Sticky notes hold special New Year thoughts

Blank Post-it notes dot Tikvat Israel’s bima during the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Photo by Sam Freedenberg
Blank Post-it notes dot Tikvat Israel’s bima during the second day of Rosh Hashanah.
Photo by Sam Freedenberg

The bright yellow Post-It notes dotting the ark and lectern at Tikvat Israel Congregation may have appeared blank, but to anyone attending services at the Rockville synagogue on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, there was something meaningful inscribed on each one.

During Zichronot, the verses of remembrance portion of the service, Rabbi Benjamin Shull challenged congregants to “write” their thoughts on the sticky notes that previously had been placed inside their High Holiday prayer books. Because they were not permitted to write during the holidays, the congregants symbolically inscribed their notes with their thoughts.

Shull wanted congregants “to create a personal image of what [they wanted] to say.” He, along with Cantor Rochelle Helzner, decided this would be an effective way.

“Post-It is a modern vehicle for remembering,” Shull said.

For about 15 minutes during the service, as Helzner chanted melodies, about half of the 400 people attending the service walked single file up the steps to the makeshift bimah in the social hall, and posted their notes. The service had been moved from the sanctuary to the social hall to accommodate a larger number of congregants.

As they walked by the rabbi, “I wished that their petition would come to be and that God would listen to them,” Shull said. He likened the exercise to cramming a note into an opening in the Temple wall in Jerusalem.

Normally, this part of the service is a mental exercise. But Shull, who became the spiritual leader at Tikvat Israel this summer, wanted more.

“The idea was to take something that is ordinary and make it important,” he said, adding there was only so much he could do. “I didn’t want to be trendy or do something that didn’t fit with the service.”

The concept worked for Susan Urban, a synagogue member for 30 years. “It gave everybody a way to actually interact with the rabbi and with each other during the service,” she said. It also “gave us a way to connect emotionally with the concept of the Zichronot,” the Silver Spring woman said.

Those sticky notes will be buried ritually, with other holy writings, said Shull, who is already thinking of how to refine the concept for next Rosh Hashanah.

“I think people were actually touched by being able to come up” to the bimah, he said. “People thought it was very powerful.”

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