Poetry and music in motion Sept. 16-18
By Deb Silverthorn
Tarrant County congregations Beth-El, Beth Israel and Beth Shalom, with support from the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, are opening the doors to the High Holy Days together, co-hosting a Selichot Scholar Weekend.
Beginning Friday evening, Sept. 16, with programs on Saturday, Sept. 17 morning and evening, and again on Sunday morning, Sept. 18, the community is invited to share in learning with Rabbi Pamela Wax — with a Saturday evening service led by Congregation Beth Shalom’s Cantor Elisa Abrams Cohn and Congregation Beth-El’s Religious School Director, Cantor Shoshana Abrams Kaikov. Each session of the weekend is expected to be livestreamed by the host congregation, with connection details posted closer to the weekend.
“Selichot is an incredible time to be together to begin the High Holy Days, and to share in one another’s holy space is a gift in itself,” said Congregation Beth-El’s Rabbi Brian Zimmerman. He noted that, as the congregations rotate programs, only each event’s host synagogue will be open during that service time. “Rabbi Wax speaks to healing, trauma, change and all the tools we need during this profoundly reflective season.”
“Rabbi Wax is brilliant and soulful,” said Rabbi Zimmerman, who has known Rabbi Wax since they were in the first year of rabbinical school together in Israel (1988-1989). “She will bring her skills from a career filled with kavanah, intention, to touch our community and help us be emotionally ready and teshuvah-focused for the weeks ahead.”
Rabbi Wax has served as a hospital chaplain, as a congregational rabbi, as Union of American Hebrew Congregations’ assistant director of adult Jewish learning and, for 19 years, leading a Jewish spiritual healing center at Westchester Jewish Community Services in White Plains, New York. With the exception of a number of published essays, her words — her poetry — waited in the wings.
Four years ago, when her brother Howard Wax, of blessed memory, passed away by suicide, the words began flowing again — words she found as she grieved the loss of her brother, and as she realized later also the losses of her parents Harriette and Herbert Wax, during her first and fourth year of rabbinical school. Now, those words, her heart and the spirit through which she heals, are bound together.
During services on Friday night, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. at Colleyville’s Congregation Beth Israel, Rabbi Wax, who just published her first book of poetry, “Walking the Labyrinth,” will speak of “The Labyrinths of Our Lives: Teshuvah and Coming Home.” The evening will explore how to use a labyrinth as a spiritual practice and metaphor for coming home to what is most dear and true.
“Like life, a labyrinth has one way in, one way out, and we need to walk both just one foot in front of the other, one step at a time,” said Rabbi Wax, who lives in North Adams, Massachusetts. “Selichot gives us one step, one of many beginnings toward the Yamim Nora’im, the High Holy Days, to get ready for the internal work we each must do.”
She added, “The music is meaningful, the changing of the Torah covers, the planning we all make for ourselves, our homes, meals and times with family. During this weekend we’ll share experiences that will enrich each of our personal moments at this time.”
At 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, at Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington, Rabbi Wax — who has both studied and taught mussar (virtue-based ethics) — will address “Coloring Our World Mussar: The Deep Dive of the Days of Awe,” followed by a Kiddush luncheon and text study. Looking toward the forthcoming days of reflection as a workout for heart and soul, Rabbi Wax will take this contemplative Jewish practice of refining traits such as one’s generosity, patience, hope, gratitude or faith into daily life.
Beginning at 7 p.m. on Saturday, at Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth, Rabbi Wax will talk about “Approaching the Holy of Holies: Poetry for the Journey” and, starting at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, again at Beth-El Congregation, “The Psalms of Our Hands: How Contemporary Poets Respond to the Psalms” will be both conversation and time for participants to create their own psalms.
The publishing of Rabbi Wax’s poetry comes many decades after her writing first began; it was her dedication for a long time and is now an “overnight” reality. While she spent years after college writing, she had a change of heart toward her future and decided to attend rabbinical school. Rabbi Wax’s second book, “Starter Mothers,” will be published in 2023, and a third is in the works.
A community reception will follow Rabbi Wax’s Saturday evening session and then, at 8:30 p.m., Cantor Abrams Cohn and Cantor Abrams Kaikov and ensemble will lead a unique musical Selichot service, “The Sounds of Selichot.”
“Nighttime is an incredibly mystical time to pray, and music a most powerful vehicle for our prayers. Whether we know the words or speak the language — or not — in this time the tunes of the High Holy Days come back to all of us and pull at our heartstrings allowing us to connect to the Divine,” said Cantor Abrams Cohn, who this week began serving Congregation Beth Shalom. “We’ll share the ‘greatest hits’ of the upcoming holidays, the ‘comfort food’ of our tradition.”
Cantor Shoshana Abrams Kaikov echoes her twin sister Cantor Abrams Cohn’s voice.
“Through the readings and music of Selichot, really a kickoff for our reflective feet, we can all get into the mindset of the High Holy Days,” said Cantor Abrams Kaikov. “While we have the full month of Elul to prepare, in this week before Rosh Hashanah, we come together as a sacred community to soul search, reflect and fully immerse ourselves in the spiritual work of returning to our best selves.”
There is no cost to attend the Tarrant County Selichot Scholar-in-Residence weekend, but registration is requested at tinyurl.com/Tarrant-Slichot-Scholar. Rabbi Wax’s book will be available for sale at the Saturday evening and Sunday morning events and can also be purchased at tinyurl.com/Buy-Walking-the-Labyrinth.