Falling Korim

By Ariel Zwang

My grandfather, Sidney Riback, graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1936, and my early memories of him were formed in the 1960s. His rabbinate was of course quite different from that of 21st-century rabbis. He was hilarious and affectionate at home, but to the congregation, he and my grandmother were “Rabbi and Hilda.” He wore a mitre-like tall kipah and academic gown during services—black year-round, and white for the high holidays. And he was always treated with reverence.

When I was a child, our family spent the Yamim Nora’im – the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe – with my grandparents in Philadelphia. And all the awe that a child could feel was concentrated in seeing my grandfather “fall korim” during the Great Aleinu – kneel, then prostrate himself, then jump up.

Because kneeling, let alone prostrating, seems so antithetical to Jews – seeing the communal leaders so plainly demonstrating their submission to God in this extraordinary way has retained its power for me throughout the decades.

Some habits of thought die hard. I’ve attended Orthodox High Holy Day services over the years where the whole congregation “falls korim,” and of course that is the custom at BJ as well. For me, childish though I may remain, this action still feels like the province of the clergy. But – regardless of whether the clergy is joined by the congregation – the practice of “falling korim” is, for me, one of the most affecting parts of the High Holy Day season.


About Ariel Zwang

Ariel and her family have belonged to BJ for the better part of 25 years, and Ariel recently joined the board. She is the CEO of Safe Horizon, and has spent her career doing anti-poverty work.