Praying To A Brand New Beat



My teenage son recently attended NFTY Convention in Los Angeles and one of his text messages home told us he wanted to re-string mom’s guitar. Looking at the video from the convention, it is evident why the music was so inspiring. Teens were playing guitar and the Dan Nichols concert looked more exciting than The Boss at Madison Square Garden!

This got me thinking about music and what an integral part it is of how we worship and involve our congregants at Temple B’nai Torah: we have a band and a youth, teen, and adult choirs; a congregant plays violin at select services; two of our teachers play guitar and help lead T’fillah. Our cantor is a gifted composer and guitarist who incorporates the music of Debbie Friedman, Josh Nelson, and other musicians into our services. Our youth group uses music for their Shabbat Alive service, and our bimah has been graced by the likes of Rick Recht, Jerome Edery, Sheba and the Jerusalem Trio, among others.

At typical Shabbat services, we have a balance of traditional as well as more innovative music without losing sight of why we are in the sanctuary. For me – and those of us who are vocally challenged – the use of music for prayers helps me feel that I am part of the service. Think of how many adults and children who cannot read music or carry a tune are still able to sing every song on their iPod! I am able to participate because I know the melodies; if I choose not to sing, the melodies are soothing and allow me to talk with God in my own way.

Music goes beyond prayer with secular and liturgical blended programs as part of our “Cantor’s Adventures in Music” series. Magavet, the Jewish a cappella group from Yale University recently made a second visit to our temple religious school. They worked with the children bringing a brand new beat to standard prayers and introducing new prayers. We are fortunate to have a supportive congregation, financially contributing to help defray the cost of our Artist-in-Residence programs. In a time when teens and even some adults get more excited about a one-hit wonder, our clergy and these special benefactors understand the need to find innovative ways to enhance worship and introduce Jewish music to a wider audience.  Once hooked, families attend our more traditional Shabbat services.

Through all our various ways of incorporating music into our temple culture the rituals committee, the clergy and our religious school are adamant that the important bows are reserved for the Aleinu. Please hold your applause in the sanctuary and let us all say “Yasher koach!”

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Howard Lev

About Howard Lev

Howard Lev is a long-standing member of Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh (Long Island), where he is the press representative and serves on the religious education and rituals committees. Married with two children, Howard is a theatre professional who has worked on a number of Broadway and off-Broadway shows including the national tour of The King & I. In addition to his contributions to URJ.org, Howard's writing has been published in Newsday. It is his unique perspective, as both an active congregant and a Reform Jew, that fuels his work, views, and commentaries.

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