Shema Koleinu

Welcome, 2013!

January 5, 2013Debbi BallardServices0

It’s hard to believe another calendar year has passed us by, and it’s beginning to feel like they are going faster with ever passing year. I would like to wish the Shema Koleinu community a very happy New Year, and thank each and every one of you who have helped us achieve such great success in 2012. We are so excited to make some new additions and server our community in an even greater way in 2013, and we hope you will stay connected, and share us with your friends.

Did you know that 83% of south Florida’s Jewish population is unaffiliated? We have learned that unaffiliated in no way means a lack of interest, it just means that most of those people have not found a warm, welcoming, low cost way to connect with other Jewish families, and so we are doing our best to be thinking of ways to serve our community in the coming year.

Beginning with an Interfaith parenting program, and developing ideas like community events (progressive dinners, poker/girls nights out, book clubs, Sisterhood, and more…) we look forward to more creative ways of connecting with you in South Florida. Can you think of an activity you would like to spearhead? Reach out to us and let us know – we want to hear from you to see how we can make 2013 a banner year for all of our community, together.

I’ve made a new New Year’s resolution. Unfortunately, no, it’s still not taking off these last 20 pesky pounds, like everyone else, but it is to be more in touch, publicly, to bring you more information so you can see what we are up to, and to make being a part of Shema Koleinu more fun, more exciting, and more personal than ever.

So – please share us with your friends. Find someone else who wants to connect, help us with a mitzvah project or two, or just be a part of a vibrant Jewish community that wants to have FUN! Let us know how we can help, and by all means, just drop us a line and say hello! We cannot wait to see you in 2013!

Another Year in Review

October 2, 2012Debbi BallardServices0

Last week, we at Shema Koleinu concluded our 2nd year of High Holy Day services, and well – we just couldn’t have asked for anything better!

We knew it would be a great year, but it was going to be tough to surpass our first year’s efforts. I truly had no idea how we were going to make that happen, but a lot of great opportunities came our way this year that we are so thankful for, and I’m so excited to share this with you.

Last year, we knew we were on to something great. From a feeling deep inside, I created a service that I knew would ring positively in my families’ hearts, and make them feel warm and welcome. I took a huge risk, incorporated some really original ideas that could have gone one way or another, but we were spot on. We really didn’t know how this year could get any better, but by the first night we stepped onto that stage, we knew we would hit a home run for our families who came to worship with us this year.

This year, we made 2 major additions to our worship team that I am so proud of. Rabbi Janie Grackin, a renowned Jewish educator and Storah-Teller joined my team after 2 years of begging! Janie engaged our congregation – adults AND children, by bringing the stories of our people to life. We heard comments like “time flew by so fast, and she left us wanting MORE!” Who says that at a High Holy Day service? Well – if you’re sitting in a service where Rabbi Janie is telling the stories, then YOU will be saying that for sure!

Ms. Teresa Flores – drummer extraordinare joined us this year, on the recommendation of my voice teacher, Katy. Teresa kept the rhythm and passion flowing for all of us this year. She is the most intuitive percussionist I have ever met, and is a permanent member of our team for sure.

But for Doug (my pianist), my Dad, and myself- a year of confidence and accomplishment behind us brought us to our community with full hearts, ready to lead, knowing we had a community who was eager to share the passion of Jewish prayer with us, and trusted us to help them lift their hearts in prayer together as a community. We were overcome with joy as we watched my students come eagerly to the bimah to recite prayers and be honored with an aliyah. And we were humbled by the most incredible, heartfelt expressions of gratitude from our congregants after the services.

But the greatest moment of success, for me, was our first-ever community-wide break the fast. We put it together quickly, and promised anyone who attended a warm, welcoming environment where friends and soon to be friends could come share this moment together in unity, and it was a major success. We had over 60 people, about 20+ of them who had only found out about us a few days prior, and many of them I did not know. But something inside those folks told them that this would be a great place to come break the fast, and – it was. I was so thrilled to say Hamotzi with children I had never seen before, in a warm, open, inclusive place where we could all be ourselves and celebrate a new year together.

Looking back at our services, this year, my heart is full and I am humbled by the feedback of our congregants. I met new families , touched new lives, and they touched mine. My prayer this year for all of my community was formed in my mind, by looking at my own life and knowing what I am most grateful for, and I wish this – truly – for everyone I know.

For 5773, I pray for those around me to wake up every day to a life fulfilled by the role they play in their every day lives. I pray for every person to experience satisfaction by knowing they have made a difference in the world around them. I pray that every person hears the words “thank you for being you”, because that is what G-d has made us, and happiness and holiness exist for us when we are truly being our authentic selves. I greet each day proud of who I am, and what makes me different, and I am so grateful for the love and gratitude I receive in exchange for what I do. There is no greater feeing, and I wish for every person I love to experience that for themselves. I pray for joy, peace and abundance for all of my friends, congregants, and family members, and most of all – I am so looking forward to 5774.

I thank you ALL for giving me the opportunity to lead you in prayer this year. I hope I touched your lives as deeply as you all have touched mine.

L’Shanah Tovah,

Getting to Know Shema Koleinu

September 14, 2012Debbi BallardServices0

Greetings all! I’m Cantor Debbi Ballard and I created Shema Koleinu (with the help of my Dad, Rabbi Steve Spiegel.) Some of you have questions about my story and the story of Shema Koleinu – I am here to answer them. If there is something you want to know and don’t see the answer below, I’m just a phone call or email away.


What made you start Shema Koleinu?
Like many Jewish clergy, I grew up in a Conservative, traditional Jewish home. But my journey was very different from others. At age 25, I returned home to tell my parents that I had fallen in love and was getting married-to a Christian man. At first, they begged me to reconsider, but I was set on my decision, and eventually, my husband became part of the family. We eventually separated, but as my journey continued, our story remained part of who I was. I reconnected with my Jewish faith, and realized how dissatisfied I was with the way the local synagogues treated the interfaith community. I also felt there was more that Jewish leadership could be doing to engage today’s Jewish and Interfaith families. I eventually persuaded my father to channel his faith into becoming a Rabbi. Then, together, we started Shema Koleinu and welcomed all the beautiful people of South Florida to worship with us in harmony.

What does Shema Koleinu mean?
Shema Koleinu literally means “Hear Our Voices” in Hebrew.  We chose this name because we wanted our audience to know that we have heard their needs and Shema Koleinu is here to provide them with the environment they want.

What makes Shema Koleinu different?
The Shema Koleinu community is unique in that the only criteria to belong is ACTION. We do not require you to be of a certain affiliation. We do not require membership dues or contributions. Shema Koleinu provides a place where Jews can embrace their faith, heritage and theology in ways that are meaningful and relevant to their modern day lives.

Our services combine the traditional melodies we heard and loved from our early connections, but also incorporate much of the music being composed today within the Reform movement of Judaism, by artists who compose music based on certain texts or biblical messages, but in language and tunes we can all understand and connect with.  In addition, I love teaching, so when I approach a prayer, I first explain it to my congregants – what its meaning is, and how the words can enhance our experience in prayer and connection with God or our spirituality.  Everyone who attends my services tells me how comfortable and meaningful they are.  That’s because I know that we cannot pray without feeling a strong connection to our words.  Lastly, our services are uplifting. They offer hope, they support our community, and they are created out of a love of Judaism.  When we can have fun together in worship, people want to come back more often.

What do you mean by Interfaith families are welcome? Does this mean people who practice different forms of Judaism?
Yes, but not just that. Shema Koleinu is a place where all are welcome. Many of my families are not only of different faiths, but different cultures as well.  Some of my non-Jewish parents are the ones who take on the responsibility of raising a Jewish family.  I support them and help them in every way I can to find the positive connection for their families in Judaism.  We invite any and all who wish to celebrate their Jewish connection with us.

So , are you a “Rent-a-Rabbi”?
No!  We are much more interested in building a new type of Jewish community, not just “lifecycles for hire”.  In my program, I have 92 children in my religious school.  We meet in families homes or conference rooms around the county, in small groups, making our experiences together much more interesting and cohesive.  I lead community Shabbat services, and we have smaller groups within our community that love to have private Shabbats in their homes. I teach my interfaith families how to raise Jewish children.  Judaism and community are important to me. I just dream of a day that our communities are defined by the people who take part in them, not the dollars involved in building buildings.  My families appreciate me as their Spiritual Leader because they feel I am a great role model for their children, and that I help them find meaning in Jewish connection.  My families aren’t just looking for the easy way out; they’re looking for the easy way IN!  It’s my dream and my vision to create communities like ours around the country, as we come together to worship, support one another, share in our Jewish educations together, and foster a love of Judaism rather than alienating one another with divisive “denominations”. My colleagues around the country encourage me by telling me that this is the future of Judaism, and I am a trailblazer.  That’s what I love, and that’s what makes us different.  We are creating a new way of being Jewish, together.

What does a High Holy Day Service look like?
Our services are short (2 hours, max!), and are nothing like you have ever seen!  You will understand the meaning and relevance of every prayer we say or sing.  My students are very involved in the services, making it even more enjoyable for their families.  Our Torah reading is off the charts unique and creative and engaging.  We do things very differently, but teach the same message – Connection to God, being the best person we can be, and finding hope in tomorrow are our main messages of our services.  You will be amazed, we promise!

Will there be singing?
LOTS!  We sing a lot, as that is the way to connect our audience to the prayers.  Our music is modern, upbeat, and even entertaining.  You might find yourself clapping your hands with a big smile on your face!

Can I bring my family to the services?
Of course! Children, husbands, wives, partners, friends… all are welcome!

When the High Holy Days are over, what other opportunities do I have to be part of the Shema Koleinu community?
There are plenty of ways to stay involved!  We offer monthly Shabbats as a community, and private home Shabbats for a few families who just want to have a Shabbat dinner.  We are launching “Mitzvah Makers”, a post B’Nai Mitzvah youth group for our children to earn service hours and feel a part of their community.  We have many wonderful plans for book clubs, lunch and learns, and Torah study classes together.  Just let us know what you would like to see, and will make it happen!


Like I said, feel free to contact me with any other questions you might have!

Selichot – Saying I’m sorry…

September 13, 2012Debbi BallardServices0

As we approach the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah, known as Selichot, we begin to prepare our minds and our souls to enter the 10 days of repentance, before Yom Kippur. Selichot means forgiveness – and it is intended that we should begin to say our apologies, confessing our sins, and resolving to not repeat our transgressions.

I wouldn’t trade my mistakes for all the money in the world. Even the ones that made me fall down on the floor and cry my heart out, and even those that made me feel the lowest I could ever feel. I wouldn’t trade them because they are fibers in my richly woven tapestry of life. They are the learning opportunities, the building blocks, and the bitter memories that keep me reaching for the stars. Had I never experienced the bitterness of those transgressions, I wouldn’t feel so wonderful about the amazing things I have been able to actually do right in my life.

As we approach Selichot, I ask all of my families to not beat themselves up for their mistakes, and to look upon them as building blocks, points of reference, and motivators for better, wiser choices. Our holiday is not about tearing ourselves down, it is about building ourselves – and each other – up. It makes me proud to give a child or a friend a pat on the back just when they need it most – I know I’ve appreciated the pats of others, just when I thought I had failed them.

So, before the sundown of Shabbat and the arrival of the Selichot period, I want to take the opportunity to apologize to my friends, my family, and my community for any mistakes I might have made this year. For anyone who knows me, you know I live my life with nothing but the best of intentions for all of my relationships, but sometimes, I have dropped the ball, and not been the best I could be. If I have failed you in any way, please know it was not my intention to do so, and I pledge to you to try harder in the coming year.

This year, I have put many new resources in place to help me avoid the mistakes of this past year. I have hired trusted business partners, to help keep me current and aware of everything going on in my business and around me in my community. I have put resources in place to help keep me active in a healthy and active lifestyle, so I can be of the best and healthiest mind and body. I am grateful for the love and compassion of those around me, and am so happy to be surrounded by so many wonderful people. I pledge to stay in better touch and to be sure everyone who I value in my life knows exactly how much I value them.

I wish you, my friends, my families, my community, and my own family a year of health, prosperity, and joy. I cannot wait to share these holidays of 5773 with you all.

L’Shanah Tova.

Proud To Be…5773

September 13, 2012Debbi BallardServices0

In just a few short days, Shema Koleinu will bring it’s 2nd High Holy Day experience to South Florida, and I’m as nervous today as I was a year ago, but this time, for different reasons, completely.

Last year, I had no idea what to expect.  Would we sell seats?  Would I be able to cover my financial commitments?  What would people say?  Would they like our services?  Would they be offended by our upbeat, unconventional nature?  Would they…like me?

Well, 5772 came and went in a flash!  Before I had a second to even have my first doubt, I walked in to the Miramar Cultural Center, and saw that beautiful stage, and knew instantly we would be a success.  Even if we had only sold a ticket or two, the fact that we made that production happen would be a success all by itself.

And then Yom Kippur was over.  And the minute it was over, I wanted to do it all again.  My friends, my family, strangers I had never met – all showering my Dad and me with the most amazing praise.  We did it, we made it happen, and best of all – we loved every single second of it.

I couldn’t wait to do it again – I just didn’t realize time would fly by so quickly, and now, here I am.  No – here WE ARE, because along the way, I added a few people to the organization, and we are on a roll!

This year, I know exactly what to expect.  We’ve sold more seats already than we did last year.  The financial commitment is covered, and so far – NOBODY has been offended.  In fact, word is spreading and we are on our way to changing the face of Jewish worship.

So – why on earth would I be nervous?  Because I have the lives of Jewish children in my hands.  Because for the first time in my life, I truly feel that I might actually be able to make a difference in these children’s lives, and in the Jewish faith.  That’s a huge responsibility, but for the first time ever, I know we can do this.  Maybe it’s not nerves, and just raw, boundless enthusiasm and excitement, but whatever it is, my heart is beating, my brain is racing, and I cannot wait to get to that stage.

This year, we expect more than 500 of South Florida’s unaffiliated Jewish and Interfaith families, and it all started with a dream.  It was my dream to show them and their children that being Jewish is fun.  It’s a privilege.  And, it’s a priority.  We will welcome 5773 together, in a new style of Jewish worship, and I will know that every person, every child, every friend is leaving my service with more than they came with.

That is a privilege.  That is an honor.  Bring on 5773.

L’Shanah Tova,

Our Shema Koleinu Prayer Book


Shema Koleinu Featured In Local Press Magazine

September 6, 2012Debbi BallardServices0

Check out Shema Koleinu in the September issue of the Miramar Town Times Community News Magazine!  An article by Julie Levin highlights the upcoming High Holy Day services to be held at the Miramar Cultural Center, as well as the story behind Shema Koleinu.  You can read the digital copy of the article by clicking here and flipping to page 16!

The High Holy Day services are to be held September 16-17 and 25-26. The cost is $99 for adults; $72 for college students/seniors, $36 for children under 18. One ticket grants entry to all services. For ticket information, visit www.miramarcultural or contact Cantor Debbi Ballard at or 954-646-1326.