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Custom siddur helps Kol Am strengthen ‘unique’ identity
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Custom siddur helps Kol Am strengthen ‘unique’ identity

Rabbi Susman writes prayer book reflecting ‘Voice of the People’

Rabbi Brooks Susman, with help from Congregation Kol Am congregants, created the appropriately named “Voice of the People” prayer book. Photo by Allan Goldberg/www.CoachmanStudios.com
Rabbi Brooks Susman, with help from Congregation Kol Am congregants, created the appropriately named “Voice of the People” prayer book. Photo by Allan Goldberg/www.CoachmanStudios.com

For nearly four years, members of Congregation Kol Am in Freehold have been praying at three different locations: the West Freehold School, Applewood Estates retirement community, and the Freehold Municipal Building.

The lack of a permanent home seems not to bother members of this eight-year-old Reform congregation — having a rabbi who meets their diverse needs is far more important — but the unfinished, photocopied prayer books they carried from place to place were somewhat of a problem.

Now, they have an original siddur that they themselves helped create.

At the Shabbat Shuva service on Sept. 10, the congregation will hold its first service with its newly completed hardcover prayer book, T’filat Kol Am. The prayer book was authored by the temple’s Rabbi Brooks Susman, with editorial guidance from members of his 95-household temple.

When Reform Judaism’s standard liturgy, Gates of Prayer, went out of print, Susman seized the opportunity to create a replacement prayer book designed to “blend the particularism of our own community with the universalism of the Jewish world, appropriately named ‘Voice of the People.’”

The impetus for the new liturgy was the events of Sept. 11, 2001, said Susman, 63, in an interview with NJJN. “Hebrew is inclusive in all Jewish prayers, but the English text accompanying the prayers profoundly affects people where they are,” he said. “The English text in T’filat Kol Am reflects the unique perspective of Reform Jews living in proximity to Ground Zero, because our collective experience is significantly different from those in the Midwest or the West Coast.”

The 205-page, gender-neutral prayer book also leans heavily upon the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel. T’filat Kol Am offers seven Friday night and three Shabbat morning services, each with a unique theme. Two of the morning services are designed for bar and bat mitzva students. The book was transcribed into Hebrew by Esther Krutzel of Manalapan, a cantorial soloist who directs the temple’s choir and teaches b’nei mitzva students.

“I have been honored with a congregation that responds to creativity. I have been able to sit and compose, putting myself in the pew with them,” Susman said. “We do not have brick and mortar, so we have to create our place through prayer, making the space holy by what we bring to it.”

Founding temple members Stuart and Jodi Katz are particularly proud of the new siddurim, which they are housing at their Manalapan home until their Sept. 10 debut. “We proofed every single word of every single page. Rabbi Susman writes beautifully, and this prayer book is the epitome of his dreams, as well as ours,” said Jodi, who also serves as temple administrator.

“We put this siddur together by ourselves for ourselves, and it will give us an identity that’s unique from any other congregation in the area,” said Stuart, who will be installed as the temple’s new president at the siddur dedication ceremony.

For location and information about attending the service, call 732-792-8000 or visit www.congregationkolam.org.

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