Like many congregations, Temple Beth Miriam has a volunteer crew of trained shiva minyan leaders to help fellow members and their families through their most difficult time — when a loved one dies and clergy members are not available. Now, these lay leaders at the Elberon synagogue have a new resource to use at mourners’ services.
The 30-page spiral-bound book, created over four months by Rabbi Cy Stanway and Marian Gross, cochair of the congregation’s Religious Practices Committee, offers numerous creative readings and “not the usual translations of prayers,” said Stanway via e-mail.
“The previous shiva siddur was created about 25 years ago and was not nearly personal enough for my tastes,” he said. “I wanted something that was more engaging, more meaningful and original.”
The new book was paid for with funds provided by the Religious Practices Committee.
Stanway praised Gross’s contribution to the effort, saying that she has “a literary eye and ear that I found to be invaluable. She has poetic insights that I miss and is able to offer suggestions and ideas that we often agree upon. She also is an editor par excellence who is able to pick up mistakes in both Hebrew and English.”
Past projects in which Gross collaborated with Stanway include a High Holy Day community prayer book, and one to be used during summer services.
On Nov. 15, Temple Beth Miriam was scheduled to hold a training session for congregants — anyone over the age of 13 is eligible — who are willing and able to lead services at shiva minyans. A year ago, before the new book had been introduced, a similar session attracted 15 volunteers.
“People are busy and are not always available. Therefore, we want to train as many as possible in order to have a good pool to draw from,” said Stanway.
Although the new shiva service is about the same length as the original service, Stanway said it is far more flexible in content. The varied array of readings makes it possible for each night of shiva to be observed with a different service, to some degree.
“Where there is variety, there is often deeper meaning. We’ve already heard from congregants who like its freshness, authenticity, and originality,” Stanway said.
The book is not copyrighted, he said, explaining that it was created for internal use by Temple Beth Miriam. “If a colleague were to ask for a copy, however, I would gladly share the file,” he added.