Temple Jeremiah


Shabbat P’kudei

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion P’kudei, literally means “to measure.”  The Tabernacle, as opposed to the Temple created by King Solomon, was a portable “sanctuary,” or “tent of meeting.” It was meant to be taken anywhere, serving as a metaphor of God’s presence everywhere. It enabled the Israelites to find intention, and connect to God in worship no matter what land they happened to be in. All of the garments, which were to be worn by Aaron, his sons, and the High Priests, were completed as instructed by God through Moses.  All of the work of the Tabernacle was complete, and the Israelites were finally able to present it, in all its glory, to Moses, who blessed them for all of their hard work, dedication, and willingness to do as God commanded.

God then instructed Moses to anoint it with anointing oil at the first of the month, and to bring Aaron, the High Priest, and his sons to it and dress them in the holy vestments so that they may serve God as Priests. After Moses obeyed God and made all of this happen, the spirit of God came over the Tabernacle, this impermanent place, in the form of a cloud, representing a permanent fixture within this temporary structure. The cloud was so strong and heavy that even Moses could not enter the Tabernacle. God commanded them to stay put with the Tabernacle until the cloud lifted. At that point, they would be free to journey onward, bringing their portable Tabernacle to another place.

By contrast, a permanent, sturdy temple like the one constructed by Solomon (which was ironically destroyed not once, but twice) requires the people to go to a specific location to connect with God. Becoming dependent upon a physical structure certainly gives us a specific place to connect with God, but it can also be a dangerous thing.  It can give the false illusion that God’s presence only lies within one specific place, and that this is the only way/place/form to connect with God.  It can also lead us to the mistaken conclusion that the presence of God is somehow confined to or dependent upon the building or space associated with it. Rabbi Sam Feinsmith of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality goes so far as to say that, “Such a mistake did in fact result in the sin of the Golden Calf, which was none other than a blurring of the distinction between the finite and the Absolute. Such a mistake could lead – and indeed did lead – to idolatry, eventually necessitating the destruction of the Temple.”

In our own modern-day language as Reform Jews, I liken this to a conversation had in a recent senior staff meeting. I find myself forever obsessing about attendance at Shabbat services. Does a low turnout mean that members are not connecting with the music we are bringing to worship? Does it mean that they are tiring of being Jewish? Maybe it means they do not like us…. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Many questions like this enter my mind. However, from what I am hearing from my colleagues, it seems that we have got it right according to this parasha! While we certainly have this beautiful building with lots of programming and worship going on here, we are not confining God’s presence to just these walls. Many of us, while affiliated, are connecting to God and Judaism through our very sacred work of repairing the world with acts of social justice and loving kindness. Many of us, while proudly affiliated with Temple Jeremiah, prefer to find God through the relationships we have with other members, friends, and activities outside. Perfect examples of this are the youth events my children and I attend, which are often outside of these walls. I was reminded just this past Sunday, at the Leonard Bernstein concert, of many people who connect with the Temple through music, and find it meaningful to attend certain events, rather than worship.  How amazing it is to experience the energy and dedication of everyone packing lunches for Feed the Hungry on select Sundays. It is wonderful to see that God is present not just within the walls of our Sanctuary, or worship, or anywhere specific, but rather, that God’s presence engulfs each and every one of us, wherever we are, whenever we stop to look, feel, and listen for it, and in ways which are meaningful to us not only as Jews, but most definitely also as human beings.

Please enjoy my rendition of “O Lord Prepare Me to be a Sanctuary.” May you be inspired to bring your own personal Tabernacle with you, and to construct it in the most meaningful way to you, to help you connect with the Divine.

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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