Tag Archives: Beth El

Rosh Hashanah notes, part I

Hineni. More on that below.

English

I was surprised by how much English we did. I’m used to the idea that Reform congregations amp up the English for the High Holidays, but I was surprised by how much we did at Beth El. (Usually Beth El is a standard Conservative shul when it comes to English. By which I mean that the only liturgical piece that occurs in English is the prayer for our country. (Which I hate, but that’s beside the point.) It was nowhere near as much English as you get at Reform shuls on RH, but it was surprising.

Is this normal at C-shuls? Is there an urge to add extra English for the two-day-a-year crowd across the liberal denominations?

The best thing about day two was…

…chanting Ve’ahavta to the HHD trope! One of the best things about this time of year is the Torah trope. The rough jumpiness of the regular trope gives way to the mellower, more melodic sound of the HHD trope. And on day two of RH, we chanted Ve’ahavta to it. It was glorious.

Unetaneh Tokef… sung by children

Doing Hineni up right

Cantor Perry Fine does delight in his chazanut. It seems he’s at his best with the high drama of this time of year. Hineni is prayer to be said by a prayer leader before beginning the service. In Lev Shalem, it’s presented between the Amidah and the repetition of the Amidah. (I don’t know much a bout Hineni so this may or may not be a normal place for it.)

Anyway, the way he did this was dramatically the highest of the high. It was a slow, mournful melody, sung as he entered the room from the back. Beth El has a multi-purpose room behind the sanctuary with a removable wall in between for this time of year. So to turn back and see him slowly walking up from the back singing Hineni was really something else.

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Contest: What should my Beth El machzor bookplate say?

I can’t join a Conservative shul in good conscience. However, I also see it as wrong to behave like a member of a synagogue with a financial contribution membership model without making a financial contribution.

(We’ve talked about this around here before. Briefly, the issue is that paying dues at an affiliated synagogue also means paying part of the synagogue’s dues to the larger organization with which it is affiliated. Since I am not a Conservative Jew, paying dues to Beth El is not something I want to do.)

My solution, when it comes to Beth El, is this: bookplates. Beth El is buying more copies of Mahzor Lev Shalem, which I’m a big fan of. To help fund this, they’re selling bookplates. So I’m going to make a contribution to Beth El in the form of a Lev Shalem bookplate or two. (I don’t know how much they cost, so I don’t know how many I’m buying yet.)

So, dear readers, what should the bookplate(s) say?

Shabbat notes, 7/16/11: Saying Kaddish in a weird place; A correction; A joke at ArtScroll’s expense

In this post: an piece of liturgical minutiae, a correction and ArtScroll’s instructions for chickens who are crossing the road.

A piece of liturgical minutiae:

Every week at Beth El, we finish the Amidah, say Kaddish Shalem and then something weird happens–we flip back to the psalm for Shabbat and say the Mourner’s Kaddish. I finally asked Rabbi Roston about it this morning.

Here’s what I learned: Kaddish Yatom’s standard location is at the end of the service, after Aleinu. Nothing special needs to happen to make it appear there–it’s just there. This I already knew. But, I learned, you can also say Kaddish Yatom at any time in the service, but only if you say a psalm immediately before.

As I already knew, each day has its own psalm. Shabbat’s psalm is Ps. 92: “Mizmor shir leyom haShabbat. Tov lehodot la’Adonai etc….” This psalm usually makes its appearance early in the service, somewhere in Birchot Hashachar or Pesukei Dezimrah. For example, in Siddur Sim Shalom, which is the siddur in regular use on Shabbat mornings at Beth El, it appears at the end of Birchot Hashachar, where it follows Kaddish Derabbanan (the one for the thing in SSS that replaces Korbanot) and precedes the first Kaddish Yatom in the service.

What I did not know is that the psalm of the day can appear anywhere in the service. What is important is that it is said, not when in the service it is said. So in SSS–and others–it is placed at the end of Birchot Hashachar to facilitate the first of the two Mourners’ Kaddishes.

At Beth El, despite Ps. 92 and Kaddish Yatom appearing where they do in SSS, we don’t get around to doing them until the end of the Amidah, when we are all invited to turn back to page 72 of SSS for Ps. 92. Then we flip past the rest of the psalms of the day for Kaddish Yatom. The reason is that there is frequently not a minyan yet at the end of Birchot Hashachar at Beth El. To enable people to say Kaddish, we simply relocate the whole shebang to a place later in the service when there is sure to be a minyan.

Which, if the location of the first Kaddish Yatom in the service and the psalm of the day that enables us to say it–though it seems that any old psalm would technically do–is irrelevant, makes fine sense. To a point.

It stops making sense when you realize that there’s no need for two iterations of Kaddish Yatom in the service. So I asked why it’s important to, as Rabbi Roston put it, have a Mourner’s Kaddish “before the Torah service.” She did not know why it’s important to have to version of Mourner’s Kaddish. Though she did state as precedent that this is a standard thing that they teach at JTS and that people frequently tack a second Kaddish Yatom onto the service at the end of a shiva minyan in a similar fashion.

If anyone knows anything about this, I’m eager to hear about it.

A correction:

The interest of Beth El’s congregants in the blog continues to astound me. One pointed out something in need of correction this morning. Well, kind of.

In this post, I quoted a JTA article that said that Beth El had 575 families in 2005 when Rabbi Roston was hired. The point of the article was that this was a glass ceiling-breaking event for female rabbis in the Conservative movement.

The correction (kind of) is that the glass ceiling in this case was the 500 member families mark and that Beth El did not have 575 families in 2005. This guy, a member of the membership committee in those days, said that they never had more than 510 families.

So it’s really more of a correction to JTA.

ArtScroll’s instructions for chickens who are crossing the road:

This joke appears in a book that I’m reading right now called “Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and the ArtScroll Revolution” by Jeremy Stolow.

Stolow begins:

For some, ArtScroll’s voice is anodyne, a helpful and unwavering guide to the perplexed. For others, it is the shrill voice of demagoguery and intolerance to difference. And for others still, Art Scroll’s characteristic tone is an object of humor.

Indeed. He further prefaces the joke by describing it as “a rich parody of the punctilious style of religious instruction associated with ArtScroll books.” Here’s the joke:

Bend once when the chicken goes into the road (bending first at the knees, bending fully as it takes its second step); bend again as it reached the middle of the road (only a half bow0; bend a third time as it nears the other side. If it gets across without being run over, say also a shehecheyanu [a blessing for new and unusual experiences] (p. 358); unless the congregation is also saying brochos [blessings] before and after the shema [the basic prayer in affirmation of the one God], in which case no interruption, even for a brocha, is permitted. No brocha is said in yontef [holy day], rosh chodesh [first day of the month] or during the entire month of nissan [March-April].

Shabbat Shalom.

A Week of Things I Like, Day 2-ish: Beth El

On Sunday, I said this week was gonna be A Week of Things I Like on this blog, that I would only say positive things all week and that I would post once a day this week.

Here we are on day three and I already missed the second day’s post. And, as regular commenter Larry Kaufman points out, I was also unduly self-critical in the first post.

Anyway, I like Beth El, my new shul here in South Orange. Here are some of the things I like about it:

  • I like that, as I pointed out in my first post about Beth El, their spirit of welcoming is great.
  • I like that they make extensive use of lay leaders in all their services. Initially, based on a sample size of only two weeks, I assumed that Shabbat mornings were more lay-led and and Friday nights less so, but they’ve already got me signed up to lead a Friday night service in August.
  • On a related note, I like how well-trained their lay leaders are. They all really know their stuff and they come from a broad range of ages, which, if I had to guess, is indicative of a great religious school.
  • I like Rabbi Francine Roston and Cantor Perry Fine. By the end of the first Shabbat morning I spent there, Rabbi Roston had reached out to me and asked if I wanted to help lead services ever. By the end of my second Friday night at Beth El, Cantor Fine had also asked.
  • I like that, according to this JTA article that I can’t seem to find anywhere other than at the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, when Rabbi Roston was hired in 2005, Beth El became the largest Conservative shul ever to hire a female as their senior rabbi. (According to the article, Beth El had 575 member families at the time.)
  • I like that, according to Google Maps, it’s a four-minute walk from my apartment–if that.
  • I like that there are a number of rabbis in the congregation. As I’ve previously mentioned, the head of ARZA is a member. Beth El’s rabbi emeritus is also in regular attendance every week and so is the provost of JTS.
  • To continue my reportage on my chronic case of Foot-in-Mouth disease, I like that a number of them seem to have found this blog and have called me out on things I’ve said here. Most recently, one member of a group of men I previously identified as “the peanut gallery” jokingly informed me that I had assessed them incorrectly. Actually, he told me, they are “the judges panel.” I like that too!
  • I like that I’m feeling challenged by Beth El. It’s good to feel comfortable within a routine at a synagogue, but it’s also good to feel a little challenged. So, to turn my whinging about wearing a kippah on its head, it’s good that going to Beth El is forcing me to wear one because it’s challenging.
  • I like that going to Beth El is forcing me to confront the fact that there are things that I like about Conservative Judaism… which may make a whole post of its own later this week.

To make up for my laziness yesterday, I’m gonna do another post tonight for day three of A Week of Things I Like.

Beth El week 2, now with more chazanut!

I was back at Beth El for Shavuot and again tonight. Tonight was similar to last week’s Kabbalat Shabbat, but more remarkable for its differences.

Last week’s was led by Rabbi Francine Roston, who conducted the service with a minimum of commentary and uncomplicated music (I called it boring in last week’s post, which may have been a tad strong). I can’t recall if she gave any sort of devar. And she led the whole thing standing on the same side of the shtender as the the congregation–that is, she faced the ark, her back to us, which I prefer. When you face the congregation, you sing at them. When you face the same direction that they are, you are leading them, as their representative.

Tonight’s leader was Cantor Perry Fine. Fine, as it so happens, has taught Russ Jayne at JTS. (Russ is a cantorial student and the beloved musical leader of Chavurat Lamdeinu.) So Fine and I had a nice chat about how great Russ is on Shavuot.

Anyway, Fine led this service with a tad more commentary than I’d like and more varied–though, as you’ll see, sometimes more overpowering–music. He also faced us, which may have been part of what encouraged him to talk to us so much.

I also have some new observations about the set up of the smaller chapel space at Beth El. The chapel is wider than it is long, so the chairs face each other in a wide semi-circle facing the ark, with a podium/shtender in the middle. If you have any more than 25 or 30 people in there, as we did on Shavuot, the chapel is a good size. It feels neither vacant nor packed with that sort of attendance.

However, on Friday nights–based, mind you, on a sample size of two weeks so far–it’s too big for the crowd, which is closer to a dozen than to 20. It’s big enough at that point that everyone can sit with several chairs between them and the next person in each direction, which is not good for ruach. My guess is that setting up chairs in a close circle that excludes the podium thing might be a better setup for Friday nights at Beth El.

We were also using an odd little siddur tonight. I borrowed a copy–with Fine’s permission, of course–so there I’ll have more on the siddur later, hopefully tomorrow.

  • Accessibility vs. musical prowess: Fine conducted most of Kabbalat Shabbat in a manner similar to Roston, in that it was first-line-last-line nusach for most psalms. However, Roston’s simple approach to the nusach made it  possible for me to sing along, while Fine’s chazanutasticness became overwhelming at times, preventing me from mumbling along. Accessibility vs. musical prowess shouldn’t be a trade-off, though it unfortunately often is.
  • Nusach vs. Carlebach: I loves me some Carlebach, so it was nice to have some in this service for some of the usuals like ps. 29. Sometimes, it can be hard to figure out where the syllables in the words fit within the melody with Carlebach and there were times when Fine let the melody fall on a different syllable than I’m used to, which tripped me up.
  • Unfamiliar, slow and hard: Lecha Dodi was the first of several things that Fine sang beautifully, but to slowish tempo and unfamiliar tune, making it hard to follow.
  • Mourners: As with Roston last week, Fine took the unexpected step of actually pointing out an individual mourner at the end of Lecha Dodi and having us all say “Hamakom yenachem… etc” to them.
  • English? Fine added some of the sort of commentary I quite like for ps. 29, explaining why it’s there. Which was nice. Then we read it in English, which was 100% unexpected.
  • Lewandowksi? Lewandowski is one of those composers I could never match with a tune until tonight. Before singing Tzadik Katamar from the end of ps. 29, Fine talked a tad a bout Lewandowski and how he composed this famous Tzadik Katamar. It was neat.
  • More weird tunes: With Ahavat Olam, we started to reach a fever pitch of slow, unfamiliar hard to follow tunes. This continued with Hashkiveinu and got real bad at Mi Chamocha.
  • The Bat Mitzvah girl and a bizarre Shma: Tomorrow’s Bat Mitzvah girl (she’s have hers at mincha/maariv/havdalah tomorrow) led the first to paragraphs of the Ve’ahavta, then we continued silently for the third one and then we actually read the fourth one out loud, in Hebrew. Not chanted, but read. It was quite unexpected.

That’s extent of my noteworthy observations about services tonight. Overall, twas good and I’m still enjoying getting to know Beth El.

ALSO, I hesitate to mention this because it confused the hell out of me, but Fine told me afterward how nice my voice is and asked if I’d ever been in a choir. I was flabbergasted. I know nothing about my voice and tend not to think too highly of it. More on this development later. I think.

Stowing my pen and covering my head

If you’re a regular reader, you know two things: First, that I hate putting on a kippah and, second, that I like to take notes in my siddur during services.

It has become increasingly clear to me that these preferences of mine are not well received in some communities. As the range of places I’m willing to daven has expanded–or drifted to the ritual right, as it might be more accurately put–I’ve had to deal with this issue more and more.

My first attempts at dealing with this involved complaining about it to people I know a lot and complaining about it even more here on this blogOne such blogged complaint in particular didn’t turn out so well. That blog post turned into a minor fiasco–which was, in the end, entirely of my own making.

Then I started trying this thing where I’d walk into a place where I suspected they’d want me to wear a kippah with my head uncovered and wait for someone to correct me. I’ve only ever met with success using this method. Either no one tells me to put one on or they do. It’s not like I’ve ever been ejected for this. (It hasn’t even cause a blog post fiasco. Yet.)

While I was using the better-to-ask-for-forgiveness-later-than-permission-now approach to covering my head, I was using a similar approach to note-taking. I’d keep the pen in my pocket and try to take notes really discretely. Now that I’m actually writing this down, it occurs to me that I’ve never actually had bad luck with this method either, though I’ve only tried it in pew seating situations where it has some chance of success.

The risk associated with taking notes during services is that it has become compulsive. If I have a pen on me, I will make note of every little thing–when they switch leaders, what tunes they do for everything, liturgical oddities, the presence of other people I happen to know, the date, various architectural features of the space, etc. I could go on. It is this compulsion that has made posts like this exhaustive catalog of the minhag of one community possible.

Which means, as many–Rabbi David Ingber of Romemu, most prominently–have pointed out to me, that I risk not noticing the forest because I’m taking a rubbing of the bark of every damn tree. I’m like those hordes of Japanese tourists that can’t possibly have seen one inch of Europe until they go through their photos once the vacation is over. I have pretended that this problem doesn’t bother me, but it has begun to–though this is certainly the first I’ve mentioned it here.

Now I’ve moved to South Orange and I’ve found Beth El, a nice shul that makes me want to stick around. I’m fairly mortified to find myself on the verge of considering the possibility of maybe eventually inquiring about membership at a *gasp* Conservative shul. And I want these people to refrain from ejecting me from the premises.

Which means that I have been leaving my pen at home and putting on my kippah before I go in. Of course, I wait until I’m at the door to put it on. And as soon as I’m out the door, I take it back off. But still.

(“If that’s the case,” you’re wondering, “how did he produce this blog post about services at Beth El?” My new method is to fold over the corner of any page in the siddur on which I want to remind myself that something of note happened. So far, it’s seems to be working.)

I feel, on the one hand, like this is all probably pretty good for my problems with ego and humility. On the other hand, I feel like I’m losing some battle. Being that asshole who takes notes in services has become and identity issue for me.

And, just as an aside–and maybe as a last word of protest on the issue–I have noticed that Beth El refers to itself as a Conservative egalitarian congregation. If that’s the case, why don’t the women have to cover their heads? I have noticed that many women, probably more than usual, do cover their heads, but the sign on the bin-o-kippot does say “all males” must cover their heads.

And, just as a final complaint on the topic in general, I don’t know why it matters to anyone else what is or is not on my head. I have to wonder what would happen if I went to Beth El for shacharit and failed to put on a talit. Would that matter? Or only on the bimah? Would anyone chastise me if I showed up on a weekday and didn’t wrap tefilin? Why is everyone so bizarrely attached to this one little minhag?

Alright. That’s all. I meant for this post not to turn into a rant, but it’s only been like a week so far. I’m still working on being over this stuff.