Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Nava Tehila concert, with Chava Mirel!

It isn't often that we have an opportunity to get to either a Nava Tehila concert or a Chava Mirel concert by subway, but we had that opportunity this past Sunday night, courtesy of Nitzotzot!  What a delight, to see both Yoel Sykes and Chava!  Here's a nice chunk of the concert.  You can see me at about the 58-second mark sitting along the right wall in a pink baseball cap (because the lighting was bothering my eyes). Here's a short snippet from another part of this concert.

Continuing what seems to be an old minhag/custom of ours, we raised the average age in the room by probably at least 30 years :), but no matter--we had a grand time not only singing, but dancing, as well  (look for two oldsters who first appear at about the 2 minutes, 40 seconds mark).  What fun!  I was misbehaving, as usual--one of these days, I'm going to get kicked out of a concert for singing along too loudly.  (I think I only get away with it because I almost always sing harmony.)  I do try to remind myself that no one is paying to hear me sing, but I find it hard to curb my enthusiasm.  Thank you so much to Nava Tehila and Chava for such beautiful music!


Mechon Hadar tote bag, RIP 02-25-2020 :(

This is what I get for trying repair my favorite old tote bag with an iron-on patch--the tote must have been made of plastic-based thread, because it melted the minute the iron touched it.  :(  My husband's going to be a very unhappy camper--the bag was actually his, a souvenir from a Hadar Executive Seminar that he attended some years ago.

Here's the replacement, acquired at a Streicker Center panel discussion last night:

Hadar, your move.  :)


Saturday, February 22, 2020

Kabbalat Shabbat experiment: Central Synagogue

Central Synagogue has much to recommend it, not the least of which is that it's so easy to get to--just three express stops on the subway brought us so close to this synagogue that we could literally see the synagogue building, which is a mere two blocks from the subway station, the minute we got up to street level.  The sanctuary is gorgeous, all decorated columns and Moorish arches, and the music is wonderful--Cantor Mutlu and the musicians were all excellent!  (If our synagogue had that kind of money, we'd hire him in a New York minute!)  There was even an oneg with hot food downstairs after the service.

But something made me feel a bit uncomfortable, and it wasn't mainly the organ music, which I'm not fond of in a synagogue and which was played for a few minutes late in the service.  I had been warned, and, for me, at least, the warning turned out to be true--I really did feel as if I were attending a Broadway show, to such an extent that I actually had to remind myself several times not to applaud.  We might go back to Central Synagogue another time or two just to catch some of the folks who had the night off last night--neither Rabbi Buchdahl nor Cantor Cadrain was present.  But my husband and I agree that this is not a synagogue that we would be comfortable attending on a regular basis.  I'm glad, though, that Central Synagogue has such a beautiful service, even though it's not quite right for us--this is a perfect service for those who do like organ music in a synagogue and for pulling in those who might otherwise attend a Broadway show on Erev Shabbat (Sabbath Eve) instead of going to pray.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Lost and not found at LimmudFest NY 2020 :(

By dint of my own stupidity, I lost my apartment keys at Limmud.  Much to my dismay, no one turned in any lost keys to either the Jewish Theological Seminary Security desk or the Limmud Volunteers tables.  I've already replaced the keys, so no harm done, except to my wallet.  But somewhere in the depths of JTS, there's a set of keys that's destined to receive a far better Jewish education than I ever got.  :)


Monday, February 17, 2020

LimmudFest NY 2020: A mixed blessing

One of the things I noticed about LimmudFest NY 2020 was that, unlike what we saw at the Hadar National Shabbaton, there weren't any babies--there were hardly any families present at all.  Another attendee pointed out that there was also a "generation gap" of sorts between the 20-30-somethings who were running the event and the 60-and-older crowd--there were hardly any attendees in their 40s and 50s.

It was also hard for me to miss the way that we gluten-free folks were treated--not one piece of bread, bagel, cake, cookie, cracker, or pastry that we could eat was served all Shabbat, and only 1 gluten-free offering--quinoa salad--was sold for lunch on Sunday.  Adding insult to injury for me, because I also have trouble digesting dairy, the dining room sold only pizza for dinner on Sunday, meaning that I had absolutely nothing to eat for dinner other than the Kind bar that I had brought from home just in case.  As far as I know, the kosher restaurant nearest to the Jewish Theological Seminary, where LimmudFest NY 2020 took place, is located at around 102nd Street, 20 blocks south of/downtown from JTS--that's roughly a 45-minute walk, or 2 subway stops, away.  Did they expect us to bring our own food?  The volunteers got quite an earful from me, asking why they'd bother to request a list of our food limitations if they hadn't intended to do anything to accommodate them.

On the plus side, the highlight of LimmudFest NY 2020 for me was being present at the Torah-reading service on Shabbat morning, which was led almost entirely in accordance with the tradition of the Bagdadi Jews of India by Calcutta native Rahel Musleah (pronounced Matzliach).  She even read (most of) the Torah reading from a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) in a blue Sefardi/Mizrachi-style "tik" (case) (keep scrolling 'til you get past the Ashkenazi version) that her family had donated to Calcutta's Magen David Synagogue over 100 years ago and had taken with them when they'd left India for Philadelphia.  (Rahel had explained, at her session on Erev Shabbat [Sabbath Eve], that most Torah scrolls--her synagogue had over 70, each read at various times--were donated in memory of loved ones, and, therefore, were taken by the donor families when they left India:  Indian synagogues now have only one or two scrolls bought for those occasions when they have a minyan.)  I was glad that Rahel reversed the usual positioning of the Torah scroll, turning it and reading it with the klaf/"parchment" (the Musleah-Family klaf is made of deer-skin) facing the congregation so that we could see what the interior of the tik and the scroll looked like and how the klaf was read--a scroll that's in a "tik" is placed and read in a vertical position, with the klaf covered by a scarf (which is draped over the tik) between aliyot.  I remembered that part, and, during the Torah reading at the Minchah (Afternoon) Service, made sure that the klaf was covered with the scarf between aliyot.

I also learned about two important groups that I hadn't been aware of before.  One is Matan, which trains Jewish educators in methods for including students with disabilities.   I wished they'd been around when we were raising our son, but I'm glad they're here for others facing challenges in raising "special ed" kids.  The other group is the Sephardic-Mizrahi Q Network (SMQN).  Ruben Shimonov gave us a quick verbal tour of both his Bukharian/Bucharian community and this new group.

The Limmudapalooza Sunday evening entertainment was a bit lacking--only one singer and one comedy group?  This may not have been entirely Limmud NY's fault--it appears that Songleader Boot Camp also took place this past weekend.  I am selfishly glad that Noah Aronson stayed in NY--I thoroughly enjoyed his performance.  But I did miss the multi-singer concerts that we'd enjoyed during previous Limmud NY gatherings.  (I've now added a "Limmud" label to the end of all of my Limmud posts, so just click on the label for information about music at previous Limmud get-togethers, and a few videos.)

I don't know whether I'll go to Limmud NY next year.  There were just too many things missing, including people and music, and yes, a rice cake on which to spread some of the white fish and some non-dairy cream cheese to put under it.  (What the heck happened to the food arrangements between 2012 and 2020?)  One attendee was surprised that no one in Limmud had thought to hire a grant writer to help cover expenses and reduce the cost of attendance, wondering why on earth the organizers had thought that it was acceptable not to include the cost of non-Shabbat meals in the registration fee.  Good question.  One of my criteria for attending next year's LimmudFest NY will be that the cost of all meals must be included in the registration fee.  We paid over $700 for this shindig, and the registration fee did not include hotel reservations.  Where did they get the chutzpah/nerve/gall to charge us extra for food?!  (By comparison, Hadar's National Shabbaton cost only about $100 more than LimmudFest NY, and included two nights in a hotel, a concert with four musicians, gluten-free bagels and cake, dairy-free cream cheese, and peanut-free nut butter for those with allergies,  though, granted, the Hadar Shabbaton lasted only through Sunday lunch.)  Another criteria is that I must be able to get information in advance about provisions being made for those with food sensitivities.  There's no darned good reason, in this day and age, for people with food sensitivities to be deprived of the pleasure of eating cake on Shabbat like everyone else.


Friday, February 14, 2020

Kabbalat Shabbat experiment: Report on our Shabbat Shirah shindig at our home shul

Start here for the shindig details.

Start here to find out how we came up with this idea.

We had some help--another synagogue attendee actually came up with the idea to have a lay-led Friday-night service a couple of weeks before we did, so we teamed up.  And what a team it was!  My davvening (prayer-leading) partner for the Kabbalat Shabbat service was far more experienced in leading services than I, and far better organized--she jotted down ideas for which tunes to use in a little notebook, and had me make a copy once we'd made our final choices.  The toughest part was choosing two tunes for L'cha Dodi--both had to be reasonably easy to sing, and the second one had to be "danceable," so that my husband could lead folks in dancing while we were leading the singing.

Meanwhile, my husband was looking for a couple of tunes for the Friday Arvit/Maariv/Evening Service, which he led mostly by himself.  And both of us were looking for tunes for Shabbat morning--he led P'sukei D'Zimrah and Shacharit, I led Hotzaat HaTorah and Musaf.  I think we spent a good chunk of last week with our ears glued to YouTube.  :)

With much assistance from members and friends, we managed to get our service publicized on our new synagogue webpage and on other webpages and Facebook pages, as well as in e-mails sent by other local non-Orthodox communities.  Shabbat dinner was sponsored by two shul members and cooked by shul members and friends in the synagogue kitchen.  I got lots of help from friends in choosing activities for young kids and in setting up the sanctuary seating in concentric circles.  We were all quite pleasantly surprised by the turn-out for Friday night--I didn't count, but I was told that about 50 people showed up!  This, in a synagogue that probably hasn't gotten as much as a minyan for Friday-night services in about a decade! Wow!

Saturday morning was back to normal, except that my husband and I were leading the services and sponsoring the kiddush.  All told, I thought our Shabbat shindig went pretty well, though my husband and I did kinda make mincemeat of one or two new tunes.  The next time we try leading, it's back to YouTube for both of us.  :)

Many thanks to the shul's leaders and staff who ordered the food, set everything up, and cleaned up afterward, to the fine folks who sponsored and cooked Shabbat dinner, to those who helped me shop for kids' stuff and set up the room for Friday night services, to the shul member who spared my "acting-rabbi" husband by giving the d'var Torah (sermon), and to our cantor for leining (chanting the Torah reading).  And mazal tov to my husband for chanting his Bar Mitzvah haftarah for the umpteenth time!  :)  What a way to celebrate my recent retirement (Dec. 31, 2019), our birthdays (71st and 78th--we're both early-Feb. babies), and my husband's upcoming retirement!

Let's do this again!


Monday, February 03, 2020

Giving credit where it's due--this song is Hanerot Halalu, by Margie Rosenthal and Ilene Safyan (oops--see update)

Oops! When we asked Deborah Sacks Mintz, after the concert at the Hadar National Shabbaton, what she called this niggun, she told us that it was a Chanukah song and that she didn't write it. I found the original here[Feb. 2021 update:  I've since learned that this is considered a traditional tune--no one seems to know who wrote it.]

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Hadar National Shabbaton 2020

The first thing I noticed when we arrived at the Stamford Hilton was a baby.  Then another.  Then another, and probably more children than we've seen in one Jewish place at one time in years.  There were families there!  Our synagogue now has exactly one toddler--this is the first one in decades.  The kids who were too young for the Shabbaton's children's program (jointly run by the Hadar Institute, Ramah Day Camp at Nyack, and Camp Ramah in the Berkshires) came to services with their parents.  Imagine that--children in shul!  For us, that's practically unheard of, these days.  And two of the older girls gave a fine rendition of the Anim Z'mirot piyut (religious poem/hymn) at the end of the Musaf service on  Shabbat (Sabbath) morning.

Joey Weisenberg's crew of Rising Song Institute Residents led services on Erev Shabbat (Sabbath Eve), with Joey mostly just hanging back and letting the residents lead.  It was delightful to davven (pray) with such a fine tefillah team.

A pleasant surprise awaited me on Shabbat morning.  I was too late when I asked to chant the haftarah in honor of my 71st birthday, but Rabbi Kaunfer was kind enough to offer me the fourth aliyah, instead.  Imagine how startled I was when the gabbaim broke into a hearty "Yom Huledet Sameach (Happy Birthday to You)" after my closing b'rachah.  I got to celebrate my birthday with about 600 people!  And we even got to enjoy sitting with my old blogger buddy Larry Lennhoff at lunch!

After way too much food--a secondary theme of the Shabbaton :)--we went to a thought-provoking session about the great debate on brit milah for the newborn sons of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers.  Since my husband is the "acting rabbi" of our synagogue (for lack of funds to pay for a "real" rabbi), we've had plenty of discussions about the issue of trying to bring many of the younger Jews in our community into our shul while staying true to our Conservative-Jewish status, which is certainly a challenge with so many patrilineal Jews and Jews in serious relationships with non-Jews among them.  How to be welcoming but hold to halachic standards is a major challenge that our congregation has not yet figured out how to meet.

An unfortunate but predictable result of having stayed up late on Friday night to attend a panel discussion on American Jewish prayer communities, sing z'mirot (Sabbath songs, generally sung at places other than synagogue services), and have some good laughs at Yisrael Campbell's comedy show was that I was sleepy.  In the interest of not upsetting any further session leaders by nodding off under their noses, I decided to switch to something less intellectual, and headed for a Nigun Swap.  We all had a grand time singing, and it was nice to see how well that activity worked for the parents of little ones--there were several babies being bounced on laps and shoulders, and toddlers wandered around the room under watchful eyes.  And there was yet more singing after Mincha (Afternoon Serice) and Seudah Shlishit (the traditional Third Sabbath Meal).

Arvit (Maariv, Evening Service) was followed by a lovely Havdalah service led by the Rising Song Residents, with much singing and dancing thereafter.  What a way to end Shabbat and enter the week on a high!

Our first discussion of the new week was about Hadar's new strategic plan, where my husband suggested that Hadar should do more publicity about faculty members available to give lectures or lead study sessions.  Our synagogue could certainly use a hand in dealing with the patrilineal and "mixed-marriage" issues.

After a Melaveh Malka snack of soup for me and pizza for The Punster, I tortured the ears of anyone within hailing range at the Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Trio concert.  (Let's just say that I sing more loudly than well, though at least I'm mostly on key.)  It's great fun going to a concert at which the entire audience is encouraged to sing along.  I spoke to all of the musicians--Joey, Deborah Sacks Mintz, Sam Weisenberg, and Yoshie Fruchter--and thanked them for the wonderful "birthday present."  :)  When Sam told me that Yoshie and I shared a birthday, I traded birthday greetings with him.  What fun!

On Sunday, we studied Leadership and Prayer with Rabbi Kaunfer, who always prints out a ton of source material, the rest of which I hope to read tomorrow.  Indeed, how did we end up with anyone who's obligated to perform a mitzvah being able to fulfill someone else's mitzvah obligation (kind of)?  You don't have to be either a Kohen or a scholar to lead a service.

Breaking up was hard to do, but we finally went home, singing and happy.  I even brought home a free Shabbaton tee shirt that was a birthday present from Hadar--thanks!  Hope to see you at the next Hadar Shabbaton (or at Rabbi Kaunfer's Interpreting Tefillah class this Thursday).
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