Today is February 21, 2019 -
By Hazzan Michael S. Krausman
There was a time in our not so distant past, when the synagogue was our only venue to experience music. Most of our great-grandparents didn’t go to concerts, didn’t listen to the radio or watch TV; in fact, they didn’t even own an iPhone! Each Shabbat and festival, in addition to their desire to communicate with their Creator, our grandparents attended services for the pure joy of listening to and participating in music.
Today, with sources such as YouTube, iTunes and Spotify, our people have countless opportunities to hear music, so they rarely think of the synagogue as a musical venue. In reality, however, the synagogue – especially our Beth El – is a wonderful place for musical expression and creation.
In order to transcend the printed words and speak to the very soul of the worshiper, our tradition mandates that every prayer be sung in a unique and distinctive manner. As a result, during each Shabbat and festival, the walls of our sanctuary reverberate with the sound of joyous, participatory singing. On holy days and special occasions, our outstanding volunteer vocalists and instrumentalists add to the beauty and variety of the musical textures of the service. Anyone who attends quickly realizes that there is nothing more moving than the sound of a sanctuary packed with worshippers, singing familiar melodies from Avinu Malkeinu to Kol Nidre to Oseh Shalom to Aleinu to Adon Olam, with heartfelt emotion. One can even find congregants moving and swaying along with me to the rhythm of the liturgy.
Beth El also provides special opportunities to enjoy and experience music. Our annual Cantor’s Concert, for example, features a variety of colors from the vast palette of Jewish music. We offer adult education courses such as What is Jewish Music and Our Jewish Musical Heritage. I also produce E-Hazzan, a blog which discusses matters pertaining to Jewish prayer and music; it almost always includes musical recordings.
Music at Beth El is not limited to set occasions. Our BESTT students spend a great deal of time learning and singing the melodies of the prayer service and our sacred texts. Visit our BESTT religious school on Sunday mornings and you will hear the sweet sound of young voices joined in song during special music sessions with our wonderful Andy Isaacson. While you are there, be sure to attend the special “camp style” service with the older classes on Sunday mornings at 9:30 am, during which students put on Tefillin and enthusiastically reprise the joyous prayer melodies they bring home from Jewish summer camp.
Perhaps the members of past generations had it right all along. Our synagogue is an ideal place for a musical encounter that can be inspirational, meaningful, memorable or just plain fun. A vital part of our rich Jewish heritage is the ability to express ourselves through music – the language of our soul. Why not come and take advantage of all of the many opportunities to share in the richest and most relevant of experiences, right here in our own Beth El Synagogue?
Hazzan Michael S. Krausman