Worship at Biennial
by Cantor Alane Simons Katzew
The Biennial for the Union for Reform Judaism is akin to the High Holidays in your congregations. Every last detail, from the fine tuned preparation of the Rabbi and Cantor to the plan to move cars in and out of the Temple parking lot safely, must be attended to with diligence and concern for the underlying sacred responsibility of the tasks at hand. When it comes to planning for worship at the Biennial, there are lots of moving parts. And just imagine for a moment that when you arrive, there is not a sanctuary; there are four cinder brick walls, cement floors and a humongous empty room in a conference center. It is an awesome responsibility that we take on together for creating sacred space.
Worship planning begins by identifying the changes and trends happening within the Reform movement across North America. Most of us never venture very far from our own home synagogue, content to enjoy the comforts of home. We have our own minhagim (customs) and change – albeit constant – can be slow and challenging. Biennial then is your opportunity to experience new forms of worship with some of our most talented worship leaders.
Time and again our participants tell us that Shabbat at the Biennial is the highlight of their experience. This year you will be welcomed on Shabbat by Rabbi Micah Greenstein, Cantor Jennifer Frost, Rabbi Doug Sagal, Cantor Martha Novick, and Rabbi Chuck Kroloff who have been working diligently since last winter toward what we anticipate will be an awesome Shabbat experience. The melodies that will be sung during Kabbalat Shabbat and Shacharit are made available to each participant on CD/MP3 several weeks in advance of the Biennial. Our undercover agents report that many of you have been seen driving around town singing along both before and after the Biennial! The powerful instant community created by 4,500 people singing together is quite extraordinary. Ensure your spiritual high by taking the time to come prepared to participate enthusiastically. Even before the conference begins the Biennial Choir arrives on Tuesday, notes learned and ready to rehearse for Shabbat morning. Eleanor Epstein, conductor of Zemer Chai, DC area premier Jewish choir will be on hand to share her talents.
Our weekday evening worship services will aim to create an experiential, joyous, celebratory, participatory, and community building worship space. Musicians and Cantors from our 17 URJ Biennial host congregations will welcome us on Wednesday evening. And on Thursday evening a huge treat is in store when Kesher Shir (The Song Connection) a group of 10 contemporary singer/songwriters, rabbi and cantors) will share the fruits of their collaborations over the recent two years. Bring your voices and spirits and plan to rock out the room.
During the morning worship services we intend to provide more intimate opportunities to pray and learn from some of the most innovative worship leaders in the movement. A Storahtelling experience will happen on Thursday morning during the Torah reading. Participants will have an opportunity to pray with Mishkan T’filah Journal, participate in a special “Boomer” worship service highlighting the music of the baby boomer generation, while others may wish attend a “Visual” worship service and feel the freedom of hands-free worship. For some who are more physical, there will be both Yoga and Meditation worship experiences. And on Sunday morning some of our talented song leaders, young and young at heart, will send us on our way home with a Camp-style worship service in the round.
What makes worship at the Biennial unique? You do.Chazak/Chazak – be strengthened by joining together with other knowledgeable and engaged lay leaders for this five-day long celebration of the sacred!
Cantor Alane Simons Katzew is the URJ Worship and Music Specialist.