Monday, January 06, 2020

Kabbalat Shabbat experiment: Beloved Brooklyn

Somehow, we managed to get to Beloved Brooklyn without too much trouble the first time we went there (for a sing-along in a sukkah), but we ran out of luck the second time.  We'd had the good fortune to bump into Anat Halevy Hochberg (whom we'd met when she sang with the Hadar Ensemble on Erev Selichot) at a class given at Hadar by Rabbi Shai Held that we were all attending, and she'd told us that she'd be co-leading Kabbalat Shabbat at Beloved.  So off we went, but this time, we got so thoroughly lost that we missed most of the service.  :(  No worries, though.  After deciding to stay for the pot-luck communal dinner and chatting with some folks at our table, we discovered the best place to have a conversation at Beloved--it's in the basement lounge, where everyone ends up sooner or later because the only "public" bathroom is in the basement.  Anat had decided to hang out in the lounge for a while and chat, so we end up talking about our plans to help our synagogue become a singing community, and Anat, whose mother is Yemenite, talked about the importance of encouraging the American Jewish community, which has a large Ashkenazi majority, to be more welcoming of non-Ashkenazi culture and leadership.  It was well worth the long commute just to have that conversation.

There are two things about which those interested in going to Beloved Brooklyn should be cautioned in advance.  One is that the house in which Beloved is located is not wheelchair accessible--one cannot enter without climbing a flight of stairs.  In addition, to make things interesting for folks with mobility and/or vision challenges, there's a two-inch step between the dining room and the kitchen, and another two-inch step between the basement lounge and the short hallway leading to the "public" bathroom.  Also, there's no handrail on the stairway leading to the basement.

The other thing about Beloved Brooklyn that one might wish to know in advance is the way the service is run, which may give traditional davveners/pray-ers pause--they sing quite a few psalms from Kabbalat Shabbat, and there's a d'var Torah (word of Torah/Bible), but Beloved doesn't pray the Maariv/Arvit/Evening Service.  The singing is delightful, but some might feel that having Kabbalat Shabbat without Maariv is rather akin to reading the introduction to a book but not reading the book.  That said, if you love to sing, this is certainly a good place.

The third time we went to Beloved Brooklyn was more carefully planned:  I'd read online some months ago that Elana Arian would be leading Kabbalat Shabbat on January 3, so we'd put that service on our calendars.  Not only did we get there in time to settle in before the service--we managed not to get nearly as badly lost this time--but two kind souls gave up their chairs and sat on the floor, which was especially nice of them since the place was packed to the rafters and they'd snagged front-row seats.

Davvening/praying with Elana made the long trip well worthwhile.  She  has a gorgeous voice and writes such beautiful music that singing with her made our Shabbat a true delight! 

I have our son to thank for "discovering" Elana--he "arm-twisted" me into opening a Facebook account, and this concert was one of the first things I saw on Facebook.

Believe it or not, that's not the end of this story.

After the communal dinner, we started saying our goodbyes, but we didn't get very far--a group of folks started singing niggunim (wordless songs) and z'mirot (Shabbat songs, traditionally sung at times other than during religious services), so we just had to join in, because we rarely have an opportunity to sing z'mirot with a group on Friday nights.  Finally, we managed to bid farewell to Isaac Luria, co-founder of Beloved and, apparently, chief cook, as well, and headed into the kitchen to say goodbye to Rabbi Sara Luria.  When we finally got a word in edgewise, we talked with her at some length about our plans to liven up our synagogue with song.

A funny thing happened, though, just as we were finally turning to leave--out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone walk in who looked familiar.  When I took a good look, I was tickled to see that it was Anat, dropping by after having prayed elsewhere.  Next thing you know, we were back in the living room with the singers, having a grand time following Anat's lead in singing two or three different Yemenite versions of Ki Eshmera Shabbat.

By the time we finally managed to force ourselves out the door, it was well after 11 PM, and we still had to hop on the subway.  Needless to say, we were half-asleep when we went to services at our local synagogue the next morning, and it was a wonder that my husband (our acting rabbi) managed to give a coherent d'var Torah (some of which was inspired by Rav Sara's d'var Torah of the night before), but I'd gladly do it all again.  As for my husband, he asked, "Why can't we do this at our shul?"  In fact, plans are currently in progress to try a lay-led, tune-full, complete Friday-night service at our own synagogue.  I'll write more about that as our plans come closer to being realized.  Wish us luck!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020 update:
As promised, here's your invitation to Shabbat shel Shir services.



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