December 2018


Reflecting on my 30+ years as a rabbi, the biggest change in synagogue life I have seen is the growing power of music to transform people’s Jewish lives. In the synagogue of my youth, we were taught that synagogue music was curtailed as an act of mourning for the Temple in Jerusalem. Psalm 150, which we read every Shabbat morning, lists all of the instruments that were part of Temple worship:

Praise God with the call of the shofar … the harp and the lyre … timbral and dance … flute and strings … clashing cymbals … rousing cymbals.

Only years later did I learn that even after the Romans burned the Temple, there were grand traditions of both singing and musical instruments associated with synagogue life. And only in recent years have I experienced the power of group singing to build ruach (spirit) and deepen connections among congregants and between individuals in the congregation and God.

For example, recently at our installation Shabbat, our guest scholar and prayer leader, Rabbi Naami Kelman of Jerusalem created two moments that illustrate the power of communal singing. She handed out the lyrics, in English and Hebrew, to Louis Armstrong’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Everyone knew the melody and our voices rang out throughout the sanctuary. A bit later in the service, Rabbi Kelman got out from behind the lectern to turn the congregation into a choir, joining in a two-part harmony for the singing of a verse from Psalms, Mah Gadlu/Halleluyah. People seemed to love the invitation to sing along and create a sacred moment.

In the Hassidic tradition, music is seen as a path to break down barriers and open the heart.

Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav wrote that, “melody and musical instruments have great power with which to draw a person to God. So, it is good to accustom yourself to enliven yourself frequently with some melody, to bring yourself to joy, and through this to cleave to God, especially on Sabbaths and holidays.”

In order to expose more of us at TBS to the power of music, we are inviting guest Cantors to join us for occasional services this winter. On December 15, we will welcome student Cantor Jenn Boyle to lead our service. Among Jenn’s many talents, she plays viola and sings Yiddish songs. She will lead us in song after services during kiddush luncheon. This is also a Torah Yoga day and we will build other programs into the morning.  Please join us.