By Michelle Cohen
Join the Lehigh Valley Jewish community for a Selichot service at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 16 at Congregation Brith Sholom in Bethlehem to prepare for the High Holidays with reflection and prayer. The event, sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Jewish Clergy Group, is designed to bring together members from all Jewish walks of life to begin the High Holidays as one community.
Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg will be the evening’s speaker. Having served as a congregational rabbi for 17 years, Weinberg has also worked in the fields of Jewish community relations, Jewish education and Hillel. She is a spiritual director to a variety of Jewish clergy, and is the creator and co-leader of the Jewish Mindfulness Teacher Training Program.
The program will focus on forgiveness, using examples from her new book "God Loves the Stranger."
"I think when people think of 'forgiveness' they think of G-d forgiving us of our sins on the High Holidays. In truth, the topic of forgiveness reaches much deeper," said Rabbi Moshe Re'em of Temple Beth El, who was one of the event's organizers. "Why do we refuse to forgive those we want to love? Why are we so hard on ourselves? Forgiveness is not merely a private matter between yourself and G-d. Unfortunately, it gets in the way of loving relationships between family members and friends. During this time of year as we prepare ourselves for a new beginning, I thought it would be helpful to invite Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg and Debbie Zoller, the executive director of Jewish Family Service, to help us think about what forgiveness means and how to help facilitate the process."
Weinberg and Zoller will tackle the issue in this light, focusing on how to forgive oneself and others. As for Zoller’s involvement, she brings to the table her own experience as a social worker and therapist dealing with people who have gone through difficult times and blame others or themselves, and have a lot of difficulty trying to understand what happened and start the forgiving process. “To be a forgiver is healthier,” she said, adding that being able to let go of things that hurt you is ideal for healing.
During the discussion, Weinberg and Zoller will share their different perspectives of shared events in their own lives. Weinberg is Zoller’s aunt, and together, they hope to share the messages of forgiving oneself for not being perfect and accepting oneself and others. “Each of us has the capacity to forgive despite the pain, and ultimately, it is healthier to practice forgiveness,” Zoller said.
As for the services, this year, the clergy have constructed a program around the ideas presented by Weinberg. "To harmonize with the speaker's message, the non-Orthodox service will emphasize participation and meditation,” said Rabbi Seth Phillips of Congregation Keneseth Israel. “Highlights from the liturgy will be interspersed with creative readings and wordless melodies to create an atmosphere conducive to contemplation. There will also be an original guitar composition by Rabbi Moshe Re'em and new KI Cantor Jeff Warschauer. There will be an Orthodox service at the traditional time of 1 a.m. at Sons of Israel."
The Community Selichot Service is open to all. Please bring a donation of cleaning supplies for Jewish Family Service.