May 30, 2023

Prayers to Open the Heart and Soul for the High Holy Days

Editor’s Note: To prepare for the High Holy Days, Fresh Ideas reprints five prayers, some unique to Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidrey and Yom Kippur liturgy and some that are used during both the high holy days and during the year, from Marcia Falk’s book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season, published in the HBI Series on Jewish Women. In her book, Falk recreates the holiday’s key prayers from an inclusive perspective, often accompanying them with quotes from the Psalms and prophets.

Lighting the Candles for Rosh Hashana

Rise up, shine for your light is here. — Isaiah 60:1


May our hearts be lightened, 

our spirits born anew


as we light the holiday candles

and greet the newborn year.


Blessing the Children

The squares of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing. — Zechariah 8:5


(The child’s name) —


Be who you are, 

and may you be blessed 

in all that you are.


Fruit of the Tree: Apples and Honey

The trees of the field

Will give forth their fruit. 

— Leviticus 26:14


Go, eat choice foods

and drink sweet drinks

and send portions to those

who have not provided for themselves, 

for the day is holy. 

— Nehemiah 8:10


Let us bless the source of life

that swells the tree’s fruit with sweetness.


May the year be sweet as apples dipped in honey

and full as the ripe pomegranate

with blessings.


Tallit: Prayer Shawl

Wrapped in a robe of light,

Spreading the skies like a canopy.

-Psalms 104:2


Enveloped in light, I wrap around me

the widespread wings of the tallit. 


Kol Nidrey: All Vows

All vows —

all promises and pledges —


that we have made to ourselves

and that no longer serve

for the good — 


may their grip be loosened


that we be present of mind and heart

to the urgency of the hour.


The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season (HBI Series on Jewish Women) by Marcia Falk, makes a great holiday gift or addition to your Jewish library. For more information on the prayers included, visit Brandeis University Press

Blog compiled by Amy Powell, HBI Assistant Director


Make Your Own Haggadah With Gendered Themes

By Amy Powell

Just before Pesach in 2011, the New York Times reported some important news about gender and Passover: The fusty Maxwell House Haggadah, offered free in grocery stores with a purchase of Maxwell House coffee (this year there was one in my matzo box), adopted some gender-neutral language.

Rather than calling G-d a king, they used “monarch,” and changed the four sons to the four “children.”

Today, there are so many varied haggadot with more profound changes relating to gender than simply adopting gender-neutral language. Haggadot exist for a spectrum of observances, age groups and personal preferences, many with updated themes of freedom, plagues, renewal and more.

For those searching for readings and themes — and perhaps not ready to invest in new haggadot — there are many downloadable versions. HBI has compiled a few tools to help you design your own seder with an eye to HBI’s mission of developing fresh ideas about Jews and gender.

For example, JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, compiled numerous  Pesach Divrei Torah, described as “by women, for all,” in a 32-page free download titled Shema Bekolah, Hear Her Voice.

Another resource, is and The Wandering is Over Haggadah: A Seder For Everyone, their free and downloadable, contemporary and customizable haggadah. Here, you will find readings and options on anti-Semitism, mental health, immigration, feminism, labor rights, social justice, climate change, racial justice, inclusion, Israel, LGBTQ liberation and more. The contributors include The Jewish Climate Action Network (JCAN), JCRC, ADL, Ruderman Foundation, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Emilia Diamant,, New England Jewish Labor Committee and others.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, known as the “Velveteen Rabbi,” created a downloadable haggadah, the Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach, out of her desire for a seder text which cherishes “the tradition and also augments that tradition with contemporary poetry, moments of mindfulness, a theology of liberation, and sensitivity to different forms of oppression.”

Jewish Family & Children’s Services released two downloadable haggadot related to healing and wholeness: the Chaverim Shel Shalom Haggadah and the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing Friendly Visitor Passover Seder. has a tool called Let’s Make Your Passover Haggadah Together, with a platform that allows you to create a custom seder, using content aggregated from more than 150 individuals, artists and 13 organizations. These can be tailored and either downloaded or printed for your seder.

I’m probably not banning Maxwell House completely. I have a soft spot for a wine stain that may have been created by people who have since passed away. It’s also useful to have multiple copies of at least one haggadah with every single verse of Dayenu! But as the four children remind us, it’s better to have a multitude of voices around the table, asking questions and heightening our awareness of what the holiday means.

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI.

Feminist Journey into Prayer

by Amy Sessler Powell

On Nov. 6, Marcia Falk will discuss and read from the new anniversary edition of The Book of Blessings as well as The Days Between. On Nov. 7, HBI Director Lisa Fishbayn Joffe will interview Falk in a live webinar, Conversations with Extraordinary Women. See below for details and webinar registration.

“Let us bless the source of life that brings forth bread from the earth,” or “Our praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth”?

The first, a translated version of “hamotzi,” the Jewish blessing before the meal, comes from Marcia Falk’s Book of Blessings. The second is the traditional translation of the same prayer, in this case provided by It’s a simple, yet elegant example of Falk’s style of removing the patriarchal language from the liturgy.

The story of Falk’s engagement with writing prayer began several decades before she published her groundbreaking books including the The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival, now reissued in a 20th anniversary edition.

“The words of prayer have always mattered to me,” said Falk. “As a Jewish feminist in the 1970s and ‘80s, I thought it was important not just where and how we participate in synagogue life, but what we actually pray there. I had been a regular davener for years; I belonged to synagogues and attended services every Shabbat. I participated, gave drashot (talks about the Torah portion). But in the early 1980s, the liturgy was becoming more and more disturbing to me as a Jew and a feminist trying to live with integrity.

“I was in crisis. The liturgy wasn’t speaking for me, and in many ways I found it hurtful. But I didn’t want to give up my relationship to my community; I was attached to being a Jew in the Jewish world.”

Falk started to silently change the language, sometimes while on her feet during the Amidah (the prayer recited silently, while standing). She was often the last one to sit back down, because she lost track of time as she struggled to adapt the Hebrew words, changing the patriarchal image of God as the Lord and King to other, gender-neutral metaphors. She was not yet writing her new prayers down or sharing them publicly.

A turning point came in 1983, while she was a teacher at the Havurah Institute in Princeton. Rabbi Arthur Waskow was in charge of the Havdalah service to take place on Saturday night, and on Friday afternoon he asked Falk to provide a kavanah, meditation, for each of the blessings.

“I told Art I just couldn’t do that, and when he asked why, I blurted out that I didn’t say those blessings any more. That was the first time I said aloud that I no longer prayed with the traditional words. Without missing a beat, Art said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, ‘So write your own blessings.’ I told him I thought they’d stone me. ‘Marcia,’ he said in a booming voice, ‘they won’t stone you.’

So I sat down that afternoon and wrote my first four blessings, and the next night, full of trepidation, I recited them before a community of 300 Jews ranging in affiliation from atheist to Orthodox. I recited the new words without introduction, as though they had been written a couple of millennia ago by the rabbis, rather than the day before, by me. I offered no apology or explanation (I didn’t dare to), and, to my puzzlement and disbelief, the community said, Amen.”

In March of 1985, Falk published an essay in Moment Magazine, in which she presented some of her new blessings, which would eventually become part of her path-breaking Book of Blessings, published in 1996. The article engendered strong and voluminous reactions across the spectrum; Falk received fan mail as well as attack mail. While there were many Jews, especially Jewish women, who had been waiting for an alternative to the patriarchal imagery of the prayer book and who were thrilled that Falk had met the challenge, there were also people who insisted that she did not have the right to make changes, especially to the Hebrew. But, Falk says, Jewish liturgy has always changed over time. “If it doesn’t evolve, it ossifies.” And Falk believes it is not enough to change the English. Her work is unique in that it offers new prayers in Hebrew poetic language.

“Many Jews want a liturgy that expresses their values and concerns. Keeping it alive in a fresh way has always been part of Jewish tradition,” she says.

It has been 20 years since the publication of The Book of Blessings, and Falk’s readers have waited long for its sequel. Now, it’s here with new essays by scholars Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Rabbi Dalia Marx, and Rabbi David Ellenson that reflect on the impact over the past 20 years.

Rabbi David Ellenson, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University said in one of the afterwords,  “It is not too much to say that the publication of The Book of Blessings in the last decade of the twentieth century revolutionized and revivified the foundations of Jewish liturgy.”

Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell noted in another afterword,  “All who want to sing a new song to God are in Marcia Falk’s debt.”


Join us as Marcia Falk, author of the Book of Blessings and The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season presents, “The Book of Blessings: A Feminist Liturgy for Our Times.”

Monday, Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. Monday, November 6, 7:30 p.m., International Lounge, Usdan, Brandeis University, 415 South St., Waltham

Co-sponsored with the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, JFAB

Join us Nov. 7, noon, online for a webinar, Conversations with Extraordinary Women.

Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, S.J.D, Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute interviews Marcia Falk.

Click here to register.

Co-sponsored with the Program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Amy Powell is the Assistant Director of HBI for Communications. (portions of this blog were adapted from an 2013 blog in this space)

Reflections for the High Holy Days

Editor’s Note: To prepare for the High Holy Days, Fresh Ideas reprints three prayers, unique to the Rosh Hashanah service, from Marcia Falk’s book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season, published in the HBI Series on Jewish Women. In her book, Falk recreates the holiday’s key prayers from an inclusive perspective. – 


Introduction to Skofarot, Zikhronot, Malkhuyot: Calls, Recalling, Callings

Unique to the Rosh Hashanah service are three extended liturgical passages — Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot— each comprising a rabbinic poetic prologue, ten biblical verses, and a concluding petition and blessing. After the reading of each passage, the shofar is sounded.

The themes of the traditional passages, in their original order, are as follows:

Malkhuyot (literally, “sovereignty”): God as ruler and creator; God’s power over all creation and, by extension, His role as judge of our actions.* The tenth biblical verse of Malkhuyot is Judaism’s keynote, commonly referred to as the Sh’ma: Sh’ma, yisra’eyl, adonay elohe’ynu, adonay ehad, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), emphasizing God’s singular dominion over all.

Zikhronot (literally, “remembrances”): God’s remembering (taking account of, being attentive to) all creatures, and His fidelity to His covenant with the people of Israel.

Shofarot (literally, “rams’ horns”): The shofar calls out, and we hark to it. Some of the biblical verses describe with dramatic force God’s revelation of Himself to the world and His giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel. Other verses proclaim the advent of the festivals, including the New Moon and Rosh Hashanah.

*References to God as personified or gendered reflect the language and theology of the texts being quoted or paraphrased, not the perspective of this book.

The re-creation offered here reorders the sequence to create a progression of awareness. Each section is interpreted afresh, emphasizing the twin focus of the holiday: looking inward, to better know oneself, and looking outward, to strengthen one’s relations with others. I have distilled the liturgical text to a few of its key biblical verses (the Sh’ma is adapted), augmenting them with brief reflections. To these elements I have added Deuteronomy 30:12-14 and a poem.

The themes are re-visioned as follows:

Shofarot (Calls): The call to awakening the self and to hearing others.

Zikhronot (Recalling): Memory, imagination, and the forming of the self; the emergence of relationships.

Malkhuyot (Callings): The values we hold above all else. The Sh’ma is reframed: finding our place in the greater one-ness.

Shofarot: Calls


Sound the shofar on the New Moon,

on our holiday, when the moon is still hidden.

–Psalms 81:4

The shofar calls, the crescent rises.

The new year is upon us.

O inhabitants of the world,

you who dwell upon the earth:

When the flag is raised on the mountain–look!

When the shofar is sounded–listen!

–Isaiah 18:3

The shofar quiets us, wakening us

to the silence within.

In the clearing, where the mind flowers

and the world sprouts up at every side,


for the sound in the bushes,

behind the grass.

The shofar takes us into the self

that is hidden from the self,

then returns us to the world.

In the silence we hear the voice of the other,

we hear what has gone unheard.

Zikhronot: Recalling


Recollections shape us, remind us who we are.

Imagination brings what is buried

to light.

With each moment recalled,

the kaleidoscope turns,

patterns change, colors shift places.

The selves within the self come into view.

I remember the lovingkindness of your youthful days,

your love when you were betrothed,

when you followed me in the wilderness,

in the land barren of seed.

–Jeremiah 2:2

From youth to age,

our bonds with others deepen,

become more truthful.

I will remember my covenant with you

from the days of your youth

and I will establish that covenant for eternity.

–Ezekiel 16:60

Reciprocity, fidelity:

the grounding of relationship.

Malkhuyot: Callings


Lift up high, O gates,

lift the eternal portals!

–Psalms 24:7

The gates are open, portals

to possibilities:

What is it that reigns for us supreme?

It is not in the heavens, such that you might say:

Who among us can go up and get it for us and let us hear it so that we may do it?

 And it is not across the sea, such that you might say:

Who will cross the sea for us and get it for us and let us hear it so that we may do it?

No, it is something very close to you,

in your mouth and in your heart,

for you to do.

–Deuteronomy 30:12-14

We turn back to ourselves,

listen for our callings.

Hear, O Israel—

The divine abounds everywhere

and dwells in everything.

Its faces are infinite,

its source suffuses all.

The many are One.

–Adapted from Deuteronomy 6:4

Marcia Falk is the author of The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season.

Mother, Daughter Pair to Bring Back German-Jewish Cooking, Culture

By Sonya Gropman

Like many Jewish kids, I grew up with food-centric visits to my grandparents, which generally revolved around meals that were both copious and delicious. At some point it dawned on me that the foods of my two sets of grandparents differed from each other.

Sonya Gropman (l), Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman (r) . Photo credit: Don Gropman

Sonya Gropman (l), Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman (r). Photo credit: Don Gropman

My paternal grandparents – who had emigrated as young children from shtetls in what is today the Ukraine – ate food firmly lodged in the grand tradition of Eastern European Jews, the food that most everyone considers “Jewish food”, such things as chicken soup with matzoh balls, gefilte fish, chopped liver and brisket. My maternal grandparents, on the other hand, ate the foods that their families had been cooking and eating in Germany for many generations. My mother, Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman, Brandeis ’59, emigrated as a one-year-old in 1939 with her parents from Germany and grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. A year later her maternal grandparents arrived and the three-generation family settled into their shared household in a large, 5th floor apartment overlooking the Hudson River, next to the George Washington Bridge. After the Nazis eradicated Jewish life from Germany, Washington Heights was home to the largest community of German-Jews in the world. About 20,000 German-speaking Jews lived in the neighborhood from the late-1930s and into the 1960s. While people from other nationalities and ethnicities also lived in the neighborhood, German was commonly heard spoken on the street, and there were many shops and businesses catering to the needs of German-Jews. It was easy for people to continue eating the same things they had eaten in Germany. Thus, my mom grew up eating a diet that consisted of very traditional foods cooked by her mother and grandmother and to a lesser extent her father, who was an avid cook and collector of recipes. They ate such things as beef soup with pfankuchen (pancake ribbons) or matzoh balls; potato schalet (kugel); hand-grated potato dumplings served with roasted meat; wine cream; and grimsele (matzo fritters for Passover). She didn’t have her first taste of all-American classics such as chocolate cake or peanut butter until she was in junior high! And her very first introduction to gefilte fish was at her future mother-in-law’s table when my father, writer Don Gropman, Brandeis ’56, invited her home for Friday night dinner, though truth be told, she didn’t have the nerve to actually taste it that night.

Gabrielle holding a loaf of Berches. Photo credit: Sonya Gropman

Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman holding a loaf of Berches. Photo credit: Sonya Gropman

While specific recipes differ between German and Eastern-European Jewish food, most of the same symbolic foods exist in each tradition, albeit in different iterations. One example is in the ceremonial bread prayed over and eaten on Shabbos and holidays. Challah, the braided bread with an egg dough, is the Eastern-European version. In Germany, Jews ate berches, a ceremonial bread that is also braided, though it is made with a “water dough” (no eggs) and often with mashed potato, which gives the bread a bit of a tangy flavor. With a crisp crust, sprinkled with poppy seeds, berches is a wonderfully light bread, with an airy texture. Though it is virtually impossible to find in bakeries in the U.S., we include our recipe for it here.

By the time I was born, my mother had branched out and become familiar with, and enamored of, many other types of food. She and my father both cooked from a wide repertoire of dishes from many different traditions.

So, while I grew up with a varied food experience, German-Jewish food was certainly one of the major components. Because it has always been there for me, as well as for my mother, we both took it for granted. Neither of us realized how unique it is, familiar only to the limited number of German-Jewish families who continue to cook it in the privacy of their homes. Many of the people we have spoken to, have memories of wonderful cakes their grandmothers made, but have no idea how to reproduce them. There are no longer any German-Jewish restaurants, delis, bakeries or cookbooks. Even in Germany, where we have travelled numerous times, there is little to no awareness of the long food tradition that existed as part of the 1,000-year history of Jews living in Germany. With the dawning of this realization, I proposed to my mom that we should write a cookbook featuring the food of our culture. We would write it in order to introduce the food to a new audience and share its many delicious dishes. But more than just sharing the taste of the food, we would also be sharing the meaning of the food. Food as an important element of German-Jewish culture, a culture which in many regards has become invisible. For any immigrant, originating anywhere in the world, one of the most important things — often one of the only things — that they can bring with them when they depart their homeland and head to a new home is recipes. They take up little space in a suitcase, just a slip or two of paper, or a book. Yet recipes transport so much. They have the ability to root people in their history, their homeland and their family.

Root vegetables: turnip, potatoes, carrots, and celery root. Photo credit: Sonya Gropman

Root vegetables: turnip, potatoes, carrots, and celery root. Photo credit: Sonya Gropman

For me, the idea of writing a cookbook is a dream come true! As a life-long devourer of cookbooks and all food literature; a life-long cook and baker; a gardener (mostly limited to pots of herbs that fit on my urban window sill); and a local food supporter and organizer, a cookbook embodies all of these interests and rolls them up into one place. As a mother-daughter team, our project is multi-generational, with each of us bringing a unique perspective to the project. My mom brings memoir describing life in vibrant Washington Heights during its heyday, while I bring my experiences from the next generation. She brings her fluency in German – and her self-taught knowledge of reading Old German script – to the task of translating historic cookbooks, while I bring a sensibility of recipe-writing, weaving stories into recipes, and bringing aspects of food from a larger picture into individual recipes. In addition to recipes, our book includes stories from different German-Jews we have interviewed, both in the U.S. and in Germany, and an overview of the history of Jews in Germany. As we approach Mother’s Day, I am filled with gratitude to my mother for sharing this aspect of our history with me. We are blessed to be able to work on this project together.

The German-Jewish Cookbook: Recipes & History of a Cuisine will be published in the fall of 2017 by Brandeis University Press, HBI Series on Jewish Women. The Gropmans are running a Kickstarter campaign until May 26, 2016 to raise completion funds for aspects of the book such as the food photography, hand-drawn illustrations, indexing and transcribing audio tapes.

Sonya Gropman is a visual artist and writer who lives in NYC. She is the coordinator of her neighborhood CSA (community supported agriculture).

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