final note, it rings with peace and love.

Aveinu Malkeinu

A Reflection by Delia Rainey
Days of Awe 5778/2017

as some of you may know, this past week I have been observing the Jewish New Year. my acts of celebration were modest ~ attending a small Ashreinu service in South City Church, and eating apples & honey with my family to symbolize a sweet new year. I have also been out in the streets as much as I can, to protest the murder and mistreatment of black bodies by corrupt police officers in our city. a synagogue in St. Louis was a safe space for me this week, not to belt Aveinu Malkeinu during services, but when I needed shelter in a time of chaos during the CWE protest. as the High Holy Days and the Stockley Protests correlate and process in my heart, I am asking a lot of questions. I remember a rabbi’s sermon at a Rosh Hashanah service from my childhood. he said, as we get older, it gets harder and harder for us to change. we stay in our comfortable places, and we don't move. this year, how do we change? how do we repair our world? how do we make changes to heal our city, our communities, ourselves? how do we speak up against injustices? I think of Miriam and women from the bible. they marched with tambourines, singing for freedom. they faced persecution, they lost everything. bc they marched through, their future children were able to be free. "i know that we will win." the bible may just be fictional stories for us to learn. I swear, miriam’s women are real people. they are out there in the streets of St. Louis, every day. I am listening to them. I want their words to be heard, so i sing with them. I march, for changes, for peace, for black children, for black men, for black lives. for the next 100 days. I am thinking about a question a family member asked me: “what if the protestors had smashed the windows of our family’s small business? how would you feel if our family couldn’t eat that week?” I am wondering about this question: “what if the police had murdered our family’s child? how would our family feel for the rest of our lives?” Aveinu Malkeinu is a beautiful and sorrowful song, only recited once a year on the high holidays, this week. it is a song from my childhood. it is a song that was sung by my grandparents, and all my ancestors before them. it is a song that i sing loud, even if it makes me cry. in English, it means:

“Aveinu Malkeinu, 
Have compassion upon us
and upon our children
Aveinu Malkeinu,
Bring an end to pestilence,
war, and famine around us
Aveinu Malkeinu,
Bring an end to all trouble
and oppression around us
Aveniu Malkeinu
Renew upon us a good year
Hear our voice
Hear our voice
Hear our voice.”