When Rabbi Richard Levy’s On Wings of Awe debuted 25 years ago, it was a radical prayer book used for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that provided occasional transliterations of Hebrew text, included Jewish matriarchs in prayer along with the patriarchs, and dealt sensitively with gender issues in providing translations. It may seem commonplace now, but these were innovations for a machzor then, and it felt right at home at Hillel foundations nationwide.
Now, as the book celebrates a quarter-century, KTAV Publishing House asked Levy, a former Director of the School of Rabbinic Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles and a past President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), to revise it for a new generation of Jews. As a result, every Hebrew prayer in the book has been transliterated, a testament to the expanded desire of worshippers to pray in Hebrew even if they cannot read or understand it.
“This is particularly important on these days when so many Jews who may have little contact with prayer throughout the year want to pour out their deepest thoughts and hopes, not only through elegant English offerings but by participating in Hebrew prayers that may carry deep associations for them. If they cannot read Hebrew letters this door is closed to them,” Levy says.
There are other changes too: more poetic translations, new interpretive readings, introspective questions, and added prayers all further engage worshipers with the texts and deepen their encounter with God. The book is well suited for Hillels as well as alternative High Holy Day services that Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations may create. Reform temples might consider using it until a new High Holy Day machzor is published by the CCAR.
Levy, the book’s editor and translator, currently serves as Rabbi of Campus Synagogue and Director of Spiritual Growth at HUC-JIR’s Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles.