I got a call in August (2009) from the dean at the Jewish Theological Seminary inviting me to teach a liturgy course at the school. He was confident that I was qualified and prepared to do this because he knew my published work in the field. I was not so sure because that work was written for scholars, not for theological students.
I accepted the assignment and then set out to re-purpose and refocus my previous research so that it could serve to prepare students to engage in meaningful constructive theology, not in the dispassionate history of religions.
The result – instead of teaching my abstract speculations about the origins of prayer in this or that presumed social milieu of a distant time and place, I created a new framework of present and personal entities. I taught that davening originates in a timeless minyan of archetypes. My students were able to leave behind some echoes of a positive historical vision of Judaism and were quick to accept a clear and vivid, present and personal liturgical reality.
I've started writing up the course for publication and presentation in a variety of media and venues.
I've given the project a working title, "Six People You Meet in Synagogue."
In this regard I apologize to and thank the writer Mitch Albom. This project's title is a play on that of his inspiring book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, (New York, 2003) though my content bears no similarity to that work.
I do owe a debt to him for his subsequent and current work, Have a Little Faith, (New York, 2009) which confirms my esteem for what I call the seventh archetype, the community organizer.
In a narrative with archetypal impact, Albom reverentially describes in this book how two heroic characters, Rabbi Al Lewis in South Jersey and Reverend Henry Covington in Detroit, sustained and inspired their respective faith communities.
You will find a community organizer in every liturgical culture. He may come from the ranks of the laity or from the clergy. That person will rarely get formal recognition. In the synagogue, a single Sabbath prayer asks for a blessing for him from God, “May he bless those who unite to form synagogues for prayer … and all who faithfully occupy themselves with the needs of the community (Koren, p. 518).”
The Talmud Yerushalmi in its own idiom, praises the sanctity of this work:
R. Jeremiah said, “He who is involved with communal needs is like one who is involved in the study of words of Torah.” [By stipulation, he has the suitable disposition out of the context of his activities to go ahead and engage in prayer.] (Y. Berakhot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 1).
The task of the community organizer archetype is to facilitate the social order of the synagogue, the society out of which our liturgy comes and within which we need to address those urgent theological notions of how to conduct liturgical discourse, how to foster Jewish culture.
Speaking of synagogues, there is a powerpoint of the Acco synagogue circulating in email. It is dynamite. Get a taste of it here.