Monday, December 29, 2008

The Children - they are our future....and GONG!

Let me begin with a post-Chanuka gong: The guy who davened musaf in our shul this past Shabbat decided to use the melody from Maoz Tzur for the last section of kedusha.

Ok, we got it already! We lit candles last night, we ate sufganiyot and livivot, we just leined out of three sifrei torah, we said full hallel on a rosh hodesh. Using the maoz tzur melody was completely uncalled for. Also, at least the way he sang it, it didn't fit. Jingle bells or silent night would have fit better.

Conclusion: Gong and no more sufganiyot for you.

I ended up leining on the fly at mincha --- my father had asked me to lein Vayigash about 20 years ago for my grandfather's yahrzeit. No one else had prepared the mincha lenining so I volunteered. One of the gabbaim knows about this blog and threathened to gong me if I messed up but luckily I didn't.

And now to our main topic: Children.

It is clear that the best way to get children active in a shul and train them to be baalei tephila is to get them involved from a young age. Growing up in chu"l that meant leading adon olam/yigdal from age 6 and graduating to anim zemirot by age 9 or 10. (some boys also sang with the shul choir picking up a bit of nusach along the way) Then nusach was taught to many guys as they learned to lein for their bar mitzvah. Then while in high school many guys attended a teen/youth minyan during high school where they could hone their davening skills. (Those guys with the better voices were also taught to be baalei tephila for the chagim/yamim noraim.) Many shuls had 1-2 youth shabatot a year where the teenagers in the shul would take over the main minyan to give them a taste of a minyan that didn't involve sniffing one anothers farts and trying to see if davening could be finished in under an hour and ten minutes (I used to go to the Bnai Yeshurun youth minyan --- I speak from experience). Also, these youth shabbatot afforded the teenagers in the community the opportunity to learn how to discuss stocks/sports and women in a spiritual setting.

In Israel things are a bit different of course. The 6-9 year-olds still do anim zemirot but they are also asked to lead Kabbalat Shabbat and Pesukei D'zimra. That is all well and good except these boys often have davening leading skills that are on par with a walrus. (This past week a kid actually did a very good job leading kabbalat shabbat although he did mess up the very first line --- לכו נרננה --- which earned him a gonging. Shabbat morning, a 10 year old led psukei dzimra and took 35 minutes --- that earned the gabbai a gonging!)

My problems with having kids lead kabbalat shabbat at such a young age are as follows:

1. Kabbalat Shabbat can be a really nice tephilla. But in many Israeli shuls it is always given to a kid to do which means week in and week out we are getting a rather uninspiring davening at best and alvin and the chipmunks doing lecha dodi at worst.

2. In classic Israeli fashion, the boys are never really taught how to daven --- they just kind of get up there and do it חפיפניק style. Depsite it being their mother tongue, dikduk is less than perfect and the meoldy/nusach used can be pretty crappy. Very rarely does their poor leading of kabbalat shabbat morph into good davening after their bar mitzvahs....


1. The pre-bar mitzvah boys should be taught how to daven before they get up there....

2. there should be some sort of schedule for how often a kid leads versus an adult....

Now I have to get back to shopping for that gong...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Gong

This past Friday night the dvar torah between Kabbalat Shabbat and Arvit really sucked. Not just regular sucked, it really sucked. It was a ramble, boring, included silly gematrias etc.

Currently the shul I belong to is homeless as we raise money for a building. Not only are we homeless but no public buildings exist in the neighborhood so every week we daven in a different family's home.

So anyway, the really sucky dvar torah reminded me that when we finally get our building up I want to donate a gong. (yeah, I know that use of a gong can pose some problems on Shabbat but we'll just have to get Machon Tzomet to develop something for us). Anyway, everytime some does something sucky, the gabbaim (or me for that matter) gan gong the guy down.

Over Shabbat, a fellow mitpallel and I discussed some really sucky examples (that actually happened):
1. Using "yellow submarine" for the end of ein kitzvah
2. Using boi kala (Achinoam Nini) for Omnem Ken on Yom Kippur eve
3. Using any choson's tisch tune for Selichot on Yom Kippur eve (I was in a shul where this happened and all I could think about was smorg food)
4. Using "It's raining its pouring" or "singing in the rain" for kedusha on Shmini Atzeret. While inya dyoma might be there, it's kitchy and inappropriate.

Finally, the gabbaim messed up this past shabbat and during birchat hachodesh they told the shatz that rosh chodesh was going to be on Shabbat (and forgetting that it will also be on Sunday).
I just have one thing to say:


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Parshat Vayeshev

Three items for this week...

First, some humour for those who told me that my blog is not funny enough. My first year living in NY, I rented an apartment on 105th and Broadway. More often than not, on Shabbat morning I ended up davening at a small schteibel on 103rd and West End (Minchat Chinuch-Baba"d). when Parshat Vayeshev rolled around some guys at the schteibel told a (most likely an apocryphal) story of a woman (according to the story a Barnard or JTS student) that would enjoy correcting the baal koreh from the ezrat nashim. This of course annoyed the men of the schteibel. When Parshat Vayeishev rolled around, the men got the baal koreh to intentionally misread Perek ל"ט, pasuk ז, --- here is the correct way to read it:

וַיְהִי, אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, וַתִּשָּׂא אֵשֶׁת-אֲדֹנָיו אֶת-עֵינֶיהָ, אֶל-יוֹסֵף; וַתֹּאמֶר, שִׁכְבָה עִמִּיוַיְהִי, אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה,
וַתִּשָּׂא אֵשֶׁת-אֲדֹנָיו אֶת-עֵינֶיהָ, אֶל-יוֹסֵף; וַתֹּאמֶר, שִׁכְבָה עִמִּי
The baal koreh read the last two words שִׁכְבָה עִמִּו -- our feminist baal koreh correcter than called out שִׁכְבָה עִמִּי. The baal koreh listened and repeated שִׁכְבָה עִמִּו. Again our feminist repeated שִׁכְבָה עִמִּי (sleep with me!!!!) calling out the phrase a number of times loudly until she realized that all the men in the schteibel were looking at her and smiling. Needless to say, the feminist never returned to the schteibel....
Nusach question: This week is mevarchim hachodesh for Tevet. So what is the correct/appropriate meoldy to use for יחדשיהו? Maoz Tzur seems out of place but then again, past of chanuka always falls out in Tevet. The Yekke shul in Ramot with the extensive yekke nusach project doesn't have a file up for Tevet. However, the Moreshet Ashkenaz website says יחדשיהו should be to one of the Chanuka melodies.
Lastly for you more modernish folk out there....what do you think of using a little Andrew Lloyd Weber in kedusha? Joseph fits perfectly for Shma in Kedusha of Mussaf (nusach Ashkenaz or Sephard)....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Venice, Italy and Nusach Carelbach --

So two weeks ago I ended up in Venice, Italy for Shabbat (long story and largely irrelevant to the Nusach blog). Naturally, I avoided davening with the Chabadnikim given the chance to daven with the Italians. The Italian minyan actually followed a hybrid nusach of 90% Spanish & Portuguese and 10% Minhag Roma...and it was gorgeous.

Now here's what I don't get. Go into any random Ashkenazi modern Orthodox shul where there is no chazzan and you will get baal habatim doing the davening/leining. Invariably, one of the following things happens:

1. The chazzan will not only be unable to carry a tune but will have no idea of what he's reading evidenced by the rediculously bad phrasing and dikduk.

2. The nusach will be butchered or at a minimum, the chazzan will lose the nusach for a few workds here or there (for instance, when switching to shabbat nusach at the end of kedusha of mincha)

3. The baal koreh will get most of the pasha right but a few taamim will be missed and the occaisonal mistake will be made resulting in the entire shul screaming out the correct pronounciation. It's one reason why many people go to shul...(Hey Yanki, want to go to shul with Tatty to play heckle and correct the baal koreh?)

In contrast, between Kabbalat Shabbat, Arvit, Zemirot (Pesukei d'Zimra), Shacharit, Kriat Hatorah, Musaf and Mincha not a single mistake was made. There is no formal chazzan in the shul ---Friday night an Israeli (temani) transplant to Venice was the Shat"z and there was literally not a note different than what is done on a Friday night at Shearith Israel in New York. More surprisingly, Shacharit was led by a kid who looked no older than 22 or 23, did not exactly look yeshivesh (more Italian, fresh out of an espresso bar in Milano look), a typical Venetian local yokal, and his chazzaning was perfect --- everything was said out loud and his dikduk, nusach and transitions between the nusachy and singy bits were 100% perfect.

This is not the first time I have been overwhelmed by how importnant attention to detail is in sephardi batei knesset. Why is it that Ashkenazi tephilot don't come out the same way? Is it somethig in how the kids are educated?

This past shabbat, back in Israel, the shatz in my local shul used Carlebach. Being tired after a long (boring) work week and an even longer Friday getting ready for Shabbat, I had little patience for awkward Kabbalat Shabbat dancing (c'mon, you know what I'm talkign about) and 25 minutes of ny ny ny ny ny....Luckily, my 2-year old, who had spent all of Kabbalat Shabbat next to me happily munching on a candy had had enough and after Lechad Dodi insisted we go home. I was happy to oblige. On the way home it dawned on me why Sephardi (and paticularly Western Sephardi) and Yekke batei knesset have such a different character than the run of the mill Ashkenazi batei knesset and especially those that allow nusach Carlebach now and again:

It's all about philosophy of prayer --- and how we view our tephillot (avodah shebalev) as a replacement for the avodah in the mikdash.

If we are focused on creating a tekes or formal ceremony to take the place of a very formalized (and I imagine a largely unemotional avoda that was conducted in the mikdash) we will try to develop a tephilla that is focused on perfection --- nothing can be off. Everything like the ancient avoda istelf must be done in a formalized manner with pomp and circumstance (l'chavod u'litipharet?) . Of course, as part of this formalized process, we need to speak out to God.
The idea of ny ny nying and dancing in shul seems very out of place according to this philosophy.

On the other hand if we are to focus on reaching out to God via a spiritual experience (focusing on the shebalev part of avodah shebalev) than we don't have to worry about little mistakes in our nusach or for that matter, our didkduk --- the important thing is too get the vibe going....Clearly, chassidut has a strong influence on the latter school of thought.

There is no right or wrong here...just different approaches. Personally, I grew up in that more formal environment and therefore, I find the ny ny nying and dancing in shul thing very foreign and even more so because it is often accompanied by poor nusach/dikduk. However, I do love beautiful singing (both Ashkenazi and Sephardi) ...and I am quick to get a spiritual high from nicely sung davening (with multi part harmony of course) and this helps me to focus my tephillot to the Almighty.

Enough shtuyot...back to work.
Shabbat Shalom

Nusach Man

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Introducing myself to the blogosphere

Where do I begin?
A bit of background - I am an American Oleh living in the merkaz area...
I grew up in a small midwestern town with a small Jewish Community and despite the fact that my family is technically Sephardi, we went to a Breuer's Satellite Shul. I guess that's where I picked up a taste for proper nusach...

When I talk about nusach I mean three things:
1. Getting phrasing and dikduk right
2. Singing the traditional nusach in the appropriate places (for example, not using Avot from Musaf on Shabbat for Mincha)
3. Picking appropriate melodies for non-nusachy sections of the tephilla.

Now I might be a nusach freak but I do take it with a grain of salt --- I recognize that a) God might not be listening anyway and if He is he'll understand our poor phrasing/dikduk anyway b) the nusach we have - while certainly incorporating very old elements - is largely modern and c) picking of melodies is a subjective and aesthetic issue.

Anyway, I'll be writing my random thoughts on nusach...