Today is December 14, 2019 -
by Rabbi Steven Abraham
I remember the first time I walked into a Friday Night service at Beth El. The cantor was leading service and Tuffy and Anna were playing beautifully, all together it created an air of meaningfulness in the room. Prayer is a funny thing, as people find meaning in lots of different places. For some, a prayer service could be led with a band in a beautiful venue and have no meaning, or it could be done in a barn with no accompaniment and be incredibly powerful. To say that creating a meaningful prayer experience is difficult is an under- statement. To pray, to really be immersed in prayer, is to lose oneself, to forget about everything going on around you, and yet the words still fall from your lips.
Over the past seven years Beth El has seen several different models of prayer experiences. Just to name a few: “Simchat Shabbat,” “Minyan in the Round,” “Cup of Coffee with God,” “Conversation with God,” “Shabbat Shirah,” and “Six String Shabbat.” In addition, we have continued to look at ways to make the High Holy Day services more meaningful, while at the same time remaining true to our traditional roots.
In that vein, the Hazzan and I, along with a few lay leaders, are working to create a service entitled “Shabbat B’Yachad” (Shabbat Togetherness) that will debut on Friday, April 12. The name, we hope, makes clear that this Friday night service will be one that is led through the voices of everyone in the room. In January, I had the opportunity along with Ari Kohen, Lisa Marcus, Andy Isaacson, and Abby Kutler to visit Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles for what can best be described as a prayer conference. The conference talked about the challenges of communal prayer and addressed certain “fixes,” but the reason for attending was to see what Beth Am and a few other synagogues are doing to make prayer come alive.
As a rabbinical school student, I was blessed to see amazing rabbis, cantors, and plenty of young creative Jews outside of those fields build services of incredible meaning on the upper west side of New York and elsewhere. What is difficult about these experiences is that they are hard to explain; you really have to see it for yourself. When designing a new building, the architect builds a model to show everyone what it will look like; otherwise, how else would you understand the end product?
This is why it was so important to take a few folks out to LA. The team at Beth Am had one simple goal from the beginning – “people would sit in the round, in close concentric circles. We would face one another. And the music and spiritual intensity would build, centrifugally, from the inside out.” It was powerful to see a prayer team of 7-9 people sitting in the very center of the room; they started the tune and within moments everyone was singing or humming along. For some in the room the tunes were like close friends and for others they had never met, but all of them very quickly and easily became familiar. This, then, is the goal with “Shabbat B’Yachad.” Further, the music will be posted on our website for all to hear and learn, as the goal is for us to all come together in song.
The Hazzan and I want everyone to be able to find their niche, to find their space at Beth El. For some, our amazing Friday night service with Tuffy and Anna will always be their place, while others will come for Six String Shabbat. It is my hope that “Shabbat B’Yachad” will become a part of our Friday night rotation.
Prayer has the power to enrich your body and soul; come join us on Friday, April 12, as we embrace our synagogue motto of “Rooted in Tradition. Embracing Change.”