I was asked by many to share my sermon, of which I most humbly do now:
Why are all of you here today? Most will answer “because it is RH.” So what! It’s RH. Very nice. But why are you here? Is it the sound of the shofar, the Jewish cattle call herding everyone here today? Is it a pre-programmed part of our DNA that we silently arrive, in a sort of Stepford wives-like trance?
Today is the day that we celebrate the birthday of the world. NO cake, no flowers, no card. Sitting and praying. Gee, what a celebration! As I pray, I’ve also been watching you pray, or rather, try to pray. As Ringo Starr sings, “It don’t come easy”. You fidget, keep looking at your watch, text anyone who will listen to you, wonder if Nearly-Headless Nick’s half-cousin, Half-Headless Hershel, will come wafting down the aisle wishing everyone a gut yontiff, play Smart phone games, text anyone who will respond, and keep asking “are we there yet?”. Believe it or not, I sympathize. The Hebrew is difficult, especially since 99 44/100% of you don’t speak it or understand it. “What a turnoff” you mutter, and wonder why you subject yourself to this year after year. Can’t they make it better? Can’t they be like the Roman Catholics, with a one-hour mass and then they are done for the day?
I’ll admit that I’m a shul nerd. Synagogue has been my second home since my earliest days, although my wife and kids wonder if I’ve made it my primary home. I attended services regularly. I joined the choir as a boy soprano at the age of ten. At the age of 15 in July, my Cantor had a stroke. The congregation scrambled to find a suitable Cantor for the HHD at short notice, and was successful, but he could not learn our vast repertoire so quickly. The adults in the choir, that is, everyone but me, met to try to figure out what to do. Who will conduct? There was one member who knew all the music, all four parts by heart, and he was their unanimous choice. Me. It just came naturally to me. I wasn’t nervous. I just did it. I also led Shacharit and YK Mincha. It just came to me. So for me, the perfect HHD service would feature a great choir, a great Cantor, and some amazing music. Most of you are probably thinking “Oh great. Here’s the key. Just lock up when you finish at 3:00PM.”
I’ve spent the past few months thinking about what I can do to make the boring more meaningful to you. We’ve got the best and longest running off-Broadway musical. It features a great script and wonderful music. But how do I convince you, who are looking at your watches and are thinking about the brisket? So I created a new Musaf, roughly sub-titled “Not your Zayde’s Musaf”. It features two Broadway performers sharing incredible dramatic readings, three chants that you saw on your seats when you arrived that we are going to learn live, some wonderful hazzanut by Sarah, and the sounding of the shofar. I wrote this in love, and dedicate it to all of you. All I have been asking these past few months is to give me a chance. Let’s experience something incredible that I dare to suggest might not be happening in any synagogue around the world today. I only ask that you stay a little bit longer, delay that yummy brisket, and prepare to be moved. If you went to see “Hamilton”, you were agog with eager anticipation, and hopefully it met, if not surpassed, your expectations. Well, why can’t we do the same thing here? Today. Right now. What’s stopping us? When was the last time you left a RH service and said: “Wow! That was something!” Isn’t that why you are here? I’m asking you to stay. Give it a chance. I wrote it for you. It is an experiment. Be brave. Let me know what you thought of it after RH.
Why am I doing this today? Because I know, and you know, that at least half of you present today made up your minds months ago that you weren’t coming to shul tomorrow. Right? Let’s be honest. Other than a different Torah reading and Haftarah, it’s the same thing all over again, a sort of Jewish “Ground Hog’s Day”. You don’t get much out of the first day, so why bother coming on the second day? I hear you. That’s why today’s Musaf will be totally different. I have not tackled the second day question yet. Let’s get through the first day this year.
That just leaves one big question that no doubt many of you came today wondering: Will he talk about “it?”. And we all know what I mean by “it” – October 27, the enormous elephant in the room. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but after untold sleepless nights, I decided not to talk about “it” today. Today is a day to celebrate the fact that all of us are here. We are here, and no anti-Semite is going to ever stop me from doing Jewish. Not now. Not ever! That’s all on the subject for today. If you want to hear me talk about “it”, you will have to come tomorrow. I know. What a tease. Just like a television show that gives you a snippet of the next episode. You will have to tune in tomorrow.
That’s it. The potentially shortest RH sermon ever! I now ask you to turn to page 266 for the stirring, age-old melody of the Hatzi Kaddish before Musaf. We then pray the words of the private Amida, pp. 268-278. This is the opportunity not merely for the words of the book, but the innermost thoughts of our hearts. Please stay with us, and prepare to be moved.