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Thoughts on the High Holidays from our visiting Rabbinic Intern, Debi Lewis

by Nanci Levy | Oct 23, 2019

Debi Lewis and Gertrude
My name is Debi Lewis and I am a fifth year Rabbinical Student at the Academy of Jewish Religion in Los Angeles California and I had the privilege of spending this past High Holiday season at Handmaker in Tucson Arizona. I was hired to assist in leading the services with long time leaders of this community - Mel Cohen, Dan Asia and Michael Rosenzweig.

I wanted to share a little bit of this experience with you; the people for whom Handmaker is a meaningful and important Jewish Community. I was warmly welcomed by the staff at Handmaker as well as the residents and was housed in one of the Independent Living apartments on the premises. This gave me the opportunity to spend time with the residents and get to know a bit about their lives, their history, and their present joys and concerns. We got to experience some of these together. We celebrated some of the highs of the season, from singing and making music with our instruments (handed out to the residents during Psalm 150), waving flags together on Simchat Torah, and enjoying raisin challah, (Well not Lois who is famously not a fan of raisins in her food.) I also got to share in some of their concerns. Questions about mortality and faith, concerns about failing health, and the future.

It was a growing and wonderful experience for me to be able to be at Handmaker. There were things that I was able to bring forth using my Rabbinic training and things that I got to learn. Both wonderful things.  For me the learning is always the best. I learned from other leaders of the services, not only the practical lessons of how to chant various tunes that I was unfamiliar with, specific to service at Handmaker, but how to be gracious to someone that is new and learning and growing into this title of “Rabbi”. To a person they were kind, patient and caring teachers and examples of what it means to be the Shaliach Tzibbur (messenger of the community), and to take that role very seriously.  The Machzorim (High Holiday Prayer books), that were used were crafted by the above leaders of this community and no detail is left out. It is a conservative Maczor for a conservative community and you can tell when praying the services this is a special community for which Judaism is meaningful and a thriving part of their lives. There are a fair number of visitors from outside of Handmaker that have made Eshel Avraham their prayer place of choice, folks for whom the other offerings in the area do not fill their religious needs in the same way.

There are many “characters” that I had the joy of meeting and I am sure that I will reflect on this time with joy for many years to come. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity and will keep Handmaker and its residents in my heart. It is a reminder of how the power of Judaism and a shared love of the tradition can carry a community of people.  

Kol Tuv (All good things),



Note: Debi Lewis was the visiting Rabbinic Intern this year at Handmaker, thanks to a Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.