What do the High Holidays mean to you?
I think of the little things, like stiff new dresses for synagogue, playing with my father's prayer shawl, and honey attracting bees in a sukkah (outdoor hut erected for the holiday Sukkot). In my memories from childhood, I marvel in life's small and seemingly mysterious details. Now as an adult, I wonder how that sense of newness could be restored - and with it an appreciation of being part of a larger whole, of our tiny place in the universe's vast cosmos, and of awe at the world and of its Creator.
We are all human, and everyone falls into a rut. That's why the High Holidays exist in the first place: to sing above the noise of our lives, to awaken us with the call of the shofar (ram's horn) to our original purpose as sons, mothers, lovers, citizens - as human beings.
I want to do something new this year for the High Holidays. I want to offer services that are interactive and meaningful, and that provide entry into the enormity of the High Holiday liturgy - both for those who have fond memories like mine, those who are looking for something fresh and new, and for anyone seeking a Jewish service that is accessible, without regard to background or experience.
Over the course of Rosh Hashanah, a big celebration of the New Year, FED will be hosting three services led by Hadar Cohen and two dinners. For Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we will offer Kol Nidre, perhaps the most dramatic, significant and powerful service in the Jewish calendar. In a participatory music theatre take on the Jewish ritual, Mátti Kovler and members of Floating Tower will explore the parallels between different versions of Kol Nidre (from the Persian, Yemenite and Turkish traditions) and other magical incantations. The next day, as the Book of Life is being sealed for the year, an immersive experience called "Therapeutic Chevruta (study in pairs)" led by Dario Helman will weave together the personal introspection of psychoanalysis with the collectivism of religion for some deep conversations in a trusted environment, and opera singer Marques Hollie will perform from the rich liturgy. This all will lead into the breaking of the day-long Yom Kippur fast once the holiday ends at sundown. Cracking the holiday service has been my dream ever since starting FED three years ago. We have been working up to it. Last year's Rosh Hashanah event featured a meditation session on the past year and a modern dancer performing an interpretive piece on making mistakes, regretting them, and how to move forward; we wrote our dreams for the new year on balloons that flew high around the room (see below).
There is a universal need for spiritual experiences, for a sense of community and belonging - all year round, and especially on the High Holidays. It goes back to the reason I founded FED: New York City is teeming with extraordinary people, yet it can feel isolating, lonely and impersonal. Furthermore, in today's polarized discourse, too often we find groups speaking only amongst those with whom they agree. I envision an ideal Jewish community, powered by the Jewish values of hospitality, openness and dialogue, that can ameliorate these challenges. In order to do this, as an entrepreneur and chef, food is my personal artistic expression and also my convening tool: it lowers social barriers to entry and fosters connection (not to mention that at FED it is vegetable-forward, home-cooked, and delicious!).
The coming High Holidays will be a special mix of these FED ingredients that make a greater whole: a platform for Jewish creativity where those from a variety of backgrounds feel welcome and included. Indeed, creativity with the tradition and how it can inspire reflection, help us find and realize a sense of purpose, and be our best selves is to me what Judaism (and FED) is all about.
There are two final ingredients without which FED would not be possible. The first is the rich collaboration with artists, facilitators, speakers, and other sorts of rockstars who bring their energyand their full selves to the party. For the High Holidays, we have Hadar Cohen, a spiritual leader and community organizer manifesting visions of feminism, soulful prayer, and communal care, who will lead us for Rosh Hashanah. Composer Matti Kovler, the founder of Floating Tower, together with singer Parham Haghighi and Laura Derover on electronics will produce the Kol Nidre musical theater. Opera singer and Jewish innovator Marques Hollie will perform and Dario Helman, an analyst of modern psychology and religious practice as systems of transformation, will bring us the unique workshop as Yom Kippur closes that will take us through "Therapeutic Chevruta".
The most special ingredient to FED is also the most simple and priceless: love, home, and all those visceral feelings that go back to the childhood vignettes I described at the beginning. I co-create FED together with my husband Brian Shelby in our home, a former firehouse converted to loft apartments in Harlem. This is our home, and we want it to be yours, too! If this vision for Judaism, the High Holidays, creativity, and community speaks to you, please come connect! I hope to host you soon, and in the meantime, wishing you and yours a Shana Tova, a sweet and beautiful new year.