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Facebook Post becomes Serious Sermon

OR: How the Whole World Planned this Shabbat’s Service

It all began two weeks ago with a simple question on Facebook:

Need sermon input. This week we read about the splitting of the Red Sea. When have you experienced a time when the seas split (metaphorically) for you so you could walk forward more freely into your life?

Who expected the depth of responses from all over the country?

When I left my husband
When I finally asked my Dad for a hug
When I came out
When I figured out how to balance career and family
When I began taking Lexipro
When I was marching in Washington to celebrate Marriage Equality
When I made aliyah to Israel and founded Kibbutz Lotan
When I returned to my first love, acting
When I began my new course of anti-anxiety medication
When my husband died and I had to figure it out for myself
When I found God and lost all that weight…

The private Facebook messages were even more revealing and poignant.

Welcome to the Social Sermon
So began another Social Sermon, an experiment which weaves text study and personal reflection through social media to create sermons and worship experiences that engage people in the preparation and giving of a sermon. On Yom Kippur, the whole congregation wrote its rabbi’s Rosh Hashana sermon. Thanks to inspiration from Jewish Techie Lisa Colton (and earlier the Covenant Foundation), we are trying it again to illuminate the lessons of Shirat HaYam.

This week, around the world, Jews are reading Shirat HaYam, the song of the sea, from the Torah portion Beshallach (Exodus 15). We are transported back to the future, as we read (chant/sing) the very same song that Moses, Miriam and the Israelites sang after they crossed through (some say: were crossing through) the Red Sea. It is a story overflowing with meaning – we can flee from pain; that like the Biblical Nachshon we need to take the first step; God still works wonders in mysterious ways; sing out your salvation with joy; sing out your salvation with sadness for those harmed by their own helplessness. This Torah portion cries out darsheini (“interpret me!).

Interpreting Torah through Song
Our amazing Cantor Doug Cotler has prepared eight different musical versions of the Mi Chamocha prayer-song, and invited a diverse group of congregants to participate: adult singers, congregant-composers, a LoMPTY teen songleader, a post-Bar Mitzvah student who would reprise his Torah reading of Shirat HaYam (the song of the sea), a cantorial student, a host of musicians, and so many kids who went to Jewish summer camp and would know and sing Debbie Friedman’s Miriam’s Song. We enjoy the music of Debbie Friedman, Doug Cotler, Sheryl and Daniel Braunstein, Kyle Cotler, Seth Marlon Ettinger, and “When You Believe” from Steven Spielberg’s Prince of Egypt.

Ripping off TED Talks
Following the power of TED Talks (where real people share real stories that teach rally powerful lessons), we are inviting real people to share their stories of when the sea split for them:

  • Congregant Seth Front reflects upon what we leave when we go through the Sea.
  • A friend from back east talks about when he finally asked his heart attack surviving dad for the hug he desired all his life.
  • A congregant 12-steps, sharing her experience of finding God and thus discovering a way past the overeating that was literally killing her.

Clergy from All Over Weigh In
Rabbinic Intern Jonathan Rothstein-Fisch, a uniquely talented soon to be ordained rabbi (whichever congregation hires him this year will have “stolen” one of our movement’s most precious gems), is weaving the metaphor of the sea splitting metaphor into his iyyunim (reflections) leading into the Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing and the Kaddish.

Over lunch at the PARR Rabbinical Convention, Stockton Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff and Cantorial Soloist Lindy Passer provided chomer ladrush, insights to illuminate lessons from the Torah portion and prayer-song.

Who Knows How the Service will Play Out
But we know this: that while the service won’t take place for another twelve hours, it seems to already have inspired so much reflection and connection between people all over the universe and our sacred Song of the Sea. That’s what prayer and study is supposed to be about, right?

Bring a friend to services this Shabbat for Shirat HaYam, as the sea splits to allow us freely to walk forth freely into our lives.

We are LIVE Streaming Services
If you absolutely cannot make it, we are streaming our services at www.OrAmiLIVE.com (thanks to Bronze Productions and Jacob Braunstein).

After services, go to Facebook or this blog to share your experience!

What’s My Most Recent Sea Splitting Experience?
This social sermon process has been an inspiring experience for me. Since I always work better as part of a team, I am able to expand the input, insights and iyyunim which inform my own study and preparation for these sermons and Shabbat services. The results – whether I actually speak the words or just guide others – are always uplifting and spiritually moving.

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