The Genesis of a Holiday Sermon, And Other Stories

How Do Rabbis Choose Their Topics For High Holiday Sermons?

What they don’t do is gather together and get a list of topics from on high. But about a month or so before the major holidays — like Passover and Rosh Hashanah — the Board of Rabbis of Southern California sponsors a pre-holiday conference for rabbis to come together to study as well as become inspired and motivated.

This year’s High Holy Days Seminar on Aug. 15, was one of the biggest yet, with 135 rabbis attending from all denominations. For the first time the keynote speakers were a father and son, Rabbi Gerald Wolpe from Philadelphia and his son Rabbi David Wolpe from Sinai Temple, who discussed themes for the holidays — both timeless and current.

One main topic on the minds of rabbis this year is the situation in Israel. Consul General Ehud Danoch and Jewish Federation President John Fishel spoke to the group about the Israel in Crisis fund and ways to help Israel.

“Rabbis will be speaking about Israel in one major sermon on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, to incorporate texts and ideas and stories and themes, to put this in perspective that would be appropriate for the High Holidays,” said Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis. “The Days of Awe are a time for chesbon hanefesh — introspection and self scrutiny, a time to talk about the war and its aftermath.”

Diamond said the seminar’s goal is to “spark” ideas for the rabbis: “As rabbis prepare their sermons and divrei Torah and Torah commentaries for the High holidays, this is an opportunity to share ideas, stories, texts, and to listen and learn from one another.”

Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah, said the seminar gives “rabbis the chance to do personal self-reflection — sermons often come out of our own personal struggles. Reading a text is to challenge ourselves on our own relationship with God, our own sense of teshvuah, and when rabbis go through that process, we are more enriched personally, and hopefully we are better rabbis.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Making Davening Wishes Come True

Do you wish to get more out of your own High Holiday services? Well, now there’s the “I Wish I Got More Out of Services” services, billed as “A Meaningful High Holiday Experience.”

Sponsored by Beth Jacob, a centrist Orthodox community in the Pico-Roberston neighborhood, the service, now in its second year, is a traditional, “halachic” service with separate seating, less cantorial flair and a more explanatory supplement.

“As the High Holidays were approaching last year I realized something important. I don’t like long, boring services,” said Michael Borkow, a writer and executive producer (“Friends”) and the founder of the “I Wish” program. “And for years, no matter what synagogue I went to, that is generally what I experienced on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Services tend to be long because, pretty much everywhere you go, the cantor and High Holiday choir sing a lot; they tend to be boring because nobody explains what’s going on.”

The service is open to all and sees lots of singles and couples in their 20s and 30s. Although it will include English explanations and translations of the songs, Borkow is quick to point out that “this is not a learner’s service — there will be plenty of observant people who daven every day.”

This year, they are importing Rabbi Benzion Klatzko to lead services.Tickets are $150 for all five services. For more information, call (310) 278-1911.