High Holy Days 5781: Celebration of the Human Spirit

August 27, 2020
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My daughter tells me a rabbi’s job is to announce pages. My interpretation: A rabbi produces a sacred script. The words of the machzor must be transcribed onto the hearts of the modern Jew.

While we will speak about this year’s High Holy Days for generations to come, this transformative moment calls for the same simple task. However, this time, the words from the machzor will uplift our souls through the magic of the screen.

Whom do you call when this has never been achieved before? When replicating an empty sanctuary is not acceptable, leaning in to readily available technology must be the solution.

Sinai Temple is fortunate to partner with the GracieVision production. The clergy and leadership team work hand in hand with GracieVision as we craft live services; engage congregants across the broad demographic spectrum; and create virtual honors and choirs, along with interactive sermons and conversations. Our community has two goals: serve our dedicated members of our synagogue and share our message with the larger Jewish world.

There has been a true blessing in this process. While the clergy learn about television production, our team of producers has felt the impact the Sinai community has on the Jewish world and their own lives. Our meetings consist not only of page numbers and prayer names, but study of what those prayers mean to our congregation and the greater Jewish world.

This is another moment in Jewish history when the results of coming together must not only be to survive, but to thrive.

One of those producers is Ariana Berlin. An aspiring Olympic gymnast in her youth, Berlin was severely injured as a teen in a horrific car accident. Her determination to recover led her to UCLA, where she earned a scholarship, became a four-time All-American and one of the greatest-ever UCLA gymnasts. Her story inspired the Netflix film “Full Out.” After Berlin’s successful athletic career, she transitioned to production, landing a career with Fox Sports, working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Durant. But today, Berlin has added a line to her resume: Sinai Temple High Holy Days 5781.

Berlin, 32, learned the history of Sinai Temple — its melodies, stories, leaders and traditions. And we began to learn Berlin’s story, too.

Her grandparents were Holocaust survivors who met in a concentration camp and together fought for survival and for love. They were resilient and persevered, survived the war and moved to the United States, where they created a good life for their family. Berlin explained these same traits allowed her family to band together during the recovery of her own debilitating accident, with multiple surgeries and emotional trauma. They did not know how the story would end, but they knew they would be stronger together.

Berlin never put aside her Judaism. With a Jewish day school education, she took Hebrew at UCLA and with her now husband, she traveled to Israel on Birthright. Judaism is not something of her past; through these unique High Holy Days, it has become her present and future.

Sinai Temple’s motto is Ldor Vador, “from generation to generation.” The Torah sculpture adorning our building is flanked by these words. When the cantor sings this prayer, our families wrap their arms around one another, demonstrating the strong bond community forms.

During those dark days of the Holocaust, could Berlin’s grandparents have imagined that their future granddaughter in Southern California would one day produce the High Holy Days on TV for the 21st century? Services that will be broadcast both through our Sinai Temple social media platforms and nationally on the Jewish Broadcasting Service?

We sound the shofar each day leading up to Rosh Hashanah. The piercing sound must wake us up to renew our lives. We must build the community we do not want to lose. This is another moment in Jewish history when the results of coming together must not only be to survive, but to thrive. Berlin’s story allows us to tell our story.

Now, it is up to us to be a part of that cast. Pick up your machzor and read the script. Cast yourself in a leading role. Stay for the credits. Together, let us write the future today and celebrate the Jewish spirit we all know.

Rabbi Erez Sherman is a rabbi at Sinai Temple.

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