Sunday, January 24, 2021

A classic case of "the tail wagging the dog," & other tales of virtual synagogue-hopping

Take one empty sanctuary that normally seats well over 500 people.  Add two clergypeople stationed at a considerable distance from one another and (don't!) mix.  Now you have two people who can take turns leading the prayers, sing harmony, and trade Torah talk with one another.

Wait two months or so, and add a third cleryperson who comes complete with a musical instrument.  Now there are three who can take turns leading prayers, there's three-part harmony, and one of the three is providing instrumental accompaniment.

Wait another few months, and add back the synagogue's musicians, safely distanced in another room but both audible (via wiring/cabling?) and visible (on their own camera).   On one hand, I'm certainly happy to see musicians employed.  On the other hand, I've always been under the impression that an accompanist is supposed to follow the singer, not the other way around; yet, in a classic case of "the tail wagging the dog," I got the distinct impression that the singers were singing at a slower pace to accommodate the accompanists.  Sorry, but I think Kabbalat Shabbat was livelier without the synagogue's musicians.  I still enjoy the occasional weekday morning minyan at that same synagogue, at least partly because that service is a cappella.

Then there was the service at which the rabbis spent so much time explaining the service that there wasn't enough time left for the actual service.  Said my husband, "No one can pray the Sh'ma that fast!"  At the other extreme, there was the clueless rabbi who was playing referee for three cantors but couldn't figure out how to connect the various solos of a "best-hits" version of Kabbalat Shabbat into a coherent service.  We left after I complained to my husband that I was there for a service, not a recital.  Or the cantor who ticked me off by nonchalantly announcing that they'd be cutting every part of the Yotzer Or b'rachah (blessing) that's specific to Shabbat (Sabbath)--what, no Kel Adon?!--and then added insult to injury by skipping the Musaf Amidah prayer.  We never prayed there on a Shabbat morning again.  (Of course, now we can't, since we and our cantor are now co-leading our own synagogue's Shabbat morning Zoom services.)

On the plus side, there's a wonderful independent minyan that we've now attended three times that meets monthly for a full Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv/Arvit (Evening Service)--the singing is delightful, and so is the conversation, and more singing, over dinner (shared on Zoom) and afterward.  Or the combo Kabbalat Shabbat service shared by a synagogue and a neighboring independent minyan in the synagogue's empty-except-for-the-leaders sanctuary--what a lively service it is as we watch the rabbi dance out the front door to welcome the Sabbath Bride at the end of L'cha Dodi!  We hope to get there in person someday, because that looks like a great service for folks who like to dance their way to G!d.  Or the synagogue where the rabbi who leads the service sounds like an independent-minyan leader, which they used to be--they've recruited congregants to sing harmony with them while safely socially-distanced in the sanctuary, to encourage the congregation, praying from home, to sing along on mute.  Or the synagogue whose singer/songwriter prayer leader makes no pretense of being a cantor or cantorial soloist, instead making folks feel as if they've been warmly welcomed into the singer's home for a kumsitz (sing-along) Kabbalat Shabbat.  Or the synagogue with plenty of singing and meaningful sermons, where we used to dance our way through Kabbalat Shabbat back in the good old days when we could go there in person.

Keep looking, because you never know where you'll find a service that works for you, be it locally, in another state, or in another country.  Zoom and live-streaming have opened up the world.


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