We thank all those who shared their ideas on how to make Orthodox synagogues more meaningful. We've chosen SEVEN winners. Their suggestions can help our synagogues and communities be stronger, more creative, more engaging. The winning essays are from Pam Ehrenkranz (Stamford, Connecticut); Yael Kassorla (Atlanta, Georgia); Dr. Alan Krinsky (Providence, Rhode Island); Rabbi Arnold Samlan (West Hempstead, New York); Barbara Mendes (Los Angeles, California); Leonard Stein (Beer Sheva, Israel); and Hinda Bramnick (Boca Raton, Florida).
Petitional prayer, the parts of prayer when we ask for things, plays a central role in Judaism. Of the 19 blessings in the Amidah, the centerpiece of the Jewish prayer, 13 of them are requests.
The question on the minds of many people who pray is: Does it work? It is, after all, hard to see direct results from the requests made in prayer. This reality results in people not praying or not taking prayer seriously.
Lately, a strange feeling has gotten hold of me. I am not yet able to fully articulate it, but something tells me that God is relocating to a different residence. He has hired a moving company, and they are at this time loading all His furniture and possessions into a van and awaiting His instructions as to the destination.
Rabbi Cardozo’s analysis rings true: Most synagogues no longer serve as the hub or heartbeat of Jewish connectivity, especially for young Jews. Many people no longer feel God in the pews, nor do they feel the “big” questions are answered in synagogues. God has left the building.
But correct as Cardozo may be about widespread disenchantment, he makes one overriding assumption that’s seems faulty: He speaks about God as if God is a given—as if every Jew accepts “His” existence. The average American Jew doesn’t talk about God, lacks the vocabulary with which to articulate what or who God is or means, or doubts whether God exists at all. Most Jews I encounter don’t know where God might be found, or even if God is missing.
Within a three-mile radius of my home, there are about 60 Orthodox synagogue options. Sixty. It’s a staggering number—and even more staggering that despite this number, new synagogues and minyanim are being formed on a fairly regular basis. In fact, not that long ago, I and my husband, along with about 20 other families, created a new synagogue in Baltimore: Netivot Shalom.
Why would we feel the need, in such a strong Orthodox community, to “break away” from other synagogues?
Mysteries of Judaism, by Rabbi Dr.Israel Drazin
Gefen Publishing House, 2014
Reviewed by Rabbi Marc D. Angel
In this book, Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin offers a series of essays on a variety of topics. The early chapters of this book emphasize the rabbinic contributions to Judaism’s observance of holy days and festivals. While many think that our observances are based on biblical teachings, Rabbi Drazin makes the case that the Talmudic sages shaped our understanding and experiencing of these days. Especially after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, it was imperative for the rabbis to reinterpret and reframe basic elements in Judaism.
A. Inspiration for Prayer
One of the classic debates in the Talmud concerns the basis for the three daily prayers of Shacharit, Mincha and Arbit.  According to Rabbi Yossi the son of Rabbi Chanina, these prayers were instituted by our Patriarchs, whereas according to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, they were instituted by the Men of the Great Assembly in order to correspond with the daily tamid offerings.
The question is whether we move our synagogues to where God is now dwelling. Will we, the religious, live up to the expectations of the young people in cafes and discussions groups who have preceded us? Will we apologize to them and join in their discussions, creating a real religious experience out of our synagogue service? Or will we, as usual, stay put, fight the truth, and then be put to shame?
—Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cordozo
The October 2013 Pew Report underscored the fragility of the Jewish future in North America and has led to anguished discussions and debates regarding "continuity", i.e., how to reduce the number of Jews relinquishing Judaism and Jewish identification in favor of other options.
But given the nature of the American religious scene, as I will present below, it is simply impossible to assure Jewish continuity by such a strategy alone. Rather, only if a strategy of easing the path of conversion is joined with current educational efforts and programs do we stand a chance of achieving continuity.
The Crown of Solomon and Other Stories, is a second work of fiction by Rabbi Marc Angel. His first work of fiction, The Search Committee, is a series of thirteen monologues delivered by eleven people to a search committee seeking a new Rosh Yeshiva for Yeshivat Lita, pictured as a hareidi yeshiva located in Manhattan. In it, Angel creates eleven different voices all arguing their case in favor of one of two candidates for the position, one candidate representing the history of the yeshiva, the other a candidate for change. The novel is a novel of ideas which, though of broad interest, are particularly relevant in the Orthodox community