Tag Archives: New York

Occupy Kol Nidrei: Paperback Lev Shalem; a new-found appreciation for the Middle Ages; and how I learned to stop worrying and love English readings

If you’ve come here from the Jewniverse email that went out on 9.27.12, welcome!

Though the Jewniverse thing directed you here, I highly recommend just going straight over to my new blog, davidamwilensky.com. Everything from this blog, including this very post, is there too!

Keep in mind that this photo was taken close to the center of the circle so you're only seeing about a fifth of the crowd here.

As you may recall, I went to the Kol Nidrei service organized by Jewschool founder and “social media activist” Dan Sieradski at Occupy Wall Street. (So did my mom, by the way.) There are many articles and blog posts out there that you can read about the service (including my blog post for the Forward, which was the most read article on their sit the day it went up and remained one of the most emailed articles on their site for several days; and which was reposted by Haaretz).

But there’s only one play-by-play, complete with exhaustive notes on liturgical minutiae. Here it is.

Machzorim:

  • The Rabbinical Assembly? I never thought I’d see the day, but when it suddenly looked like hundreds (estimates have ranged from 700-1000; personally, I think it’s closer to 1000) would show up to this service, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism was the only organization that stepped up and helped out with some machzorim.
  • I want one! I, of course, brought my copy of Machzor Lev Shalem with me, but was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the machzorim the RA was donating were these slim little paperback MLS “Kol Nidrei and Evening Service of Yom Kippur” booklets. At the end we were told we could keep them. I perked right up and this Hadar fellow I was sitting next to kindly offered me hers, which you can see above, next to my regular old MLS.
  • Are there more of these? Since I’m going to continue to use MLS as my primary machzor for the foreseeable future it would be great if there was a full set of these booklets. According to the inside front cover, they’re drafts that were piloted in a few Conservative shuls prior the full publication of MLS. By the end of YK, my arms were so tired from holding up the brick that is MLS that I found myself in dire need of a slimmer machzor option so I’m hoping I come across more of these someday.
  • It really is a machzor for all: When the RA was generating a lot of press for MLS, a little over a year ago, one note they hit over and over again was that MLS wasn’t merely a Conservative machzor, but that it was meant to be used by a much wider audience. It’s not only remarkable that they offered these up but that they were accepted. There was a time when establishment was establishment and anti-establishment was anti-establishment and never the twain shall meet. Today, the adherents of the traditional egalitarian style that is popular all over the non-denominational, non-establishment Jewish world has no problem using a Conservative machzor if it fits their needs.

Demographics: So there were a lot people, as I’ve mentioned. But one thing that’s been interesting about Occupy Wall Street and about this service in particular is the diversity of the crowd. As the protest has gone on, the protesters have gotten more generationally and racially diverse; and of course we’ve all heard about how ideologically diverse they are. The Jews at the service were no different. (Though they were not overly racially diverse, as you might imagine, I’m pretty sure I spotted the Black Jewish rapper Y-Love.) So in terms of age diversity, my mother was not the only person beyond her 30s there. And in terms of ideological diversity, I saw Jews I know from all over the denominational and ritual spectrum. (Except for the anti-mixed seating crowd, though I suspect there may have been some of them there as well.)

The service itself:

Shlichei tzibur: Getzel Davis (left), Sarah Wolf (center) and Avi Fox-Rosen (far right)

  • Our fearless leaders: Though organized by Sieradski, the service was led by the intrepid trio pictured above:
    • Getzel Davis: Getzel is a friend of mine from Limmud NY, though we see each other from time to time elsewhere now. He hosted me last year when I visited Hebrew College in Boston, where he is a fourth-year rabbinical student. Much more on Getzel later in the post.
    • Sarah Wolf: Sarah, a first-year rabbinical student at JTS here in New York, approached me before the service, wondering why she recognized me. We couldn’t figure it out and then it hit her:  “Oh! Are you David Wilensky?” Apparently, she’s a fan of this blog.
    • Avi Fox-Rosen: Avi is a musician. I encountered him once before when he was a presenter at Limmud NY a couple of years ago. He chanted Kol Nidrei itself when the time came.

Sieradski and one of the leaders, Avi Fox-Rosen, attempt to create aisles. You can imagine how well that worked out.

  • Mic check! You may have read or heard about “the people’s mic,” the un-amplified method that the Occupy Wall Street protesters use to communicate to large crowds. The individual initiating it shouts, “Mic check!” The crowd responds in unison, “Mic check!” Repeat. The announcement is then delivered in short phrases, each one shouted back by the crowd before the speaker moves on to the next phrase. If the crowd is exceedingly large, the phrase may get repeated in multiple waves, taking two or three repetitions to reach the members of the crowd farthest from the speaker. This method was used throughout the service for page numbers, readings, etc.

Sieradski about an hour and a half before the service

  • Why are we here? Imagine the following all shouted by Sieradski in the call-and-response format described above:
    • Shatz: “Mic check!”
    • Kahal: “Mic check!”
    • Shatz: “Welcome to Kol Nidrei at Occupy Wall Street!”
    • Kahal: “Welcome to Kol Nidrei etc…”
    • “The reason we’re here is the prophet Isaiah!”
    • “Who requires not only a fast from food!”
    • [Some explanation of Isaiah's thing about "This is not the fast that I require, etc...]
    • “What better way to observe Yom Kippur!?”
    • “Than in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street!?”
    • And so forth.
  • Fun with page numbers: We began on page 204. Kind of. We began on page 204 of the full MLS that I brought with me. Since many others had it with them as well and since there were also 100 copies of that MLS Kol Nidrei booklet present, page numbers were announced for both. It was announced–via the shout-and-response method–that H=P+201, where H is the page number of the full hardcover edition of and P is the page number of the paperback booklet. This led to a lot of people’s mic announcements along the lines of the following, which never ceased to elicit a titter of giggles from the entire congregation:
    • Shatz: “We are beginning on page three!”
    • Kahal: “We are beginning on page three!”
    • Shatz: “And also on page 204!”
    • Kahal: “And also on page 204!”
  • Or Zarua: And begin on page 3/204 we did, with the chanting of “Or zarua latzadik ulyishrei-lev simchah” (Ps. 97:11) a few times. There was some clapping.
  • Three times, with hand signals: “Bishivah shel malah uvishivah shel matah… im ha’avaryanim” is traditionally recited thrice. To keep the crowd together, the shatz trio each waved a finger in the air as we said it the first time, two fingers the second time and three the third time. This was done a couple other times throughout the service for bits that are meant to be repeated a certain number of times.
  • QUESTION: Why am I enjoying this English? Getzel led us in some English corresponding to the bit we had just recited three times–call-and-response, of course. (In fact, from here on out you should assume that any English I mention was shouted out and then shouted back by the crowd.) I played along and had a series of thoughts about it while we shout-prayed in English:
    1. This is nice.
    2. Wait, why am I enjoying this?
    3. Am I actually participating in this English?
    4. Whatever, David, just go with it.
  • ANSWER: Because it was lively as all get-out! In services, you may find yourself saying two sorts of things out loud. You may sing or chant some Hebrew or you may recite some English. And by recite I mean mumble un-enthusiastically. And by mumble un-enthusiastically, I mean space out. But this was a whole other thing. Everyone paid perfect, rapt attention to all of the English we did throughout the service. And when they responded, they responded with vigor! I can’t believe I shouted English in the middle of a service the way I did during Kol Nidrei this year.
  • Kol Nidrei, once more with feeling: We said Kol Nidrei three times, each time building on the energy of the previous time.
    1. Avi Fox-Rosen chanted Kol Nidrei through once. I was very close to the middle of the circle and found him only vaguely audible.
    2. Getzel and Sarah joined AFR for the second time through. (All three of them waving two fingers in the air.) The crowd got in on the action a little bit this time.
    3. By the third time, the whole crowd has heard the tune at least once. Some of us already know it, while I suspect some haven’t been to shul in years, but the excitement of this service seems to be jostling free the memory of this melody somewhere in the recesses of their brains. The third time through, Kol Nidrei is loud and proud.
  • “We renounce publicly…” Sieradski chimes in, announcing, “We renounce publicly…” (I’ll say!) followed by a list of things that we renounce.
  • Let the service speak for itself: I didn’t write down any of the things we were renouncing, but my notes at this point say, “He’s getting v. political. Unsettlingly. Let this event & the words of KN speak for themselves.”
  • Minutiae from my notes: We’re now on page 205/4. From my notes:
    • “Venislach lechol-adat… lechol ha’am bishgagah” once
    • Then “[Moses prayed:] ‘As befits Your abundant love… from Egypt until now.’ And there it further says:”
    • Then “Adonai replied, ‘I have forgiven, as you have asked.’”
    • Then “Selach-na la’avon ha’am… ve’ad-henah. Vesham ne’emar:”
    • Then Shehechiyanu to that sing-songy tune
  • The crowd that leads itself: AFR was going to lead Ps. 92 (“Mizmor shir leyom haShabbat. Tov lehodot…”) silently, but after a moment of that, a cluster of musically-inclined members of the congregation about a third of the way around the circle from my position spontaneously began a tune, which quickly caught on.
  • Tzadik Katamar: When we reached this part of Ps. 92, Getzel led us singing through the end of the psalm to the tune that I generally refer to as “that one we did at the lay-led services when I was a kid.”
  • Maariv: For the most part, Maariv was conducted in the mostly-silent-but-with-a-few-lines-of-nusach fashion.
  • Triumphant Mi Chamocha: Mi Chamocha was sung so triumphantly, you’d have thought there were walls of water to our left and right.
  • “Chapter, verse!” My mother (who used to shout “Chapter, verse!” in services when I was a kid anytime the page number of the Torah reading was announced rather than the chapter and verse because she always brought a different edition with her) took the opportunity of the silent Hashkiveinu to stand up from the folding beach chair she brought with and ask Getzel to kindly inform us not only of page numbers, but of where in the service we were because lots of people had different machzorim with them. (She had Eit Ratzon with her.)
  • Veshamru: The Carlebach tune
  • “We are not praying to the building!” The plaza across the street from Zuccotti Park where we had the service happened to be bordered on the east by the Brown Brothers Harriman building. Before Chatzi Kaddish, AFR announced:
    • “We are not praying to the building!”
    • “We are praying to the east!”
    • “Toward Jerusalem!”
    • “Not for political reasons!” (The crowd snickers.)
    • “For spiritual ones!”
  • The 24-hour drum circle: Occupy Wall Street’s 24-hour drum circle has become (in)famous. Around the time I reached the first Uvechen in the silent Amidah, I was suddenly very aware of its muddy volume leaking across the street, over the falafel trucks that bordered us to the west and all the way to where I was standing in the middle of the Kol Nidrei crowd.
  • The crowd is leading itself again: We were brought out of our individual Amidahs not by any of the shlichei tzibur, but by an Oseh Shalom that sprung up somewhere within the crowd.
  • The Tower of Babel: According to my notes, it was around this time that I noticed that the building before us seemed to disappear into the night sky. I couldn’t see its top! Later, I snapped the picture above.
  • The man who prayed with his feet: A quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel (who marched with MLK in Selma and later famously said, “I felt like my feet were praying”) was featured atop the photocopied supplement we used later in the service. He also put in an appearance here (page 225/24, at this point).
  • A.J. Heschel on “body and soul”: Sarah led us in reading a comment in the margin in the upper left corner of the page, quoting him on the subject of “body and soul”: “Originally the holy (kadosh) meant that which is set apart, isolated, segregated. In Jewish piety it assumed a new meaning, denoting a quality that is involved, immersed in common and earthly endeavors; carried primarily by individual, private, simple deeds rather than public ceremonies”
  • Yeah, but how much more public could this particular ceremony get? That may sound counter to the very spirit of this particular venue for Kol Nidrei, but wait until we get to Aleinu to pass judgement on the inclusion of this quotation.
  • “Haneshamah lach…” Then Sarah and AFR led us in signing “Haneshamah lach vehaguf po’olach, chusah al amalach.”
  • Really loving those 13 attributes: No matter how long it’s been since the last time you went to a Yom Kippur service, there’s one tune you will never dislodge from your brain: “Adonai, Adonai, El rachum vechanun, etc.” So the crowd was understandably jazzed to sing the 13 attributes through by the time we got to them on 229/28.
  • Animals and stuff: Looking back, I can’t imagine myself enthusiastic about this reading at all, but my notes indicate that we enthusiastically shout-and-response-ed our way through this English reading featuring a bunch of biblical animal imagery (upper left corner of 233/32).
  • Medieval-style! I also have a note here that says, “Throughout, no need for machzor for C&R.” My point being, I assume, that there was something delightfully medieval about the way this service was conducted. When most communities owned only one copy of the siddur, services were conducted in a very different fashion. With all of this shouting back and forth and with only maybe a quarter of the crowd actually holding a machzor, I sensed a little window back to that.
  • For example: AFR led us in the series of four verses that begins “Shema koleinu” and ends “kochenu al-ta’azvenu.” Normally, each verse is chanted once by the shatz and then repeated by the kahal. He tried the first verse, “Shema koleinu, Adonai Eloheinu, chus verachem aleinu, vekabel berachamim uvratzon et-tefilatenu.” The crowd–once again, most of whom don’t have machzorim–attempted to repeat it, but we petered out about halfway through.
  • So he changes it up: For the remaining three verses, he broke it up. For example, the next verse, “Hashivenu Adonai elecha venashuvah, chadesh yamenu kekedem,” was not chanted and then repeated in its entirety. Instead AFR chanted, “Hashiveinu Adonai elecha venashuvah,” and the crowd repeated it back with gusto. Then he chanted the rest of the verse and we repeated. And so on for the remaining two verses of the section.
  • Anu Amecha: This super-catchy piyut was sung with a lot excitement. When we ran out of words and lapsed into a nigun, it was out of control!
  • Al Cheit: “We will now list some of our sins!” Getzel shouted before we worked through Al Cheit in English. There’s something be said for standing outside in public with a crowd shouting your sins at full volume. I felt a chill when we shouted, “We have sinned against you by defrauding others.”
  • Israel and Palestine: Then we read an interpretive version of Al Cheit by Stew Albert and Judy Gumbo. As interpretive readings go, it’s a pretty good and it was an excellent choice for this particular occasion. One line reads, “We have sinned… by not defending Israel.” I didn’t have a copy of the reading, which was some people had in the photocopied packets that were handed out before the service. So I didn’t know what the next line was and got a little concerned. Then we shouted, “…by not defending Palestine.” Nice choice, I thought.
  • The sermon: The sermon kicked the whole thing up a notch or two. I did a whole post a while ago about the sermon, which I highly recommend you read in its entirety. The high point of it was this:
    • “Yom Kippur is the day that we are forgiven for worshiping the golden calf!”
    • “What is the golden calf!?”
    • “It is the essence of idol worship!”
    • “It is the fallacy that gold is God!”
  • Kaddish Shalem: Chanted by AFR to the fast tune that has the super-emphatic amens
  • Aleinu: Instead of just chanting Aleinu, the service finally reached a point where it was just a tad too goofy for me. Aleinu, it was explained, means “it is upon us” so people were invited to shout out something they were going to take upon themselves in the coming year. Then, of course, each of these things were shouted back by the crowd. And then we would all shout, “Aleinu!” and wait for the next person to start hollering out whatever vague ethical something-or-the-other they were going to uphold in 5772. Some of these were insanely long and impossible to repeat back accurately. Topics covered in the various personal Aleinus included:
    • Palestine
    • The environment
    • Racism
    • Shopping locally
    • Feeding the hungry
    • Cancelling Bank of America accounts
    • Raising kids to have these values
    • Praying with Christians and Muslims (whether they like it or not?)
    • And so forth, seemingly interminably
  • Vene’emar: That rather special “Aleinu” over, we sang the last line of Aleinu and then moved on.
  • The end.

Occupy Chag: A sukkah pops up in Zuccotti Park

Occupy Judaism pushes forward. After Kol Nidrei services in New York, Philly, DC, Chicago and Boston, Sukkot has come to the Wall Street protests of those cities as well as the protests of Atlanta and LA. Or so I hear. I can only report firsthand on the sukkah that went up at 5pm yesterday at Occupy Wall Street’s downtown Manhattan home base of Zuccotti Park.

A quick summary: There was a lot of press (probably more press than actual Jews celebrating Sukkot), the sukkah was a Pop-Up Sukkah (which you can see in the middle of popping up in the picture above) and music was provided by a klezmer band that just happened to be at the park. And the wind was blowing on a biblical scale.

I’ve got some thoughts about the alliance of Occupy Wall Street and DIY Judaism at New Voices.

I’ve also got a boatload of photos. I wanted to embed a Picasa slideshow of them like I did for Occupy Kol Nidrei, but Picasa isn’t playing nice with me right now. So instead, for my play-by-play of the whole, go check out my Facebook album, which is totally accessible to the public.

If I stick my foot in my mouth and there is no one around, do I still make an ass out of myself?

Last week, in the first of what is quickly becoming a lot of posts about Beth El of South Orange, NJ, I incorrectly identified one of the service leaders as “Abigail, who I’m guessing is like 15 years old.”

She pointed out to me during services yesterday that she is not Abigail, but Sharon. And that she is 20, not 15. For a 22-year-old who still doesn’t need to shave every single day to look clean-shaven, that’s quite an idiotic assumption on my part.

I apologized to Sharon when she pointed it out to me and then made fun of myself a little bit. I thought I’d go ahead and do that here too. I’ve also corrected the original post.

The good news is that I didn’t pull the name Abigail totally out of my ass. Sharon’s younger sister is named Abigail and she is–you guessed it–actually 15. She’s also, like her sisters, an accomplished Torah reader.

In other news, I’m on a train to Baltimore right now. From there, it’s on to whatever The Conversation NY is. While I’m there, I hope to figure out why something called The Conversation NY is being held in a place that is decidedly not New York.

I’m back in Jersey on the 14th. The next day, it’s off to Austin for about 10 days.

Shavua tov.

Shabbat morning @ Romemu… a month late

A picture I did not take–rather, I stole it from Romemu’s website–of some kid and Rabbi David Ingber.

Crossposted to Jewschool

A month ago, I wrote about my experience with a Renwal-style service led by some of the leaders of Romemu–NYC’s premiere Renewal shul and one of the most prominent Renewal outposts there is. It was a Friday night service being led, not actually at Romemu, but at Limmud NY.

I gave the service three and a half ballpoint pens (|||-), and said that I’d be going to Romemu the following week for Shabbat morning. To me, one of the true tests of a shul with a reputation for spirited davening is the morning after. A reputation for spirited davening usually comes from a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat, so it’s always interesting to see if a community can maintain a good morning service as well.

This can be harder to do because people have to drag themselves out of bed–and when it comes to liturgy, it’s harder to make me happy because there’s more to do on Shabbat morning than on erev Shabbat.

So I went. As I said, it was about a month ago, so my memory is a tad rusty. But I took a lot of notes while I was there and I started drafting this the day after, so I think I’ve got most of my thoughts in order. This is the first review I’ve written since I refined the Five-Ballpoint Pen Rating System. What I’m going to try to do is go through the copious notes I took first, as bullet points. Then I’ll do a more concise write-up at the end using the new rating categories. In the service notes, the section on the Torah service may be the most interesting and insightful about Romemu as a community.

Shir Yaakov, Romemu’s [musical director/insert correct title here] provided me with a copy of the song list he was using that week, so I’ll be able to provide correct [read: coherent] descriptions of the music this time.

Getting Started

  • Began with “Hareini Mekabel Alai” by Gabriel Meyer Halevi, which I think I’ve identified as being by Kirtan Rabbi once before. That was wrong, although Kirtan Rabbi does a cover of it.

The Setup

  • There is a guy playing a cajon, Shir Yaakov is playing a djembe–though he also played guitar throughout–and a guy playing some very lovely classical guitar-type stuff.
  • Rabbi David Ingber, of course, is leading. He’s using a mic, which it doesn’t seem to me that he needs. He’s a loud-voiced fellow. I asked him about it later and he said he does need to keep his voice from getting destroyed every week. However, does he really need a flesh-tone pop star mic? And does he need to be so loud? And do we need a full-on sound guy in the back sitting at a control panel and everything? The whole things engenders and odd atmosphere, in my opinion.
  • There are, as we begin, about 20 people. They don’t fill the space at all. It feels quite empty. Ingber later told me that the previous night’s service had been one of the most packed they’d ever had. (This, mind you, was not the one I was at, which had been the previous week.)
  • The set-up is quite similar to B’nai Jeshurun, in that there is a rabbi leading from a podium, plenty of open space between the rows pews and the rabbi, and a semicircle of musicians behind and to the left of the rabbi.
  • Architecturally, the space is more similar in style to Anshei Chesed. I figure that they were probably built around the same time. Major difference: Romemu is in a church. It’s a wonderful space. If Romemu bought it from the church, they could turn it into a fantastic sanctuary for their purposes, but for now, I’m quite unsettled by the imagery around me. I’m actually a big believer in the notion that Jews ought now pray in churches. After services, I chatted with Ingber about this. He said that many in their community actually like that it’s a church. It’s a sign to many of the radical atmosphere of welcoming they want to engender at Romemu. I think you’ll all get my drift if I respond to that with an unenthusiastic “Whatever.”

An Atmosphere of Radical Welcoming

  • The radical atmosphere of welcoming, by the way, leaves something to be desired. When I arrived–a tad early, as is my wont–there were some congregants puttering around near the entrance. I wasn’t greeted by any of them, nor did any of them offer me a siddur. And about this “siddur…”

The “Siddur”

  • Siddur P'nai Or

    The siddur is P’nai Or by Rabbi Marcia Prager. I chatted with Ingber about this creation after the service. Apparently it’s one of two Renewal siddurim. I told him I didn’t think too highly of it and he said that, in that case, I should stay away from the other one all the more so! He said it’s not quite right for Romemu and that they are working on their own.

  • PO is pamphlet-y construction, overfull of clipart and poorly, inconsistently laid out.
  • Liturgically, it goes far beyond cringe-worthy.

Birchot Hashachar

  • Chanted Modeh Ani
  • For the daily blessings, we alternated between Hebrew and English
  • Once we had completed the blessings from the siddur, Ingber had people shout out the blessings they were thankful for in their own lives. Cringe-worthy doesn’t begin to cover my reaction to this. People are shouting out stuff like, “Warm gloves!” and so forth. And they’re doing all of this to the nusach!
  • There’s a quite a bit of “Take deep breaths, etc.” sort of things from Ingber. Too much of that for my taste. More than once per service, and I start deducting ballpoint pens, I think.
  • The guitar is doing this cool Spanish-sounding thing. It’s great.

Pesukei Dezimrah

  • Yeah, but how did we get here so fast?
  • Psalm 92 (“Mizmor shir leyom haShabbat etc.”) to a slow, chant-y melody. We end after “Zamru lAdonai bechinor.”
  • They play with God’s name a lot. It’s not clear if this is Ingber at work or the siddur at work on Ingber. Among others, we say Hashem, Yah, Ruach Ha’olam and Shechinah. It’s not per se, bad in my view, it’s just odd and jarring.
  • Ashrei is done to a melody I don’t know. The song list Shir Yaakov gave me says, “Ashrei–Or Zohar.” It’s unclear to me what that means. After a bit of googling, I still don’t know.
  • The spirit of the group, which is steadily growing in numbers at this point, is good, but Ingber’s mic is overpowering at times.
  • We end Ashrei after chanting the first two lines through a few times. The melody would work for a complete Ashrei–but for that, we’d have to flip all that way to page 64! Why has it been hidden somewhere other than where it belongs?
  • Psalm 150 we do to a tune I know, but it sounds quite new because the tempo is different and the instruments bring a new sound and a flavor to it. It’s good.
  • Ingber asks for “chaotic” chanting “in our own way” for Nishmat. Sounds great! Is he pandering to me? (Kidding, obviously.) It doesn’t come out chaotic at all anyway.
  • For “Uvmakhalot… Shochen Ad… Barchi Nafshi… Yishtabach… etc.” it’s quite hard to join in and follow Ingber’s wandering chant.
  • The song sheet, however, says, “Shochen Ad–nusach / U’vemakalot rivovot–Carlebach / Yishtabach–nusach.”
  • Directly from my notes: “Rm. has filled more, but still too big”
  • Chatzi Kaddish is normal
  • A Hadar fellow arrives. This seems quite odd to me. On the other hand, Romemu and Hadar are sponsoring some learning together lately, so perhaps it’s not so odd.

The part where things start to get meta…

  • Ingber mentions that a new friend he made at Limmud NY is here and looks at me. He mentions that in my review of his service at Limmud the week before, I noted: “…Ingber asks everyone to say Shabbat [Shalom] to people around [us] that we don’t know. ‘Careful though,’ he says. ‘I don’t want it to become a shmooze fest.’ Yeah, OK. It quickly becomes a shmooze fest.” So we all say Shabbat Shalom to the people around us, and successfully avoid a shmooze fest.

Shacharit

  • In my notes, it says, “Barechu same as at Limmud.” So I’ve consulted that review, where it says:
  • “Barchu is done with an unfamiliar tune. People often have a hard time discerning what to do during Barchu when it’s a tune rather than nusach because the call and response nature of it is hard to parse. That happens here.”
  • The song sheet, however, says “Barchu — Ein Od.” I guess that’s the particular melody they did?
  • Yotzer Or: Ingber wanders in English and Hebrew, chanting and explaining through Or Chadash, which is:
  • From the song sheet: “Or Chadash — Robert Esformes chant”
  • Shir Yaakov has his talit over his head for a quite meditative Ahavah Rabah
  • From song sheet: “Ahavah Rabba — Shimshai”

Random stuff from the middle of my notes

  • This resembles the loopier end of Reform almost?
  • More meditative than ecstatic, where Friday was more ecstatic. This is confirmed in a conversation with Ingber after about intentionally creating very different moods through Shabbat
  • A Hadar fellow arrives, davening out of Koren Sacks
  • I’m surprised by the number of stage directions. Maybe I shouldn’t be. I guess I’m used to spirited davening in a shul going hand in hand with a more knowledgeable community, which often means that stage directions are not needed.

Back to notes on Shacharit

  • The Shema is done in full, with a very meditative, long-lasting opening
  • From song sheet: “Mi Chamocha, Tzur Yisrael traditional”

Amidah

  • First three aloud, the rest silent, as I anticipated
  • Musically, it’s interesting. At Mechalkel in Gevurot, the instruments comes in as the nusach picks up. This, I note, requires the musicians to remain standing during the Amidah.
  • Kedusha uses a couple of Carlebach tunes I was unfamiliar with. From song sheet: “Nekadesh — Yasis Alaich Carlebach / Mimkomcha — ‘VeShamru’ Carlebach”
  • After Kedushah is over,  Shir Yaakov gets up and starts the Amidah on his own from the beginning.
  • We end the Amidah with Yihyu Ratzon in English to the tune of “Sanctuary.” More on what the means can be found here. Then, we move into the chorus of “Sanctuary” and then into a nigun version of it. Then we’re off into “Ve’asu li mikdash etc,” which often ends up in these odd Jewish liturgical mash-ups of the Christian gospel song “Sanctuary.”
  • Ingber does something that I’ve never heard before in Kaddish Shalem. It deserves its own post. So here’s that.

Interruption on demographics

  • I wrote at this point in my notes that the congregation appears to be demographically slightly older than my usual NY davening hangouts, but it’s still a quite diverse group age-wise.

Torah service

  • This felt like the longest Torah service of my life.
  • Ingber says that anyone who wants to should come open the ark. “Grab a talit!” he says. “If that sounds new agey to you, it’s from the Ari!” He looks directly at me.
  • I note a surprising lack of chaos in the service so far. This, of course, is a little troubling.
  • But then the ark door like falls off while they’re trying to extract a Sefer Torah from it. “How many Jews does it take to to take out a Torah?” Ingber jokes.
  • The service runs very much on the charisma and personality of Ingber and I wonder if Romemu could function without him. He is not just its current leader, but its founder.
  • It’s appropriate this group called Romemu is at its most ecstatic in the morning service during the hakafah as they sing… Romemu.
  • Someone is carrying the Torah around like a pile of wood. It’s bothering me.
  • Musically, it’s remarkably clear that this, the Torah, is the climax of the service.
  • Ingber mentions grassroots, DIY Judaism in the last 10 years. So nice, he says, to see people stepping up to take charge and lead their own Judaism. This seems a tad odious to me, given that Romemu was founded by a rabbi–Ingber!–and that the service is not at all lay-led. There will be some lay involvement as we get into the Torah service, but it’s worth noting that there has been none whatsoever so far.
  • There are 20 people for the first Aliyah.
  • He seems to mini-drash before each individual Aliyah. Each of these leads into an explanation of his kavanah for the Aliyah at hand, such that each Aliyah is for “anyone who [insert the particular thing here].”
  • The drashing is quite participatory. He often asks for suggestions and ideas from the community, so there is a strong sense of communal involvement at this point in the service, but it’s still not lay-led, by far.
  • The Torah is lay-read.
  • Some of the Torah is read by Jake, whose Hebrew name is Ya’akov. It is his 30th birthday and he feels he is at a turning point in life, so this is the occasion of his Jewish name-change. He is now known as Yisra’el. The name change takes place after he reads the third and final Aliyah.

Garb notes

  • There are many men and many women wearing talitot.
  • The talitot tend to be more tradition in shape and color so there are few of the sort of contemporary talitot.
  • Almost all men have their heads covered. I might be the only one with a bare head.
  • In stark contrast, only a handful of women have their heads covered.

Rating?

This is gonna be a hard one to do an overall rating for. Again, the full rating system is explained here.

Music and Ruach: Four Ballpoint Pens

The congregation is engaged and participates loudly and ecstatically. The music, led by Shir Yaakov, is fantastic, through and through. I’m giving four instead of five because of the bits chanted by Inger that were hard to follow along with and because of the sung Barechu.

The Chaos Quotient: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

Ingber is such a strong leader for the service and there are few moments of transition for chaos to occur within. Because of that, despite the loud and ecstatic nature of the service, there is little chaos. However, the near-demolition of the ark is a pretty good little bit of chaos. So two and a half sounds like a good rating to me.

Liturgical Health: One and a Half Ballpoint Pens

Liturgical health is indicated primarily by two things: 1) Attention to and regard for the structure of the service, and 2) the apparent liturgical knowledge and interest of congregants, as indicated by their siddurim of choice. The overall structure of the service was intact, but they play very fast and loose with the content of the morning blessings and Pesukei Dezimrah. The only people who brought their own siddurim were two visiting Hadar fellows. And that siddur. Oh, that siddur.

Welcoming Community: Four Ballpoint Pens

I noted earlier that I was not particularly greeted on arrival, but the kiddush afterward was fantastic and everyone was very friendly. Overall, the quality of the community is great. Romemu, in essence, is good people.

Overall Rating: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

I thought a lot about how many pens to rate this service overall. Though the people and music were truly phenomenal, the liturgical issues I had are too big for me to overlook. That said, keep in mind that this is a rating of this service, not of Romemu itself, which is comprised of much more than its Shabbat morning services. I am keen to go again, though I think Friday night might be as far as I get with Romemu again.

The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music

According to JTA, the Reform cantorial school has been renamed The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music:

Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, made the announcement Jan. 27 in New York at a memorial tribute to Friedman, who died Jan. 9 at 59.

Friends of the late singer-songwriter have made possible an endowment to the school, which will be known as The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, Ellenson said.

Here’s the full article from JTA.

Also, the article says:

Her most well-known composition, “Mi Shebeirach,” a Hebrew-English version of the Jewish prayer for healing, is now part of the Reform liturgy.

I can’t even begin to describe the aneurysm I’m having about the notion that any individual piece of music could be a Never mind that. It is, in fact, a part of the Reform liturgy. I just found it in Mishkan T’filah on page 109.

Psalm 137 vs. Psalm 126: Shabbat and yom chol in Birkat haMazon

When I came back to campus this week from Winter break, there were a couple of graded papers waiting in my mail box from Yehezkel Landau, my professor for Jewish Spirituality last semester. (I previously wrote about that course here and shared a short reflection paper from that course here.

On a short reflection on the topic of sacred time and the Jewish calendar, Landau had written:

Shabbat is also and experience of messianism now, a rehearsal for, & harbinger of, a redeemed future–cf. Psalm 137 before BIRKAT HAMAZON on yom chol vs. Pslam 126 on Shabbat: DREAM of REDEMPTION MADE REAL, EXPERIENTIALLY

So I have investigated. I began by checking my various benchers. None that I own include Psalm 137 before Birkat haMazon, but all include BhM’s familiar Shabbat opener, Pslam 126–”Shir hama’alot. Beshuv Adonai etc.”

So I googled. And Wikipedia kindly informed me:

Psalm 126, Shir Hama’alot (Song of Ascents), which expresses the Jewish hope of return to Zion following their final redemption, is widely recited before birkat hamazon on Shabbat…. Less common is the recitation on weekdays of Psalm 137, Al Naharot Bavel (By the rivers of Babylon), which describes the reactions of the Jews in exile as would have been expressed during the Babylonian captivity….

So that’s interesting. 137–you know, the one Bob Marley wrote–is a sad remembrance of expulsion and diaspora, while 126 is a joyous vision of a return and redemption.

Each week, we get kicked out of our redeemed state and our day of rest and back into our everyday drudgery. And each week, we get sing Psalm 126 as we get to return to the joys of Shabbat.

If I actually said BhM after every meal, I think I’d start adding Psalm 137.

PS–Dear bencher editors, what gives? Where’s 137, huh?

Index to the 13 Limmud NY Notes posts

I went to my fourth Limmud NY this weekend. It was great. There are 13 15 posts about it. Hopefully, this post will help you navigate which, if any of them, you want to read.

  1. Lost Versions of Havdalah is about a session Elie Kaunfer taught about a longer version of Havdalah preserved in the Talmud and in the Cairo Genizah.
  2. Miscellaneous is about the continuing Askenazification of my speech, blog sightings, news about my book, networking, nusach Hadar, Kiddushin bishtar and Joe Rosenstein.
  3. Sunday musical Mincha-Maariv with BZ is a review of the Sunday afternoon-evening service with guitar and awesomeness led by fellow Jewschooler and Mah Rabu blogger BZ.
  4. Mahzor Lev Shalem with one of its editors is about a session about MLS, the new Conservative machzor and my favorite machzor. The session was taught by Rob Scheinberg, one of the members of the committee that created MLS.
  5. Debbie Friedman and the Reform Jews is about Havdalah at Limmud NY 2011, the lack of Reform Jews at Limmud NY and the music of Debbie Friedman.
  6. An excuse to get four smart Jews to talk to each other is about a panel that featured a discussion between a Reform rabbinical student, a black hat rabbi, a Renewal rabbi and a recently married woman with an eclectic religious background about Shabbat.
  7. Hey, Nakedhead! The David A.M. Wilensky Story is about a deranged man who said “Hey, nakedhead!” to me in the middle of the Haftarah on Shabbat. It’s also in the running for the new name of this blog.
  8. Pirkei Avot 2:15 is about Pirkei Avot 2:15. I mostly wrote it for the benefit of Shir Yaakov, who gets a lot of shout-outs on this blog today.
  9. Communal Kiddush is about why having communal Kiddush on Friday night at Limmud NY is a mistake from the pluralism perspective and includes a proposal for something different we could do instead.
  10. More on communal ritual issues–electronics on Shabbat etc. is about issues of communal space and ritual observance at Limmud NY–again, from the perspective of wanting to enhance the pluralistic atmosphere of Limmud NY.
  11. Yes, I went to a Renewal service. And yes, I liked it. is a review a Renewal-style service I went to on Friday night. Spoiler alert: I give the service three and a half ballpoint pens.
  12. The ballpoint pen saga’s poetic conclusion and some other observations from a Hadar service is about the beautiful, joyous conclusion to the Hadar ballpoint situation and about how I got to have the coolest aliyah of the whole year. And about how Ethan Tucker reads Torah like a badass.
  13. Shabbat as labor law and An alternate Kiddush are about a session from Will Friedman about how Shabbat is a labor law and about how he thinks Deut. 5 should be used for Kiddush.
  14. A panel of experts on how college students should give Tzedakah is about a session called “‘Just’ Giving,” in which some interesting thoughts about how to give when you don’t have a lot to give came out.

Limmud NY Notes: Yes, I went to a Renewal service. And yes, I liked it.

I'm gonna go here on Shabbat. Who's with me?

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

The word Renewal arouses suspicion in me. At Limmud NY on Friday, there was a Renewal service being offered. It was led by David Ingber, the endlessly fascinating spiritual journeyman who founded the flagship Renewal outfit in New York, Romemu. The music was by Romemu Musical Director Shir Yaakov as well as Shoshana Jedwab on the drums.

I took a lot of notes. By way of a review, here they are, polished a bit:

  • Kirtan Rabbi: We began with Hareini Mekabel Alai by Kirtan Rabbi, which I love. I hadn’t expected tunes from KR to show up here, perhaps because I’ve never heard them anywhere except on his albums. I suppose it shouldn’t have been too surprising, given that I’m on KR’s e-mail list and I know that he plays at Romemu pretty regularly. It was a very nice beginning to the service.
  • Things that make me suspicious: Shir says things like, “Breathe in the first breath of Shabbat. Breathe out the previous week.” OK. What is this Kol Haneshama?
  • Things that make me downright uncomfortable: Shir says, “Don’t worry about the recipe book. Enjoy the meal we’re making together.” Don’t worry about the siddur? Fat chance. Also, a curious thing for him to say, as we’ll see later. This is the attitude that makes me suspicious of Renewal.
  • Liturgical health check: Most present are using the copies of Sim Shalom provided by Limmud NY. Joe Rosenstein is in the front row and looks like he’s loving it. Not surprisingly, he’s using Siddur Eit Ratzon, which he edited. Also, Shir Yaakov created Joe’s website, newsiddur.org. I’m using Koren Talpiot. There’s one Koren Sacks in the crowd. And my friend’s girlfriend, rather curiously, has brought Gates of the House with her.
  • Seriously, though. Buy this CD.

    But the music is good: Shir then leads Higale Na, a tune from his album, “Zeh.” I can’t dislike it.

  • And then the dancing starts: We move into the Carlebach Psalm 96 (Shiru lAdonai, shir chadash etc.), skipping 95. When the Psalm ends and the nigun begins, people are out of their seats dancing. We’ve gone from zero to ecstatic dancing in less than half the time and liturgical space it takes Kol Zimrah or B’nai Jeshurun. In a conversation with Ingber later, he’s pretty proud of this. Between the clapping, the stomping and drumming, the floor is shaking.
  • I’m into it: We go into Psalm 29 (Mizmor leDavid etc.) with more Carlebach. Somewhere around this point, I decide to visit Romemu in person.
  • Kid Friendly: This is not a kid’s service. But it is a forceful refutation of the idea that such things necessary. Right before the service, I heard to kids bargaining with their mom about how much time they’d be in the service. They Jewed her down to 20 minutes without much trouble. And then they stayed for the entire service.
  • Ana Bechoach? I don’t know from Ana Bechoach. I rarely see it done at the places I go, but we did a tune that I’ll assume was a Shir Yaakov tune for the line from Ana Bechoach “Yachid ge’eh le’amecha feneh zochrei kedushatecha.” Again, it was nice. I like his music in a liturgical setting. There’s thinking to be done this week about guitar liturgy, given Debbie Friedman’s recent death.
  • Kab Shab: Generally, I prefer that we do all of Kabbalat Shabbat, but I don’t feel as strongly about that as I do about some things. In a conversation later with Ingber I tell him I find Kabbalah and mysticism suspicious. Then I tell him I prefer a full Kab Shab. He rightly calls me on this and I have no answer.
  • About that cookbook: The injunction to ignore the siddur is a curious thing from a guy like Shir Yaakov, who is reaching into relatively obscure pieces like Ana Bechoach, which is otherwise untouched by contemporary guitarish Jewish songwriters. The service is interestingly inaccessible to some. Given that we have no transliterations and there isn’t a lot of page number announcing going on, one friend–far less liturgically literate than I–is having a lot trouble keeping up. She doesn’t sing at all until we hit Lecha Dodi–is that another Shir Yaakov original we’re doing?–because it’s common enough in liberal Jewish liturgy that she knows a lot of the words. Musically, the service is accessible, textually it isn’t. One with out the other is not enough. The problem of access to text is too important to push aside with a quip about cookbooks.
  • Krakow! I was beginning to wonder when we’d get to the Krakow nigun. At the sixth paragraph of Lecha Dodi, we begin to use the Krakow nigun melody, which is novel to me. It works. One woman in the front row is dancing again. Later, a lot of people join her. Can you spot Romemu regulars by how quick they are to start dancing during services?
  • Shmooze fest: Between Kab Shab and Maariv, Ingber asks everyone to say Shabbat to people around him that we don’t know. “Careful though,” he says. “I don’t want it to become a shmooze fest.” Yeah, OK. It quickly becomes a shmooze fest.
  • Call and response: Barchu is done with an unfamiliar tune. People often have a hard time discerning what to do during Barchu when it’s a tune rather than nusach because the call and response nature of it is hard to parse. That happens here.
  • Shma: One, two, skip a few… aaaaaand Shma. We do the long, breathing, slow, ponderous version of the first line of the Shma. I’m impatient. We chant the second paragraph and the rest is silent.
  • Rain Stick? During Mi Chamocha, Jedwab starts in with a rain stick. After two goes with the stick, I’m done with it and–thank God–she cuts it out.
  • Chanting and whatever: “Ufros aleinu sukat shelomecha” in Hashkiveinu to that tune I like. I don’t know whose it is, but you know what I mean. Then we chant Shalom a bunch. Then we chant Salaam a bunch. Ingber occasionally interrupts with things like, “Peace in every heart… peace in every mind… peace throughout the world… peace out the wazoo… etc.” Then we chant, “Let there be peace” for a while. And then there’s the chatimah.
  • And then the Christians show up: Oddly, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary” cropped up. In this instance, we did Yihyu in English to the tune, then we sang the chorus of “Lord prepare me etc,” then we niguned it for a while, then we did “Ve’asu li mikdash etc.

Then I had to run out to do announcements somewhere else, but ended up coming back and doing them at the Renewal service anyway when I got back. I missed the rest of the service though.

I’m curious to see more. I’m strongly considering attending Romemu on Shabbat morning this week.

And I’m gonna go with 3 1/2 Ballpoint Pens for this service: |||-

But I wanna be very careful in pointing out that this isn’t a rating of Romemu. It’s a rating of a thing that a group of people from Romemu did somewhere else without their core group.

Limmud NY Notes: More on communal ritual issues–electronics on Shabbat etc.

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

Last year, I was much more aware of this issue than I was this year. At last year’s Limmud NY, I was still working for Limmud NY, so I had my laptop out a lot because I was running @LimmudNY on Twitter. Shabbat felt very obviously different from the rest of the conference because I wasn’t rushing to tweet from every once in a while.

This year, I hardly used my laptop at all during the entire conference. Since last year, I also got a Droid, which I turned off on Friday night and left off for the rest of the conference.

In the car on the way up to the hotel on Tuesday–I rolled in with the early shift of volunteers and office staff–someone mentioned that there had been a proposal for a public space where people could use phones and computers on Shabbat. The Hudson Valley Resort, where the conference takes place, has wifi in the lobby and all of the conference areas, but not in the hotel rooms, so it may be an issue for some people who want or need to be connected to the outside world on Shabbat.

I thought this was a great idea, but apparently it either never made it out of the planning stages, it got shot down in a Steering Committee meeting or it just failed to materialize. Whatever the reason, I think it would be a good thing to have.

By the way, the language used in the program book that every community member receives at the conference to describe Shabbat at Limmud NY is delightfully nuanced. Kol Hakavod to whoever wrote the current version. Here are some highlights from A Guide to Shabbat at Limmud NY on page 28 of this year’s program book:

What is our kavanah (intention) for Shabbat at Limmud NY?…

We have worked hard to create a warm and spirited Shabbat, with diverse options for prayer services and other Shabbat programs….

We encourage you to take the opportunity to examine the ways you observe or do not observe Shabbat and explore new meaning in your practices. We invite you to help create a cooperative and pluralistic community that will be stimulating and inclusive….

Whether for halacha (Jewish law) or for personal aesthetic, the intentionality of the Shabbat experience at Limmud NY is comparable to a meditation retreat: we ask you that you turn off  outside distractions and tune in to everything we have in this one shared space….

This next bit is of particular interest to me, as a compulsive note-taker:

In public spaces which cater to the entire group, Limmud NY will adhere to traditional Shabbat observance (for instance, microphones, musical instruments, cell phones, cameras and computers will not be used).

In individual sessions (opposed to public spaces) we’ll offer a wide range of options reflecting the interests and practices of our participants. These will be clearly identified in the Program Book (for example: “Please note that musical instruments will be used in this session”).

Leaving aside issues with the word traditional in this context, this section includes an interesting list of actions that are potentially problematic on Shabbat. Note-taking, Baruch Hashem, is not one of them. Though I’ve been asked in Shabbat contexts aside from Limmud NY to stop taking notes before, in my four years at Limmud NY (not to mention a Shabbat spent at Limmud Colorado), I’ve never been asked not to take notes at Limmud.

Which is not to say that nothing interesting happened at Limmud NY this year involving that pen behind my ear….

Limmud NY Notes: Communal Kiddush

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

At Limmud NY, we have had a communal Friday night Kiddush some years and not others. This year we did. We also had a communal Shabbat morning Kiddush this year, which I believe was a new thing.

I think this was a major mistake.

The way meals work at Limmud NY is that all meals take place at the same time as sessions. Each meal is served buffet style for about two hours. People can skip a session and relax over a meal or they can get a to-go box and grab food to eat in their next session.

The only exception to this is Friday night dinner. There are no sessions going on simultaneously and the meal is seated rather than buffet. In some years, there has been a communal Kiddush and in some, there have been various benchers on the table for people to lead their own table-by-table, if they choose to.

At my table, which had a few Limmud NY regulars at it, we assumed that there were benchers on the table because we were doing Kiddush table-by-table. I was asked to lead Kiddush at our table and I did so. Just as I finished, three of the musicians at the conference came to the center of the room, the crowd was shushed, and they led Kiddush.

All three, as you might have guessed, were men. Overall, everyone seemed to like it. Indeed, their voices were great and it was nice to do it communally.

Problems

Here are the three problems. After these, I’ll outline my potential solution.

  1. A woman will never be able to do it. At Limmud NY, there is not one single other ritual event that takes place communally, except for Havdalah. There is a big communal, concert-y Havdalah, but there is also Havdalah in the Traditional-Egalitarian minyan and in the mechitza minyan so that those groups can do it according to their standards before the communal one. Kiddush is problematic because a woman cannot lead it ever. Limmud NY is run entirely by volunteers, but we’ve created a volunteer opportunity that 60-70% of the Limmud NY population may not do because a minority will be offended by the woman’s voice, Kol Isha. I would rather forgo the the community-building opportunity presented by Kiddush than either turn off people who think women should be able to lead it or turn off people who would be offended by a woman leading it. In this problem, we fall prey to frummest common denominator pluralism, which is a style of pluralism that Limmud NY has generally succeeded in avoiding. (I’m intentionally staying away from the fact that we forbid the use of electronic devices in communal spaces on Shabbat. That’s an issue for another post.)
  2. We’re imposing ritual. This is the only time at Limmud NY when we force ritual on people. Like Friday night dinner, communal Havdalah is scheduled such that there are no sessions at the same time. The difference is that people are essentially forced to sit through communal Kiddush before they can eat. The majority of Limmud NY-goers fall somewhere between Modern Orthodox, Open Orthodox, Conservadox, Trad-Egal, and Conservative. (I put that clumsily, but you see what I’m saying about the religious nature of the community.) Despite this, we cannot ignore that there are secular and cultural Jews at Limmud NY who do not want ritual imposed on them. They are a relatively small group at the conference, but they shouldn’t fall prey to the tyranny of the majority. The community’s communal spaces need to be as welcoming to as many Jews as possible.
  3. It makes everything take forever. Between Handwashing and Motzi, some Jews won’t talk. When 700 people need to wash, this stuff starts taking forever, the niguning goes on and on and I get hungry. This is a minor issue in the grand scheme and doesn’t bother me overly much so I won’t try to solve it here. However, it was pointed out as a problem by a few people who feel strongly about not talking during the period between Kiddush and Handwashing, so it seemed worth mentioning here.

Solutions

We have other semi-communal ritual moments at Limmud NY. Every year, after the opening event and before people trickle off to the various Kabbalat Shabbat options or to a session, there are tea lights and matches set out on tables in the lobby so that everyone who wishes to can light candles on their own time and in their own way. (Note that we offer not only a wide range of services, but a couple of sessions during services for folks who don’t want to go to services.) If people want to light candles, they do–if they don’t, they move on with life. It’s nice because it is communal, but you can opt out.

Shabbat morning kiddush was a little different. It was led by a man, but it was done in the lobby before going into lunch. I certainly couldn’t hear him and it bore a stronger resemblance to our semi-communal candle lighting because it was in a space that people could wander in and out of if they wanted. There was also a table full of little glasses of wine and grape juice that reminded me of the table of little candles, which made me think of two solutions:

  1. The best solution: We can do communal candle lighting, Friday Kiddush and Saturday Kiddush all in the same way. We can do each one in the lobby, communally. The explicit ritual itself–as well as all details of the ritual–becomes entirely optional, but the overall event is communal. There is nothing being done by a volunteer in an official capacity that is potentially exclusive. This solves both of the major problems identifies above: the problem caused by the divisiveness of Kol Isha and the problem of imposing ritual on non-religious Jews.
  2. An adequate compromise: We could also do Friday and Saturday communal Kiddush the way we did Saturday communal Kiddush. If we did that, we would solve the issue of imposed ritual, to some extent. Though people who did not want to be involved in the ritual would be unable to be in the lobby, it would be more like Havdalah, when they would be free to go somewhere else in the hotel, without forcing them to sit through Kiddush so that they can eat.

Thoughts, Limmud NYks? Thoughts, anyone else? Thoughts, BZ?

BTW, BZ, I see Hilchot Pluralism: The Limmud NY Edition in your future. Eh? Eh?