Temple’s new prayer book reflects ‘tradition, innovation and inclusivity’

Temple B’nai Chaim presented its new High Holy Days prayer book, Mishkan HaNefesh — which means Sanctuary of the Soul — on Wednesday, July 29.
“This year, we introduce Mishkan HaNefesh to our High Holy Day — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — services,” Rabbi Rachel Bearman, who recently completed her first year as the Temple B’nai Chaim’s spiritual leader, told The Bulletin.
Bearman said the new prayer book will replace Mahzor Hadash: The New Mahzor, which the temple has used for many years.

Mishkan HaNefesh includes updated translations, thoughtful essays, rich commentary and a selection of poetry by authors like Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes and Henry David Thoreau integrated with traditional prayers.
The prayer book also includes gender-neutral blessings and acknowledges same-sex marriages by replacing the traditional “bride and groom” with the word “couples.”
While Mishkan HaNefesh differs from Mahzor Hadash in many stylistic ways, said Bearman, “the most critical difference” is that it was created by the Central Conference of American Rabbis and reflects “the Union For Reform Judaism’s commitment to tradition, innovation and inclusivity.”


The general community was invited to the temple’s Mishkan HaNefesh presentation on Wednesday, which was led by Rabbi Hara Person, senior editor of the Reform Movement’s new prayer book and publisher and director of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Press.

“We could not have asked for a more knowledgeable person to introduce our congregation to Mishkan HaNefesh,” said Bearman.
Prior to Wednesday’s presentation, Bearman said, most Temple B’nai Chaim members had not seen the temple’s new copies of Mishkan HaNefesh.
“Wednesday’s presentation [was] an opportunity for them and for all our guests to see the books for the first time, and to hear directly from Rabbi Person why prayers, readings and songs have or have not been included,” said Bearman.
“It [provided] everyone with their first glimpse into the beautiful new experiences that Mishkan HaNefesh will bring to our upcoming holiday celebrations.”


Temple B’nai Chaim was one of 300 congregations nationwide that piloted Mishkan HaNefesh.
“A few years ago, the Union For Reform Judaism — to which Temple B’nai Chaim belongs — announced that it would be publishing Mishkan HaNefesh,” said Bearman.
“Excited by the new opportunity, we chose to pilot several of the new Yom Kippur services last year.”
After that, she said, Temple B’nai Chaim decided to use the book for all its High Holy Day services.
“The decision to change our High Holy Days prayer book was made by a partnership of both clergy and lay leadership,” said Bearman.
“Our Ritual Committee has been, and continues to be, a key source of feedback and support as Canto Sobel and I craft our congregation’s services for the upcoming holidays.”
Changing to a new prayer book — “even one that you are greatly anticipating” — is never easy, said Bearman.
“I expect many Temple B’nai Chaim members — including myself — will be surprised by some aspects of this year’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services and will miss certain parts of our old prayer book,” she said.
“As someone who has prayed and led from many High Holy Day prayer books, I know that these reactions are inevitable in this kind of transition.”
However, Bearman said, she feels confident that temple members will “fall in love with the beautiful language, meaningful texts and inclusive spirit” found in Mishkan HaNefesh.
“It is a prayer book that addresses and supports our community’s values and beliefs, and I know that our congregation will embrace it,” she said.
Bearman said one of her favorite aspects of Mishkan HaNefesh is the many options that it provides her and Cantor Sobel as service leaders.
“Because Mishkan HaNefesh includes both traditional Hebrew, English translations and creative, thematically related texts, we have the ability to intentionally choose which path to take through each individual service,” she said.
“We can create the opportunity for our members to encounter God, prayer and one another in new and meaningful ways. The fact that Mishkan HaNefesh gives us that flexibility while also remaining rooted in authentic Jewish tradition is remarkable and thrilling.”

To learn more about Mishkan HaNefesh, visit: http://bit.ly/1fAU6kB.
To learn more about Temple B’nai Chaim (82 Portland Ave. in Georgetown), visit: templebnaichaim.org.