Global, Religion

New Sun in the Sky

I’m in Delray Beach, Florida, to spend Passover with my snowbird parents. Since I knew I’d be arriving on April 7th, I called my mom last week and asked her if she had heard about Birkat Hachamah. She hadn’t, so I gave her the 30-second explanation and asked her to find out where we might be able to do this mitzvah.
She went to work asking friends, looking through the Jewish newspaper, and scouring the internet and came up with several options. The one she was most interested in was being held by Congregation B’nai Israel of Boca Raton. CBI appealed to my mom because she was still reeling from their tremendous Purim spiel (“Broadway-quality,” she insists.) that drew a crowd of approximately 2,000 people. CBI appealed to me because their celebration of the mitzvah would be taking place on the beach (and it was one of the few celebrations not being sponsored by Chabad or starting too long after sunrise).
We arrived this morning around a quarter to seven. As we walked onto the beach, the first thing I noticed was a pretty hard-core speaker setup, including a sound board operator.

Speakers on the beach for Birkat Hachamah.

The next thing I noticed is that we weren’t the only group on the beach doing Birkat Hachamah. There was a cluster of about 30 Hadassah Ladies who had started a half hour earlier. As we approach the CBI setup, we ran into two other couples from my parents’ coterie of shul-hopping senior citizens. When we arrived, I was definitely the youngest participant on the beach, and I’m 31. But in the fifteen minutes before the service started, the influx of people was incredible, both for the number — about 200 by my count — and the diversity. There were children, young parents, folks on their way to work, retirees, and at least a handful who have lived through three previous opportunities to recite this once-every-28-years blessing. It was also heartwarming to see clergy from three synagogues — two Reform and one Conservative — joining together in one community. (Particularly given the reason for the gathering, which one suspects not many Reform and Conservative congregations made note of last time around, when I was in diapers. The times, they are a’changin’. I blame the internet.)
Nearly 200 people crowded together on Delray Beach to say Birkat Hachamah.

The service was really beautiful, incorporating a brief text study of the Talmudic explanation of this ritual, selections from Genesis, Prophets, and Psalms concerning the sun, kavvanot from Kabbalah, and of course, music.

Rabbi Agler spoke beautifully about how this ritual can be meaningful even in an age when we are skeptical of mythology and uncomfortable with the creation story, when we know that the math is close, but a little off on the astronomy behind it. We live in a world where there are few constants. But the sun is there, right where we expect to find it. We can count on the sun, we can count on our faith, we can count on the Jewish people. But as we think about constants, we also think about the things that come and go in our lives, how we change over time, family members and friends we’ve gained and lost. Being part of such an intergenerational crowd for this mitzvah really drove this message home. My mom pointed out that she’ll be 90 next time this mitzvah happens. There were plenty of people in the congregation who know this will be the last time they have the chance to make this particular blessing. But rather than this being depressing, it was empowering. We are here, right now, to do something that is specific to this very moment. And there’s something beautiful about that.
* * *
As a final thought before Pesach, I give you the four questions in Klingon. Thanks to my friend Ayesha for the link. This isn’t my sort of thing, but I suspect someone out there in Jewschool-land will get a kick out of this.
Chag sameach!

4 thoughts on “New Sun in the Sky

  1. The link in your comment is broken. Were you trying to make an Anne Murray reference? You Canadians are so predictable.

  2. Rabbi Agler spoke beautifully about how this ritual can be meaningful even in an age when we are skeptical of mythology and uncomfortable with the creation story, when we know that the math is close, but a little off on the astronomy behind it.
    In this case, “close, but a little off” means completely worthless. Still, I don’t have a problem with doing birkat hachamah every 28 years any more than with doing Shabbat every 7 days (even if I don’t really think the world was created in 6 days).
    This morning I went to the very well-attended birkat hachamah event with Hazon on the roof of the JCC in Manhattan, and have been enjoying the opportunity to think about what the world and my life might look like in 2037.

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