Temple Jeremiah

 

Shabbat Mishpatim

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah Portion, Mishpatim, literally means laws, those which God legislated for the Israelites. A few of them resonated deeply within me. God warns about mistreatment of foreigners. I think about how so many Americans have suffered recently due a 35-day government shutdown, which was, in my opinion, a complete violation of this law. It seems incredibly hypocritical to me to be living in a country whose only true natives were annihilated by immigrants who then became its rulers, consequently leaving us with nearly every citizen being a foreigner. Yet here we are, trying to keep foreigners from entering. I think about Parashat B’Shalach, which we read two weeks ago, where we learned how the very first of our people were living as immigrants in another country and were horribly mistreated. When we marched through the Red Sea to freedom, we were commanded to always remember that we were lucky to have escaped slavery; that we started out as strangers in a strange land and it is upon us to always welcome all strangers.

We learn about the seasonal festivals, and I am reminded of the beautiful Tu B’Shevat Seder that Ross created for our family and friends on Erev Tu B’Shevat. The 16th Century Kabbalists in Safed created this Seder ritual, similar to a Passover Seder, where we are to include the seven species mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. The laws of Kashrut are also mentioned in Mishpatim. I always think about Kashrut when putting together a meal of any kind at my home, and our Seder was no exception. Inevitably, our meals will either be milk or meat in the Friedman household, and it was not until recently that this law made sense to me. A colleague explained it so beautifully–different cultures are distinguished by the foods they eat. Jews eat I food, and this can come in all different shapes and styles, not unlike other cultures. In Israel, eating Kosher is something that you don’t even have to think about, with their Mediterranean style of food and all the different spices. Here in America, it is more of a conscious choice, and one which never resonated with me until I looked at that way.

Mishpatim also talks about the mitzvah (good deed) of prayer. My very first memories were of my mother tucking me in, and the two of us praying. My mother and I spoke to God from our hearts, about anything which might be on them, nothing too big or too small. I remember praying every night for my grandmother, who was incredibly ill and hospitalized for months. I’ll never forget the night that Mom said, “She’s coming home tomorrow.” From that point on, I never stopped praying, even when things did not turn out the way my heart desired. Abigail and I have begun praying every night. We first say the bedtime Sh’ma, “B’shem Adonai, Elohai Yisrael, mimini Michael, u’smoli Gavriel….” Followed by the Sh’ma, a Yiddish song of her choice, and our personal prayer, starting with “God of our Mothers and Fathers…” I begin with giving thanks for things I am blessed with, and she and I name some of them specifically. Then we pray for those who need help or healing, starting with her brother Zev, those who may be carrying children, or who need strength. Sometimes I ask for strength for myself, or for help in making better choices, or I even ask for help to not continue to make bad choices.

As I mentioned previously, we do not always get the answer we had hoped for. I am currently experiencing an answer that I am very unhappy with. But I will still continue to live in the hope, because putting myself in a place of prayer helps me to realize that I am not alone. When we pray for Zev in particular, something seems to release inside me, enabling me to see his progress in a much greater light than I can see his problems. Even when I do not immediately see the answers I desire, keeping up with the praying helps me to live in the hope that somehow, it will all be ok. It gives me the strength to be there for those I love in their struggles, and to still find all there is to be grateful for.

Each time I recite the prayers of our liturgy during services, there is a subtext, meaningful to me, going on inside my head and heart. They are always said with intention, in the hopes that my prayer will help you to also pray. Below is a clip of “Hineni,” a prayer that is part of our Rosh Hoshanah liturgy set in English text with the intention of helping us to find our personal prayer. I include this to help inspire you to find your own subtext as you pray the Hebrew, English, or any other text of our prayers.

May you find your prayer, even if that prayer contains only the sound and movement of the breath inside you. Shabbat Shalom.

Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman

About Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman

Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman is thrilled to be the cantor at Temple Jeremiah. She moved to the area from the New York/New Jersey area in 2015 after beginning her tenure at Beth Emet in July of 2015, just after receiving Cantorial Ordination from The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music of the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. Previously, she served as cantor at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL where, in addition to the many life cycles and other duties of the cantor, she directed the Adult Choir, created and directed a Teen A Capella Choir, Jr. Choir, and Intergenerational Band. Cantor Friedman strives to help all members of the community find their Jewish voice and she regularly invites anyone who is interested to sing with her during Shabbat and High Holy Days services. Cantor Friedman has a wide range of musical styles, and feels at home in almost every style of Jewish music, such as playing her guitar in a small setting where everyone is participating with her, or singing a piece of Chazzanut or liturgical music for a large congregation. Her belief is that nearly all Jewish music has its place in our synagogue, and when done prayerfully and with great intention, can inspire us to hear God’s voice, and can often help us to find prayer within our souls that words alone cannot arouse. Cantor Friedman holds degrees of Bachelor of Music from Illinois State University, Master of Music from Arizona State University, and Master of Sacred Music from the Hebrew Union College. During her time as a student she served as Cantorial Intern at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. There, she founded and directed their 40 member Junior Choir, Keshet, and also served as the cantor of the Barrie H. Greene Early Childhood Center. During her tenure at Jeshurun, she created and implemented the synagogue’s first ever Yom Kippur Family Service for which over 600 families were in attendance. It has since been a staple of their High Holy Days services. Cantor Friedman is a regular soloist with the Kol Zimrah Community Choir right here on the North Shore. She is an active member of the American Conference of Cantors and was asked to be on the leadership committee for the 2018 convention as Co-Chair for all of the Tefilot (Prayer Services) for the convention. She is an active member of the Reform Cantors Chicago, and is frequently invited to collaborate in Cantorial Concerts with colleagues throughout both Chicagoland and all over the U.S at places such as Temple Emanu-El Dallas, Temple Judea in Palm Beach Gardens, and Anshe Emet Synagogue with Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi. One of Cantor Friedman’s biggest passions is helping to sustain and foster the Reform Movement in Israel. From 2010-2011 Susie lived in Israel for the first year of school and volunteered at Congregation Ohel Avraham, part of the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, where she served as volunteer cantor. She formed strong relationships with Rabbi Gabby Dagan, and the congregants who quickly became her Israeli family, and she decided to become a bat mitzvah with them. Six months later, Susie co-officiated a b’not mitzvah for seven Israeli women, all of whom celebrated with Susie at her ceremony and grew up never knowing that a bat mitzvah existed—only bar mitzvah. That year, Susie also conceived, directed, accompanied, and performed in Broadway on the Carmel, a concert to raise money for families who could not afford to have b’nai mitzvah for their children. While in Israel, she was nominated by her piers and received the Rabbi Jason Huebsch Memorial Prize for all of her work with Ohel Avraham. Prior to becoming a cantor, Susie appeared in the Broadway National Tour of CATS playing the roles of Jennyanydots and Grizabella. She also performed in regional opera, theater, concert, and as a pianist/singer/entertainer in clubs throughout NYC, hosting her own weekly open mic show at The Duplex. She has had the great fortune to perform with Betty Buckley, George S. Irving, and Alberto Mizrahi, and is frequently sought out to sing in various cantorial concerts throughout the U.S. She is a proud member of the American Conference of Cantors, the Reform Cantors of Chicago, and Actors Equity Association. Her love of children and strong desire to inspire b’nai mitzvah students to remain engaged in Jewish life inspired her to be a cantor. It is Susie’s goal that every student who walks through the doors of the synagogue will grow up to become vibrant, participating members of congregations. She is married to the love of her life, Ross Friedman. Her absolute greatest achievements are their daughter, Abigail Hannah Friedman, who was born on May 6, 2013, and their son, Zev Noah Friedman, who was born on Nov. 5, 2014. They are both living examples of her answered prayers.
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