Tag Archives: conservative

Rosh Hashanah notes, part II: Miriam and imahot

Some stuff I noticed during RH this year:

I was surprised to find Miriam appearing along with Moses here in the lead-up to Mi Chamocha. I must have noticed her lurking in here last year, but she still managed to take me aback again this year.

I also noticed their bracketed use of the mamas along with the un-bracketed papas. (Again, must have noticed it last year, but….) This is interesting, if we look at it the context of the Conservative movement’s history with the matriarchs. In the original release of Sim Shalom (and its forebears, it goes without saying), avot just had the avot. The second edition added a B-page, such that there are two versions of the first page of the Amidah, one with the imahot and one without. But the page that has them does not have it worded quite like Reform liturgy does. Whereas R-liturgy says, “…vElohei avoteinu ve’imoteinu…” and then lists them all, C-liturgy says leaves it alone, except for the list. So they don’t say ve’imoteinu is my point.

Between then and now, R-liturgy reoriented itself to include the imahot all over the place. In Mishkan T’fillah, every time is says “avoteinu” it aso says “ve’imoteinu.” In MLS, C-liturgy catches up. Kind of. On the first page of the Amidah, we get both options. And the ve’imahot option not only lists their names, but it now says “vElohei avoteinu [ve’imoteinu].” That continues throughout the siddur. Every time it says something about the avot, we get a bracketed word for the imahot.

Now that the Rabbinical Assembly has announced that they’re working on a new siddur, it’s interesting to notice the new stuff that’s already crept into this machzor. I have to wonder how much Reform and Conservative liturgy is going to continue to converge. I assume the line will be drawn at least at Musaf, but I wonder how much else will be the same. How long before C-liturgy doesn’t give us the avot-only option at all?

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.

Shabbat Notes, 9/24/2011: Dad’s visit; Gospel music in musaf

My dad is in town. He and I usually talk on the phone at some point on Shabbat to fill each other in on any particularly excellent bits of chaos we witnessed in shul that morning. He’s also a reader of this blog, so his visit would not have been complete without a visit to Beth El. He rightly told me that he approved of the level of chaos.


In musaf this morning, the Christian gospel tune, “Lord Prepare Me,” was on the march again. I’ve previously discussed the tune’s increasing use in Jewish worship here and here. I’ve encountered the use of this melody several times, though this use of it is new to me. Today Cantor Perry Fine used it for the musaf kedusha. Eschewing the usual call-and-response-and-repetition style, he led us through the prayer in unison to the tune of “Lord Prepare Me,” from the beginning–“Na’aritzecha venak’dishecha…”–through “Baruch kevod Adonai mimekomo.” Then we proceeded to the the tune of “Erev shel Shoshanim” for a while.

Also, I had an aliyah. More on why that happened sometime next month.

New JTA piece by me: wave of new machzorim, updates on new Reform machzor

We had two new machzorim last year. This year, we’ve got another new one, a revised edition of another and drafts circulating of another major upcoming release. JTA has the full story, written by your favorite blogger:

New Jewish prayer books typically come in waves, the rarest of which bring new High Holidays prayer books, or machzors.

The current wave has seen five new machzorim in a one-year span. Following on the heels of last year’s release of the official Conservative machzor and a popular chavurah machzor are the first Hebrew-English machzor from the Israeli publisher Koren, a revision to Hillel’s “On Wings of Awe” and pilot tests of services from the forthcoming Reform machzor.

The Conservative movement’s “Mahzor Lev Shalem” was a surprise hit — insofar as a prayer book can be such a thing — selling more than 120,000 copies. More congregations are expected to adopt it for the High Holidays this year.

The chavurah “Machzor Eit Ratzon” from Joseph Rosenstein, a math professor at Rutgers University and a founding member of the Highland Park Minyan in Highland Park, N.J., is a companion to his “Siddur Eit Ratzon.” Though “Machzor Eit Ratzon” is not in use on the same scale as “Lev Shalem,” it merits inclusion here as a popular new independently published machzor.

Check out the rest of the article at JTA. There’s some news on the new Reform maczhor drafts in the article, but my interview with Rabbi Hara Person from CCAR Press was a lot more extensive than what I had space for in the article, so I’ll have more from the interview for y’all soon.

I also did a little sidebar that goes with the piece, a roundup of the year in liturgy.

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, 7/23/11: My Foot in Mouth is cured; More on last week’s Kaddish situation; Daf Yomi on the 7:51 to Penn Station

First, the good news: It seems I have rid myself of my Beth El-induced flareup of Foot in Mouth Disease. I haven’t done it in like two weeks.

More on last week’s Kaddish Yatom quandry: Pesukei and Shacharit were led this morning by a fellow who uses Koren Sacks when he isn’t leading. We had a great chat after services about our mutual love of Koren.

Anyway, I was surprised that he did Ps. 92 during Pesukei. Of course, as we discussed last week, we did it again after the Amidah when we did that whole Kaddish Yatom thing.

I was also amused this morning when I noticed that in the Koren Talpiot siddur, Ps. 92 actually follows the Kaddish Yatom at the end of the service. Which isn’t confusing–it’s just funny.

More from “Orthodox By Design”: I’m still reading “Orthodox By Design: Judaism, Print Politics and The ArtScroll Revolution.” Today, I was reading a bit in which it explains the popularity of Daf Yomi, the practice of studying on page of Talmud every day to complete the entire thing in seven years. And this passage struck me as a description of a wonderful textural element of reality:

One rather famous study circle, led by Rabbi Pesach Lerner, consists of a group of lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who have been meeting daily since the early 1990s on the 7:51 a.m. commuter train from Far Rockaway [outer Queens] to Penn Station in New York City.

That’s all for now. Shabbat Shalom

I don’t just write the news–I am the news!

The New Jersey Jewish News has honored me with a profile and a really great mugshot.

Johanna Ginsberg, one of their staff writers (and a member of Beth El–these people are over the place!) stopped by one morning last week to interview and photograph me for it. It was lovely and it’s a nice piece.

Things relevant to themes on this blog (the parenthetical bold bit is mine):

At 22, David A.M. Wilensky appears full of contradictions: He wears tzitzit but not a kipa. He embraces Reform Judaism but attends a Conservative synagogue.

[…]

Perhaps it’s all in the eye of the beholder. “I go to a Conservative synagogue because I like the services better, but I live a personal life that’s informed by what I learned growing up in the Reform world,” he told NJJN in an interview on the patio of his South Orange apartment. “Is that any more of a contradiction than people who belong to a Conservative synagogue and don’t keep kosher and never come to services?”

[…]

…addressing his religious garb, he said, “Wearing a tallit katan and wearing a kipa are separate practices, with separate origins and rationales, so I don’t see that as contradictory either. Unusual? Yes. But not contradictory.

“Maybe that says something about my generation, but to me it all just makes sense,” he concluded.

[…]

A patio table is scattered with the accessories of his single Jewish post-collegiate life: a hookah, an ashtray filled with cigarette butts (the cigarette butts are not mine, by the way, just for the record), a Kiddush cup, half-melted Shabbat candles, and a bottle of Febreeze. Behind him, several freshly laundered tzitzit hang on a rack to dry.

Wilensky is confident about the future of journalism, but remains uncertain about his own future.

“I’m obsessed with liturgy right now. Maybe I’ll get a PhD in liturgy and that will be my thing,” he said.

But he’s certainly got a journalist’s instincts. “Why don’t Jewish papers ever put federations under the microscope?” he asked. Maybe he’ll blog about it.

Maybe I will!

You can read the whole article, which really is terrific, over here.

 

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.