The City Congregation’s secular Jewish holiday services combine traditional elements with modern readings and non-theistic invocations. Our music includes original songs as well as familiar melodies with lyrics that have been adapted to reflect our humanistic beliefs. These short excerpts and music samples will give a sense of what to expect when you attend our celebrations.
In these passages, text in italics is recited by the entire congregation as a group.
On Shabbat we pause to reflect upon our yesterdays and tomorrows, to renew our ties with our families and friends, to restore our energies, to refresh our spirits.
On Shabbat we create our own moment in time.
On Shabbat we rejoice in the strength to win our daily bread, and in homes where we find refuge from the cold and the storm.
On Shabbat we treasure the bountiful earth whose fruits nourish us and sustain us in life.
On Shabbat we commemorate the first labor law ever written to guarantee workers, and even animals, a break from their toils.
On Shabbat we recall the love of mothers and fathers who have nurtured our lives, with whose blessing we have gone forth to our own work in the world.
On Shabbat we cherish the children who bless our homes, whose eager minds and hearts are the promise of tomorrow.
On Shabbat we celebrate together the end of another week and the restorative power of leisure in the company of friends
On Shabbat we proclaim the day a delight, we rejoice in its rest, and we treasure its tranquility.
Words by Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, Music by Mickie and Abe Mandel, Performed by Anne Shonbrun
Lo Yisa Goy
Traditional, Performed by Mickie and Abe Mandel
Wine is the symbol of the wholeness of life. There are times when we drink from bitter cups. There are also times when we savor the sweetness and joy that exalt life.
Wine reminds us that life is a mixture of both joy and sorrow. We resolve to accept them both and so affirm all of life.
May the taste of this wine upon our lips stir within us a reverence for nature, a respect for human endeavor, and an acceptance of the fullness of life.
Ba-ruch-eem ha-hy-eem ba-o-lam.
Precious is the life within the world.
Ba-ruch-eem ha-hy-yeem ba-ah-dam.
Precious is the life within us.
Ba-ruch-eem ha-yohtz-reem p’ree ha-ga-fen.
Praised are those who bring forth the fruit of the vine.
Peace Be With You
A Day of Reckoning
Our ancestors declared the dreaded power of this day.
Are we any less mindful of its important purpose?
They stood in judgment, their fates weighed in the balance.
Do we not stand in self-evaluation, our choices equally measured?
They implored and beseeched, and asked for atonement.
We introspect and reflect, and seek self-awareness.
They confessed before another.
We chastise before ourselves.
Like them, we stand poised before an ever-unfolding book of life,
We believe it is written by our deeds and by the events that befall us.
We strive to take responsibility for our lives and write the pages ourselves,
And accept, with courage and dignity, the pages over which we have no control.
Words by Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, Music by Mickie and Abe Mandel
Amar Rabbi Akiva
Traditional, Performed by Aram Rubenstein-Gillis
Meaning to Our Fleeting Days
Who are we? What are we?
A leaf in the storm, a fleeting moment in the flow of time, a whisper lost among the stars.
We are tenants in the house of life; our days on earth are but a span.
Time, like a river, rolls on, flowing year after year into the sea of eternity.
Its passing leaves bitter memories of hours misspent.
Now they come back to accuse us, and we tremble to think of them.
But conviction and purpose give meaning to our fleeting days, treasured teaching guides us, unquestioning love sustains us.
May we have the knowledge and strength to live responsibly.
May we be released from bondage to the past; released from the stranglehold of bad habits, making ourselves free to start afresh.
Let this be for us the beginning of a new season of life and health.
May we be liberated from the fear of death and from the scornful laughter that mocks our labors.
Though our lives be short, let them be full.
May our mortal days endure as eternal moments.
Knowing our failings, let us be patient with those of others.
Knowing our will to goodness, may we see in others a dignity that is human.
Every soul is precious,
and every life is a gift.
United with Jews the world over, we gather to proclaim a new year.
May it be a year of hope and not of despair.
May it be a year of vision and not of darkness.
May it be a year of life and not of death.
Let the fire we kindle be for us a warming flame, whose brightness shows us the path of life.
May the dancing flames of these candles kindle warmth within our hearts, wisdom in our minds, and passion in our souls.
As these candles give light to all who behold them, so may we, by our lives, give light to all who behold us.
As their brightness reminds us of our ancestors who have kindled light, so may we serve as beacons to our children, who will walk in our light.
Without hope, even the day is like night.
But with hope, even the darkness becomes light.
Words by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, performed by Anne Shonbrun
Now is the time for turning, but for us turning does not come easily.
It takes an act of will for us to make a turn.
It means breaking with old habits.
It means losing face.
It means starting all over again.
It means saying: I am sorry.
It means recognizing that we have the ability to change.
So let us turn:
from callousness to sensitivity,
from hostility to love,
from pettiness to purpose,
from envy to contentment,
from carelessness to discipline,
from fear to hope.
Four Modern Versions of Kol Nidre
by Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine
We must avoid making empty vows.
We must commit ourselves to deeds rather than words.
All vows, promises and resolutions we may make,
all oaths and pledges we may take between this Day of Atonement
and the Day of Atonement to come,
that are made for love and righteousness,
we affirm and accept.
by Daniel Radosh, based on a text in the High Holiday service of Congregation Machar, Washington, D.C.
We will forgive those who may hurt us.
Whether deliberately or by accident.
We will pardon fully those
who may not keep their promises,
obligations or oaths
between this Day of Atonement
and the Day of Atonement to come.
When tolerance and justice light our days
We bring tolerance and justice to the world.
by Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, based on a text in the High Holiday service of Congregation Oraynu, Toronto
Kol Nidre – chant of ages,
Chant of Israel, chant of sorrow,
Of a people bowed in anguish
Crushed by tyrants, hearts broken
Homeless, weary, wandering everywhere.
Generations have hearkened to your plaintive notes
That bring forth tears, that stir up courage.
Out of trials come hopes and yearnings,
Memories of ancestors, dreams renewed.
Into your stirring melody, haunted and pierced
our singers have poured their hearts
And have brought us strength
and resolve renewed.
by Charles Newman
Let us make vows only for good.
From this Day of Atonement to the next,
let us act on our vows not only
because we made them
and they therefore bind us,
but because we are free to continue
to pursue the good.
The Victory of Life
Neither Pharaoh nor Caesar nor Hitler could destroy our will to survive. The memories of destruction are matched by the joy of liberation and the experience of a good world.
We have endured slavery and humiliation. We have also enjoyed freedom and security. Our ancestors traveled the world in search of safety and liberty. We are here today because our ancestors never lost their hope.
Long ago, at this season, a people – our people – set out on a journey. Now, at this table, we, too, one human family, join that journey. We, too, shall go forth from degradation to joy.
Peace and Freedom
Words by Rabbi Peter Schweitzer to the tune of Eliyahu HaNavi, Performed by Anne Shonbrun
One World – One People
The fate of every Jew is bound up with the fate of the Jewish people. And the destiny of the Jewish people cannot be separated from the destiny of all humanity. We cannot be fully Jewish unless we recognize that we are also fully human.
According to our legend, when Pharaoh prevented our ancestors from leaving Egypt freely he brought plagues on his land with his obstinate, heavy heart. We do not rejoice, however, over his downfall and defeat. We cannot be glad when any person needlessly suffers, even our enemies who would seek to destroy us. Even as we celebrate our freedom from slavery, we mourn the death of the innocent Egyptians and express sorrow over their destruction.
We are, after all, a world people. We live in many lands among many nations. Modernity has brought enormous comfort, convenience, and wealth – for many. But millions more live in poverty. They are afflicted with disease and malnutrition. They are victims of oppressive regimes and uncertain futures.
A multitude of social problems continues to plague the world. Whether close at home or in far-off lands, we all share in their effects and in the responsibility to overcome them.
We spill wine from our cups at the mention of each of these contemporary afflictions. We cannot allow ourselves to drink a full measure since our own lives are sobered by these ills, which darken our lives and diminish our joy:
Side By Side
Words and music by Aram Rubenstein-Gillis