Posted on April 10th, 2012 No comments
Music always offers a wonderful way to connect to Israel and the diversity of Jewish life. As we look toward the marking of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, we offer this tour of ancient and modern music as seen through the eyes of Cantor David Berger of Congregation Tikvat Joseph of Manhattan Beach CA.
This year I have the unique privilege of spending nine months in Jerusalem studying at the Hebrew University and teaching at the Hebrew Union College. Within a few blocks of my apartment in Jerusalem there are more synagogues than you can imagine.
Situated right between the old alleyways and courtyards of Nachla’ot, and the bustling shopping of Ben Yehudah, my temporary home is just about a block away from the first Reform synagogue in Israel, Kehilat Har-El, on Shmuel Hanagid street. Bouncing between all these different types of Jewish communities gathered together in such close proximity, I am continuously reminded that the sounds of Judaism are so much more diverse than any one community can ever contain.
Some of these places preserve melodies that have been sung for hundreds of years, accompanying the community through different historical eras and geographical locations. Other places experiment with new types of musical expression, reaching out to the “secular” Israeli population by following the words of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook – “May the old be renewed and may the new be holy.” I wish that I could personally take you with me on a tour of the exciting Jewish sounds all around my Jerusalem apartment, but instead, I’ll share some of those sounds and sites with you using Youtube.
We’ll start at the “Great Synagogue Ades of the Glorious Aleppo Community.” This stunningly beautiful building in Nachla’ot is the center of the Syrian Jewish cantorial tradition. Every Saturday night, from Sukkot until Pesach, members of the community gather at 3:00 AM and sing piyutim (liturgical poems) and psalms for four hours in a ritual called “Bakashot.” After a whole night of singing, the community starts their Shabbat morning service at 7:00. It is quite the undertaking to visit, but the spirit and joy of the community makes it all worth it. Check out this video to get a sample of this Bakashot ceremony (filmed in 1976, but things haven’t really changed much).
Moving from Nachla’ot to my favorite music store on Ben Yehuda Street, Hatav Hash’mini (The Eighth Note), I would love to share some of the newest Israeli popular music that takes Jewish texts and melodies once limited to the synagogue and gets them on the radio.
Sagiv Cohen has combined traditional Yemenite melodies with contemporary pop arrangements on his new album Hal’lu. Listen for his Yemenite pronunciation of Hebrew on this recording of the 150th psalm.
The New Jerusalem Orchestra released a live recording of their inaugural concert, lead by the incomparable Rabbi Haim Louk, the leader of the Moroccan cantorial world. This unique ensemble brought together Jazz, Arabic music, Classical music and modern Israeli music – something that has never really been done before. Listen to their recording of “Ya’alah Ya’alah,” a classic Moroccan festive song.
Etti Ankari has been a major figure on the Israeli popular scene for 20 years. After six albums of beautiful, secular songs, she went through a religious transformation, and recently came out with an album of original melodies to religious poetry by Rabbi Yehudah Halevy (1075-1141). On this extraordinary album is a touching setting of Psalm 23 – watch her in a live performance here.
Going back up Ben Yehuda Street, there is a new major Jewish institution on King George Boulevard, right next to the Jewish Agency building. Beit Avi Chai (bac.org.il) is a center that offers an unbelievable array of concerts, classes, programs and exhibits around issues of Israeli culture, Jewish tradition, food, music, theater… It is impossible to keep up with everything that goes on there. Check out this small sampling of exciting videos on their Youtube channel.
Guy Zuaretz (an Israeli TV star) singing “Cuando El Rey Nimrod” in a concert of Ladino music:
Here is a group performing the text “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” from Psalm 23 to an Arabic melody:
Here is a jazz ensemble performing a classic, nostalgic song made popular by North African Jewish singers about the city of Barcelona:
Look around their Youtube channel – it is a tremendous treasury of the newest and coolest Jewish culture coming out of Israel today.
For one more synagogue visit – I want to take you to an exciting new place called Nava Tehila
This relatively new community meets once a month for Friday night services and offers continuing classes on Jewish spirituality and kabbalah. Mostly using their own melodies, this community reaches out to Israelis in a musical and spiritual language that feels natively Israeli. They post videos of their musicians performing many of their new melodies so that people can come to synagogue prepared to sing. Check out this melody for Psalm 98, part of the Kabbalat Shabbat service (and then look around the rest of the site)
I wish that I could bring you into more places – but for now this taste will have to suffice. Jerusalem is alive with Jewish music and Jewish prayer that never ceases to amaze. Just when I think I’ve heard it all – I wander into another place and find myself enthralled with something I’ve never even imagined. As I enter my last few months of time here in Jerusalem, I wonder how I will be able to bring this music back to my synagogue in California. As Reform Jews, we are committed to an ever-expanding vision of Judaism. This year at your Passover seder, when you recite the words “L’shanah Haba’ah Birushalayim” – “Next year in Jerusalem” – and you think about the sounds and sites of the holy city, may you be inspired with a vision of Judaism and Jewish music that celebrates all the diversity and excitement Jerusalem can bring.
This piece originally appeared on the American Conference of Cantors blog and was reprinted with permission.
Posted on March 10th, 2011 2 comments
A few weeks ago, I was part of a conversation with an interdenominational group of rabbis about how we will mark the tenth Yahrzeit of 9-11. I was somewhat surprised with the range of and complexity of emotion that emerged from our collective psyche. The only easy observation from that discussion was that there is need to think about how we will approach this anniversary. To help understand how that thinking is emerging, I turned to the community of HUC-JIR alumni for some initial opinions and insights. Planning is only in the beginning stages, so what follows are early thoughts. It is my hope and intention to return to this topic again in the coming months. I welcome your thoughts and input on this topic; your insights, liturgical and ritual suggestions can all help build thoughtful remembrances.
–Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder Ph.D.
9-11 vacillates between personal loss and collective experience of tragedy. We all remember where we were on 9-11. We all live with the consequences, reactions to and realities of that day. Judaism has in it distinct rituals and liturgy for both individual and collective losses. But those events that affect us on both the communal and individual level are not directly addressed by our tradition. How then, as we approach the tenth Yahrzeit are we to memorialize 9-11?
Where we were ten years ago does impact how we think about memorizing that day. David Adelson, of East End Temple in Manhattan, had been at the congregation for just over a year when the planes hit the twin towers. His own experience and memory 9-11 is integrated with those of the community that he continues to serve as well as personal. On his days off that fall he was a volunteer chaplain working at the recovery center. The immediacy of the events touched even the little and disconnected elements of congregational life; Adelson recalls that three shabbatot later he stood waiting with the family of a bat mitzvah outside the synagogue they could vividly smell of fire and smoke from ground zero. Though he is only beginning to think about how to mark the tenth anniversary, this mix of personal and collective will undoubtedly be important.
In 2001, Mary Zamore was working in Westfield, New Jersey at a congregation that was deeply affected by the destruction of the Twin Towers. A few years later she moved to serve a congregation just west enough of Manhattan that the congregrants were not as directly touched. In Westfield, post 9-11, “when you met a new person, you would compare notes on where you were that day,” explained Zamore but that did not happen as frequently in Morristown. On the 5th anniversary, she preached a sermon on healing but realized that her congregants may have experienced the event differently than she did in Westfield. Sarah Hronsky was still in rabbinical school in 2001 and missed out on what continues to be remembered as one of the most meaningful and spiritual services in the history of the congregation. Recognizing the difference between our own experiences and the memory of the congregation is a theme raised repeatedly.
Many communities have not focused on 9-11 as a day of particular congregational significance in recent years. When Steven Sirbu came took a pulpit in Teaneck NJ, in 2003, he welcomed the broader community into the congregation for an interfaith memorial service. But since then the local Committee for Patriotic Observances, which marks Flag Day, Memorial Day and the like, has taken on the communal observance with only token clergy representation. Many congregations have been marking it on the closest Shabbat though some like Adelson’s have let it slip by in recent years and he is not expecting it to become an annual event. “This 10th, may be the last 9-11, service we do for a while,” according to Adelson. For some, like Hronsky, who has family in the military, it is not just about what happened ten years ago, it is about what is happening now and the sacrifices being made which are, in her words, “important for us to remember as a country.” Several rabbis, who spoke off the record and who are only beginning to think towards the fall, feel that the memorial needs to be interfaith to send a message of unity and common purpose. Yet in some settings, like the JCCs or Hospitals, remembering 9-11 may fit into the institutional setting.
On a practical note, Sirbu pointed out that for many congregations, Hebrew school will start on the eleventh of September this year, opening the question of how we might communicate this memory of loss with people who have no memory of the event itself. Teaching such things to children is difficult. Those like Adelson in New York can point to the skyline and speak to the loss through experience but as Zamore points out, “we have to be careful when we talk about New York. It is not an abstract place for our kids, the way it might be for those in Chicago, but a place where they and their families go all the time. We need to be thoughtful not to paint it as a place of danger.” She recommends that we turn to the lessons learned by Jewish educators from our collective experience teaching the Shoah and other recent tragedies.
Every congregation will have to find their own way in this new and still forming understanding of what occurred on the 11th day of the 9th month of 2001, which involved four planes, a handful of terrorists, many heroes and much loss. As Hronsky point out, we would do well to share our experiences and plans, our liturgical suggestions and poetic readings, so that we can help each other craft both memory and meaning.