Category Archives: Centerpieces articles

Finding What Speaks to You This High Holiday Season

To my knowledge, I’ve only really butchered one interview question when applying for a job. It was my first phone interview for a cantorial position as a graduating cantorial student at JTS. Not having the aid of skype, I can only imagine the faces of those in the committee meeting who were on the other end of the phone line. I was asked the question, “What made you want to be a cantor?” You would think that after years of cantorial school, having this question asked at my own school audition for that matter, that this would be an easy one to answer.

I spoke about my journey to New York City as an aspiring sports journalism student, how 9/11 changed the trajectory of my life as it did for so many others. I continued on a tangent of how felt “disenfranchised” by the sports journalism world. I felt like I didn’t have a voice in sports journalism because writer after writer insisted that sports would bring us together. I searched for something deeper. A committee member pressured me on my use of the word “disenfranchised” (definitely a misuse of the word) and the interview felt forced and fell flat from that moment on. I hadn’t been able to articulate why I wanted to be a cantor because I had presumed that “the weight of 9/11” was a strong enough answer without having to unpack it; that my disdain for sports journalism at the time was a good reason to explain why I wanted to do something else, let alone a sacred calling. Over time, I’ve unpacked what that day meant for me as Jesse and me in my role as clergy.

When it seemed like the world insisted that sports would heal all wounds, I was still hurting. I was hurting from the loss of a cousin, Jeremy Glick z’l, who fought back on United 93. I was hurting from that feeling of uncertainty when I didn’t hear from my close friend working on the 100th floor (luckily he hadn’t gone in that morning because he was starting hebrew class that day). I was hurting from the craziness that was lower manhattan, our suite turned into refuge, the air quality below 14th street unbreathable. I was hurting from the months of struggling to attend classes, being in a funk, struggling to battle depression, struggling to make sense of my place in the world. And as I read articles and listened to newscasts, I would hear the voices suggesting either the perfect prescription to return us all to some normalcy, or the perfect escape to take us all away from this horror. Neither worked for me, and so I rejected both of them as being over simplified and meaningless. What I didn’t realize is that those suggestions that didn’t resonate with me, offered an antidote for someone else’s pain, to those directly affected by the events of 9/11 or to any of the  ⅓ of the world’s population that saw the events of 9/11 unfold on television screens across the globe. We all experience grief differently, and the cocktail needed to address that grief is also concocted differently for each person.

“One size doesn’t fit all” is an important lesson as we encounter hardships in our own lives, and when we are called upon to console and comfort friends and family. While well intentioned, sharing a mantra or technique that works for you may not work for someone you try to comfort. Even something that has worked in the past may not work this time around. This often leaves us feeling like we have either all of the answers or no answers at all.

I share this as I’m returning from a rollercoaster family gathering over Labor Day. My cousin Jojo, the sister of Jeremy Glick z’l, got married over Labor Day weekend in New York City. That evening and into the next day began the 23rd of Elul on the Hebrew calendar, or as I know it, the Hebrew yahrzeit of September 11, 2001. In recognition of this juxtaposition of joy and sorrow, my sister and I visited the 9/11 memorial, which included my first visit to the 9/11 museum. What we didn’t realize when I booked the tour was that September 3, the day of our visit, would’ve been Jeremy’s 48th birthday. 

The museum is currently housing a special exhibition entitled, “Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11.” You can probably guess why I thought that wasn’t my cup of tea. The exhibition was small but powerful. It captured the mixed multitude of emotions that sports conjures up. It included a Sportscaster broadcast in which Bob Ley stated, “Sports is an afterthought,” as baseball player player Chipper Jones was quoted as saying that the games became “a very, very small blip on the screen.” Washington Post sportswriter Jennifer Frey wrote upon the return of baseball, “Tonight there will be reason to sit next to strangers and feel connected by something other than fear and horror and sadness.”  

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My sister and I had access to the Family Room, a collection of stories, letters, photographs, and messages of hope and love that were left at the World Trade Center viewing platform on West Street following 9/11. Eventually the tributes were moved indoors and eventually housed in a private viewing space for families. While the message writers once displayed these publicly, their tributes are deeply personal and no longer accessible to the general public. The tributes continue to pour in. Two letters caught my eye- from two children of 9/11 victims- one who was only a few years old when her mother passed away, the other never got a chance to meet his father. Their letters are gut wrenching- sure they are filled with words of teenage angst, but what they lack is a feeling of dispair; they are only filled with sadness that their parents can’t be there in person to watch them thrive, to answer life’s biggest questions.

IMG_2458Into the depths of the museum and into the depths of ground zero, you’ll see a quote from the Roman poet Virgil: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” The quote, formed from the wounded remnant steel of the World Trade Center, is accompanied by an art installation composed of 2,983 individual watercolor drawings, each a distinct attempt to remember the color of the sky on the morning of September 11, 2001. Every square is unique. We are tasked to remember individuals- their stories written and unwritten, each never to be erased from our collective memory. Each is remembered differently, each is mourned differently, and each of us, the living, remnant steel, must find our own ways to remember and mourn.

The high holidays are a season of searching. Some may find answers in the modern poetry of our mahzor prayer book. Others may hear an answer in a musical piece in the sanctuary or in the teachings of the alternative service, in the powerful sermons of the sanctuary or while getting feet sandy at our tashlikh on the beach. Our hope is that we create as many pathways to searching for those answers here within our community. One such entrypoint is our healing service, which will take place on Yom Kippur afternoon at 4pm. We will offer new melodies (found here https://hazzanholzer.com/healing-service/ ) and an opportunity for those who are experiencing pain or loss to share in each other. If you know of someone who would benefit from this short and intimate service please share the information with them. May we all find healing and wholeness in the year ahead.

All Aboard the Musical Express

Printed in the January 2018 Jacksonville Jewish Center Centerpieces

Music transports us. We hear a musical “lick” and it takes us back to a place and time or removes us from our present reality and brings us to a dream world. We see this when a certain tune is played for a young child learning their first nursery rhymes or when someone suffering from dementia hears a standard from their youth.

Last November, the Jacksonville Symphony’s Chamber Orchestra performed Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, Op. 110, the composer’s biographical reaction to the regime change in his country, containing such specific imagery as his own initials, prison songs, and police in the dead of night. It’s a dreary piece as you can imagine. However, the conductor framed its motifs prior to the orchestral performance. We heard snippets as she explained why these “musical licks” would repeat themselves throughout the piece. In doing so, the audience experience was enhanced and each of us could be transported knowing the composers sensibilities whenever we heard those parts. It reminded me that it doesn’t need to be something from our youth to take us places.

We recently added in a few new melodies to our Shabbat in the Round Friday night experience. A Bat Mitzvah student had returned from a ruach filled summer at Camp Ramah Darom, asking if she could incorporate a new melody she had learned over the summer. After singing a few bars, I recognized the melody as something I had listened to on YouTube, this generation’s transmitter of music.

Playing the video for our instrumentalists, the melody quickly became a band favorite, with shades of Bob Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero.” For anyone who knows our band members, you can understand why a Dylanesque melody would be a big hit. Singing the melody brought Dylan and davening together as one.

This past December, I was asked to lead services over Shabbat as part of the United Synagogue’s Biennial Convention in Atlanta, GA. This was a powerful experience to have a few hundred in attendance who are all committed to a vibrant Jewish future for the Conservative movement. We had the pleasure of hearing rising stars in the Jewish music world, one of which is Joey Weisenberg. I’ve spoken about Joey and his book “Building Singing Communities” but it was great to learn from him again. Joey painted a beautiful tapestry of his family’s story in this country, with ancestry that predates the Civil War. He described how he came to write the melody “Yamin U’smol”, the text taken from one of the final paragraphs of Lecha Dodi. As he talked through his inspiration, I kept thinking of Ashokan Farewell, the theme from Ken Burn’s Civil War series. He entitled the melody “Lincoln’s Niggun” because there’s a second layer to why this was associated with a specific paragraph of the Friday night liturgy. When President Lincoln would walk through a crowd of soldiers, they would assemble in two parallel lines, one on the right and one on the left, or Yamin U’smol in hebrew.

One melody. The composer is transported to the place and time of his family’s origin. The instrumentalist is transported as if he is hearing the sounds of his favorite artist. The song leader is transported to a magical summer experience filled with spirit and new friendships. For those listening, it may take you to an entirely different place. We all have the potential to be transported. I hope you’ll take the journey with us for all of our musical offerings in the months ahead.

The Simplicities of Shabbat

Printed in the FALL 2017 Jacksonville Jewish Center Centerpieces

‘Twas the night before Pesach, with the oven on self clean

Turned on after saying “Shavua Tov’ to the Shabbat Queen

When it locked and blew a fuse without quite a care,

That our seder couldn’t go on without it’s repair.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While I envisioned a meal of maror and unleavened bread

 61. Roger Maris’ home run record and the number of days it took to get our oven replaced. Thanks to a home warranty,  after hours of time on the phone listening to Kenny G’s greatest hits and after more than a dozen home visits, I recited the Shehechiyanu blessing over our new oven a week after the festival of Shavuot. Through stove top cooking, the opening of a new kosher eatery, and help from family and friends, we made it through two months without missing a beat. Not surprisingly, since its repair, we haven’t used the oven as much as we used to.

We all have similar accessories in our lives that we might deem irreplaceable. What would we do without our electric toothbrush? Or our Alexa? Or, heaven forbid, our cellphone? Would we survive? After a few weeks of our oven ordeal, I could only smile at that the fact that life can go on without some things. Does it make life harder? It makes life different. You adapt and you appreciate other parts of your life. Maybe living under different circumstances can condition us to live a more fruitful tomorrow.

Being outside our normative practice allows us the room to relax and reflect. It’s the true essence of “Shabbat,” a sanctuary in time and space. It can vary from taking away the electronics, to attending a musically inspiring Friday night service. It can be a moment to catch up on a book, or play a board game, or get the ultimate shabbos shluf (nap).The holiest day of the year is Shabbat, not because of fixed liturgy or the added restrictions we place on ourselves. It is holy because it is different from our norm. For some it is a respite from the outside. For others it’s a challenge that can motivate the brain and stir the heart.

For all the email and calendar reminders we drill into our schedules, I hope that in the year ahead we all find that there are things we can live without. In turn,  we can take those aspects of our lives that we may have gone without and reacquaint ourselves with them. We may find that we have added extra meaning not only to those sabbatical moments of serenity, but to the rest of our daily lives. For in essence, to paraphrase Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, we should aspire to make all of our days a sanctuary in time, for we dream of a period “when all will be shabbat.”