Monday, September 25, 2017

Rosh Hashana 5778

Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova to the greater gonging community.

The NF attended the Great Synagogue for mid-night mass Selichot. The Choir: Polished. The Chazzan: Professional. BottomLine: Selichot at the Great were kind of like a bowl of prunes on the 2nd day of Pesach. You've had worse, you've had better but it gets the job done. Seriously, both the choir and chazzan were adequate but yawn, really boring! The only highlight: A child soloist (name?) accompanying the chazzan and choir.

Rosh Hashana
First Day, Dr. Spiritual led a very good shacharit with accurate nusach using melodies that hadn't really been heard in our famous South Jerusalem Synagogue. Surprisingly, people sang along. Musaf was led by Velvet who did his usual Grade A job. On a personal level, the NF did not enjoy musaf - although Velvet's nusach is pretty perfect and he has a great voice, musaf was predictable and even  a bit boring.

The only thing that made RH Day 1 interesting is the fact that there was a brit --- the NF recently joined the shul's Gabbai Corps and  was therefore  included on all the email/whassup discussions between the family, the Rav, the gabbaim and the mohel as to when to do the brit. Apparently, there is an ancient Ashkenazi minhag to do the brit immediately before tekiot and the mohel is not supposed to wipe his mouth after doing metziza b'peh (if you don't know what that is - google it or better yet, don't) and then blow the shofar with the blood of the brit still on his lips so that the blood of brit Avraham mixes with the the shofar of Akeidat Yitzhak. Narsty! Anyway, the mohel was happy to do the brit before tekiot but let us know that the ancient minhag of mixing blood with the shofar  has gone the way of eating p'tcha and molesting little boys in the mikveh. Sure you can find those who still still do it but the mainstream has abandoned the practice.

Second Day, the NF led Shacharit and Dr. D led musaf. It all went perfectly fine although it can be said that chazzaning on the High Holy Days in the main minyan of  our famous South Jerusalem Synagogue is becoming more and more challenging. Most of the 'young' crowd (age 35 and younger) goes to the vatikin minyan leaving the main minyan heavy on the alta kocker side. While the room doesn't quite have the feel of an old age home (and most of the alta kockers don't have the old person smell --- yet), getting the room going can be a challenge!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Last year, one of the baalEi mussaf in the NF's famous South Jerusalem shul decided to focus on his own nostalgia rather than picking melodies that would engage and uplift the kahal. The NF, among others, were rather critical of this focus on nostalgia. Following an uproar from a number of members (NF not included!), the shul va'ad as well as our Internationally famous Rav decided to avoid such a repeat situation all baalei tefilla this year would have to first present game plans to a forum of the gabbaim, baalei tefilla and rabbanim for discussion and approval. Not such a terrible idea given that the shul is made up of many native Israelis as well as olim from 10+ countries (with a heavy concentration on the UK, US, France, Switzerland and Australia) --- there are many ideas of what constitutes good davening!

Both the NF (Baal Shacharit - RH 2) and Dr D (Baal Mussaf - RH 2) were simultaneously annoyed and amused by this development. But the RH meeting, which occurred 2 weeks ago, was a real hoot. The 4 RH baalei tefilla bounced ideas off one another and came up with one cohesive style for the chag. Meanwhile, the old Yekkish Don also attended --- for every major part of the RH davening he kept throwing out what he viewed as necessary/uplifting/engaging. As this included mostly Lewandowski (or similar) or Shabbat zemirot popular in the 1960s --- we politely declined. (For the record, some Lewandowski is a must such as Zacharti Lach even for our modern pallets). As almost all of us had sung with choirs (or had davened in very formal shuls), when the Naumborg Seu Shearim was recommended by the Yekkish Don, we all broke into spontaneous rendition ending with a lot of giggles.  Let's just say ---- it did not make the cut.

For the record, let me state that Nostalgia is not bad ---- It has it's time and place. Two days ago while looking for something to listen to on youtube (while working through a rather tricky private equity investment model), I hit upon a set of recordings by Shlomi Honig --- Shlomi recorded a number of old yekkish nusach pieces found in an Encyclopedia brought from pre-war Germany at his grandparent's house in Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim. I literally got goose bumps as I heard a number of melodies that I hadn't heard since my childhood:

Lecha dodi for the three weeks
Titbarach for Shabbat morning (exactly as I remembered the German baaeli tefilla doing every Shabbat morning)
Brach Dodi (Pesach)
Lmaan Amitach (Sukkot) (a variation of what I knew as a kid)

Definitely worth a listen --- although I wouldn't dare use any of these melodies in shul (other than maybe Titbarach)!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It's so sad!

In recent days the NF attended a family wedding here in the Holyland. The kallah, a cousin of Mrs. NF, was marrying a son of a rather well known Hesder (National Religious) Rosh Yeshiva. While the bride and groom were your typical, run of the mill, national religious couple,  the greater family of the groom (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings) was rather religiously intense/chardal.

One former co-worker used to refer to such people as Tzurels (צורל ) -
צדיק ורע לו
 or "Righteous and everything is terrible in life" meaning a pained or constipated look is always required.  I'm not a very judgmental person (ok, I am) so I just assumed the entire family needs a bit more fibre in its diet.

Anyway,  a yeshivish (dati leumi of course) looking family member was called up for the 7th Sheva Bracha ---- he proceeded to enunciate every word in a kvetchy, pained and sad voice all while shuckling like the (proverbial) Rebbe. The NF would like to assume that this heavily bearded, huge Kipa wearing dude (he was even wearing a suit!) was aware of the words he was saying:

" אשר ברא ששון ושמחה חתן וכלה, גילה רינה דיצה וחדוה אהבה ואחוה ושלום ורעות"

So in that phrase alone we have 10 words that reference sad concepts such as happiness, love and peace. Since when did religious intensity/seriousness get replaced with sorrow?

So this past Friday night, we make our way to shul and lo and behold Mr Spirituality is asked to lead Kabbalat Shabbat. Mr Spirituality spent 5+ years in a hesder yeshiva, holds a PhD in Jewish Thought and is currently a professor at a major Israeli University so I can only assume he understands basic Hebrew. Mr. Spirituality slowly made his way to the shulchan draped the talit over his head, shuckled a few hundred times (like the rebbe), closed his eyes like he had just seen his Grandma naked and said the joyful words 

 'לכו נרננה לה

....while sounding like his best friend had just died!

The NF sighed heavily, gonged to himself and started reviewing the parsha.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Baruch Dayan HaGong

Monday, October 31, 2016


Selichot: The NF attended the Great Synagogue with the two older little NFs. The choir was outstanding and the chazan (Tzvi Weiss) was good+.

My only criticisms:  1. A low baritone should not be singing the solo of מוחל עוונות and
                                 2. The chazan sang three of the batim from לשמוע אל הרינה to  a pretty well known melody used for birkat cohanim in the US. Too  mundane for me when there are so many better options.

Rosh Hashana Day 1:
"Velvet", an Israeli of French (Strasbourg) descent, davened mussaf and won a golden shtender --- it was smooth, not shleppy and he sang all the right melodies. People joined in and you could say that the entire experience was both uplifting and fun.

Rosh Hashana Day 2:
Swiss Army Thespian led mussaf. Grade: Gong x 26.
Many of us (Velvet, Dr. D, the NF) have the philosophy that the teffilot in a maoin minyan but especially those on the yamim noraim offer an opportunity to reconnect, to participate and to experience something רוחני. (That is why we don't eat nut (or beans, cauliflower, broccoli or cabbage) on Rosh Hashana as those foods offer an opportunity for something רוחני but in the bad physical sense.)

Although I never asked, I would guess that Swiss doesn't subscribe to this philosophy. Swiss stuck to his own nostalgia (of home and/or yeshiva) and severely alienated and pissed off the kahal. Of course, there is room to slip lit bits and pieces of family or hometown nusach into the davening but singing  בראש השנה יכתבון to a (boring) melody that only you know from home and then אין קצבה  to  a melody that maybe 5 know (instead of the Modzitz melody that everyone is expecting) is unforgivable. Singing Calebach's כבקרת רועה עדרו in a different part of  ונתנה תןקף confused the hell out of people. The grand finale of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for הללוליה was just irritating and people were not singing along. As our internationally famous Rav said afterward, "Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is very nice, but it (and other Hollywood melodies) has no place in my shul". Gong
Yom Kippur:
Kol Nidrei was fine.
The NF led Shacharit with  a bit of a raspy voice. the piyut אמרו לאלהים  is way too long, nothing fits and forces the chzzan to sing for 39 pages by himself. Other than that piyut, I got people singing.

Musaf: The old Yekkish Don led for the 40th year in a row using Nusach Frankfurth, 1938. It was all right but not terribly uplifting.

Mincha: The guy finished on time but for his victory kaddish he used a Dutch melody that only he knew.

Neila: the youngest NF was a rockstar, singing a mochel avonot solo and earning his payment of a crapload of Toblerone.

Sukkot: All was fine or at worst, parve.

Simchat Torah:
The night was fine and then we got to Shacharit: Martini led and all was fine until he got to hallel. Although hallel is a part of davening that people eagerly join in singing, Martini decided to sing a bunch of Australian melodies from the 1950s that only he knew. See Rosh Hashana Day 2. Gong.

Shabbat Breishit:
Kabbalat Shabbat was led my mini-martini (no relation to Martini), a trained chazzan. It was slow and boring but apparently, mini-martini wanted to show us what we missed when he was not asked to daven over r"h and y"k. When he got to השכיבנו, he sang the entire thing slowly to, ready,....מכניסי רחמים. People were clearly getting annoyed ---but was he done. Oh no! He finished off the bracha to the melody of והיא שעמדה (connection unknown). The NF wished everyone a חג שמח וכשר, gonged and then went home.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The difference between davening Shacharit and Mussaf on R"h and Y"k

After leading Musaf on 2nd Day R"h last year in the main minyan, the gabbaim have rotated the NF to Shacharit Y"k. While the NF doesn't really mind, other baalei tefilla really don't like doing a shacharit and much prefer mussaf. The NF, who led shacharit this past Shabbat-Rosh Chodesh, tried to explain why to one of the gabbaim ---

My logic, Shacharit on the yamim noraim is like אל אדון while mussaf is hallel. The gabbai didn't get it. So the NF continued --- at אל אדון  the shul is only 60% full, no one is awake yet and no is in the mood to sing so the chazzan has a lot of work to do. In contrast, by הלל, the shul is 95% full and as long as you sing something normal, it is very easy to get the crowd going.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A review of last Shabbat's mussaf

As a new co-worker "Making Tzaddikim Great Again" has recently discovered the now defunct blog, he has asked me why I don't get back to writing.

After this past Shabbat's mussaf, I could safely say that material had made itself available.

A bit of background: In our famous south Jerusalem synagogue, our internationally famous Rav has placed a number of baalei tefilla (if you want to call them that) on a black list for, well, sucking or just plain irritating the hell out of the kahal.  Only when the Rav is away, do the gabbaim ask the black-listed chazzanim to daven before the amud.  Appearing on the list:

  • Guiseppe the WOP - an Italian-born neighborhood guy with an operatic voice who likes to sing kedusha to Verdi
  • Cravat man - an older man with a rotten voice who likes to lead Kabbalat shabbat, nusach Carlebach, at the slowest possible speed all while wearing a cravat.
  • Pepe Le Pew - A Frenchman who enjoys schlepping out the davening every opportunity he gets. In truth, Pepe (named after the famous French cartoon skunk) doesn't have a bad voice....he just regularly starts in a  bad register so that he cracks as he tries to go high. Pepe has become quite predictable in what he will sing. Kedusha of  Shacharit is always this.  Anyway, this past year Pepe was asked to daven mincha on Yom Kippur and although he was allocated an a hour and 10 minutes, he decided he would show everyone that he deserved a mussaf. He sang everything he could. At the hour and half point, oblivious to the late hour and the growing annoyance of the kahal, he began to sing רצה - our famous Rav banged on the shtender and yelled nu....Pepe had been placed on the blacklist.
With out Rav away this past Shabbat, the gabbaim asked Pepe to daven mussaf. While baal shacharit  had inoffensive (if not boring) nusach, he took his time. Leining was long as well (Pinchas is a lengthy parsha). And then Pepe got up there. And he schlepped. But what made mussaf special was Pepe's predictable kedusha:
First, פרוק ית for נעריצך and קדוש (which he said 4 times), תנצל נפשי (or at lease part of it) for כבודו, then אודך (from Hallel!) for ממקומו and finally, כבקרת רועה עדרו  for שמע ישראל.  As usual, no one was singing along (other than Dr. D and the NF adding "gong" in the appropriate places). Some may disagree with me, but I am a firm believer that certain melodies (such as כבקרת רועה עדרו and other yamim noraim melodies) should be left for, well, the yamim noraim. Would you ever consider singing part of davening to chamol or kol nidrei  on a regular shabbat?