“Scarry” Change

Scarry word bookLike many of you, I grew up reading or looking at Richard Scarry’s books.  In particular, I have very vivid memories of his “Best Word Book Ever” which has been in print since 1963.  What I didn’t realize is that over the past 50 years, the book has been slowly evolving to match the world in which we live.  For example, professions that were once the provenance of only one gender (i.e., fireman and stewardess) are now gender neutral (i.e., firefighter and flight attendant). From the portrayal of minorities to the roles of family members, “The Best Word Book Ever” is now firmly a part of the 21st Century. Click here for more details.

If I had picked up a new edition of the book without having read about the changes, I imagine that I would have immediately called to mind the book I know and remember.  Even flipping through the pages, I probably would not have noticed all the small changes.  And yet, they are there, influencing the brains of young readers – telling them that fathers can cook and women can be police officers.

It seems to me that religion works the same way.  We institute a steady stream of small changes over time, infusing our ancient tradition with a touch of modern values.  If we don’t look too carefully, it may seem the exact same religion as it was fifty years ago.  If we look a little more closely, though, we are sure to see how much things have changed.

Over the past few years, we have made series of small (and occasionally large!) changes.  We’ve reconfigured the seating in the sanctuary.  We’ve introduced instrumental music.  We’ve added more commentary and explanation to our prayer service.  We sing a niggun – a melody sung to a few repeating syllables – to get in the proper mood for prayer.  And those are just a few of the changes.

We are now contemplating yet another change to enhance the spiritual experience in our community.  We are looking to replace our prayer books.  We have a small committee of people looking at some of the available options.  We want it to feel like a traditional prayer book for those who have been reading the prayer book for the past fifty years or so.  However, we also want it to reflect some of the changes in attitude and practice in our community.  Further, we want it to be inspiring for those who are new to traditional worship.  It’s a tall order because change is difficult.

In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob receives the world-altering news that his son Joseph – whom he had long believed to be dead – was in fact alive.  His first reaction was disbelief – “his heart went numb (Gen. 45:26).”  But then he quickly said, “Enough!” (See verse 28).  He wanted to leave immediately to go see Joseph.  He adapted quickly to his new reality.  He realized that this was a GOOD change.

Jacob models an excellent approach to change.  We can allow ourselves to be overwhelmed.  We can deny the new reality.  Or, we can simply say, “Enough!” and embark on a new journey.  And who knows?  It might just be the best journey – or book! – ever.



About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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