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On High Holy Days

by Terry-Thomas Primer


May 25, 2015

On High Holy Days

Terry-Thomas Primer


















Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!

"For there is a boundary to looking.
And the world that is looked at so deeply
wants to flourish in love.

Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart-work . . ."  Rainer Maria Rilke

In 1996, I responded to a request from an older adult in the retirement community where I work as a chaplain to provide services for Rosh Hashanah. "The High Holy Days are coming soon. What are you going to do for us? Surely that was a part of your training." I laughed, but she was serious, so we embarked upon a series of discussions on how to make this a possibility for the handful of people who might come. Together Esther and I constructed two one-hour services to honor Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Signs went up in the community announcing the services and inviting people to attend.

A small stone was tossed in faith and hope into the pond that day. I had no idea the ripples that would be sent out into the world. Twelve Jewish women and myself formed a circle on Rosh Hashanah that first year to read from the prayer book, recite the psalms, and listen to the prayers for renewal, rededication, and peace on the Holiest Days in the Jewish liturgical calendar. I shared my desire to help them worship as well as my inexperience, and they shared their gratitude for acknowledging their faith tradition.

Baptists have always been strong advocates for religious freedom and the right of the individual to choose their faith, their God and their worship. It was natural, although extremely scary to provide religious services outside of my faith tradition to honor the principles I hold dear. I learned that commitment to my religious principles does not come easily. Crossing religious boundaries is fraught with questions and dangers but in my experience, when done with the intention to serve, it can be a path to peace, understanding and friendship.

That first year, I had no idea what I was doing. I was working with little help and few resources. Providentially, assistance came. Dr. Vivian Rosenberg, a professor at Drexel University was visiting her mother, and after the service came forward, and congratulated me on my efforts. Then she added with a smile, "You need help. You need some music and you need to know some Hebrew. I'll teach you." She was just the beginning of the help and encouragement that was freely offered.

For the next five years, after each service for the High Holy Days, I asked the participants, "What are we missing? What do you need to hear, or read or see to make this a Holy day?" Each year I listened, learned and experienced their religious tradition as its most basic level --the heart. On the fifth year, the members of my congregation now 40 in number said, "Stop inventing the wheel. What you have right now is enough." With memorial funds from the Finkelstein family, Monroe Village created its very own prayer book for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which is still in use today.

In the fall of  2014, I stood before 90 people, community members as well as their friends and family members and conducted for the 19th consecutive year services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for the Springpoint Senior Living retirement community at Monroe Village. Stones have often been used in hate but at Monroe Village, they have created a path way so that Christians and Jews can see their joint heritage as the people of God.

Terry Thomas Primer is an ordained clergy woman and an endorsed Chaplain with the Alliance of Baptists. She and her spouse live in Hopewell, NJ. She works for Springpoint Senior Living as a chaplain to Gods oldest friends in a retirement community near Princeton, NJ.

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