Monday, September 28, 2009

A Yom Kippur of tears..., the NF has not gone soft --- I laughed so hard during mincha I started crying....more on that later.

Hope everyone had an easy fast.
First things first, the NF would like to thank Yosef Shmuel and Big M Halevi for all their help --- as I mentioned in an earlier post the NF developed a bad case of laryngitis over R"h -- -as the NF was scheduled to lead Kol Nidrei, you can say I was a bit stressed as the NF's voice remained rather grainy and low all week. Motza"sh, Big M and Yosef Shmuel came over to the NF's house and went over the davening (to know where to provide support) and even added some nice three part harmonies for a few bits. Kol Nidrei went off without a hitch --- a big success was Big M's suggestion of singing a three part harmony for V'nislach (after kol nidrei) to the melody of Bshem Hashem (Carlebach). It was a huge hit and the kahal started singing along.
Melody selection:
Yaaleh -- Vlirushalim ircha
Slach nach - Lmaan achai vrai
Omnom Ken - Ein Aroch
Ki Hinei - the annoying Israeli melody.

We also sang two smashing renditions of mochel avonot.

The big Gong told the NF that he was trying to look for something to gong and couldn't find anthing. Dr. D, physician, new to the neighborhood and fresh off the boat from London, half gonged the NF because the NF repeated words in Haneshama Lach. Hey Dr. D --- wait 'til your debut here in the 'hood...

J, always being sensitive to women's needs suggested that the NF and the rest of the chevra go to daven at a vatikin minyan in the neighbordhood so that a) we could provide suitable support for our wives or b) allow our wives to go to shul without any children bothering them. The vatikin minyan was pretty good (4:45 AM --- home by 9:45 AM) alhtough baal musaf didn;t have much of a voice and his melody selection was horrendous. Adding insult to injury was that he didn't know the nusach for the avoda --- then someone told a really rude joke and the avoda was finished from my perspective...but at least I didn't cry...

The NF played with his kids from 10:00 until 3:30 and then headed back to shul....the guy who davened mincha used a weird melody for kedusha that involved loud bellowing (sort of sfardi yodeling) and even when he kept flying waaaaaaaaaay off key he kept going. The NF looked at one guy who then looked at another guy, who looked at J who looked to the gonging gabbai who looked to the big Gong and then we all started laughing and then we couldn't stop....literally, tears were pouring down our cheeks and the NF was biting his lip hard to try to stop. It was the most extreme example of KTC I have ever heard. Awooooooooooooooooooooo! Super Double Gong with a "give me the finger" on top.

Yosef Shmuel davened Neila beautifully --- as always it was the perfect way to finish yom kippur.

Monday, September 21, 2009


The NF hopes that where ever you were over R"h, very few gongs were given out.

In the minyan where the NF davened, with only one exception the davening was excellent. A special shkoyach (BTW, the NF is thinking that we need to develop an award for fine davening that will be the opposite of the gong) to "J" whose musaf on the second day was beyond superb.

The only real downer was kabbalat shabbat/Aarvit the first night. The NF is not quite sure why the gabbaim asked the said "baal habus" to daven but it was horrible. The NF's shul is nusach achid which means that the chazzan gets to decide if the davening will be sfard, ashkenaz, karraite, tzeduki etc....this particular guy followed nusach sfard which meant that we sang the first and last two stanzas of lecha dodi...In Yamim Noraim davening there are a number of wondeful "marches" that can be used for piyutim such a melech elyon, imru leylokim. These marches all fit to lecha dodi. Alternativly, the Carlebach vyetayu (Lshana haba) fits very nicely to lecha dodi. So this guy decides to use the melody from Shanah Halcha, Shanah baah , a secular pre-school song. Adding insult to injury was the fact that it didn't fit. Gong

There was then a short dvar torah until tzeit hakochavim....Then the baal habus starts the ayy yay yays leading in to Borchu while sauntering up to the amud. Anyone who has ever davened maariv on R"h or Y"k knows you need to be very careful when selectign the pitch because of the wide range of notes in the melody. This guy paid no attention and started very high....when he realized he couldn't hit the high notes in the melody he simply changed the nusach....Gong.

People literally walked out of shul shaing their heads. the NF is not very chassidish but there is a chassidish concept that the first night of RH is "coronation night". One would think that you would try to have something regal to set the tone for the evening and start the chagim off right...what we experienced was more like a court jester trying to do stand up bs for the emperor.

The second night, "SE", slowly recovering from very serious health problems davened maariv. The chevra in our shul were so happy to see "SE" in shul AND leading davening that "SE" could have led maariv to the melody of "when I think of you I touch myself" and we would have given him a heart shkoyach. In fact "SE" davened beautifully using the correct nusach. Sh'tizkeh lshanim rabot tovot u'briot!

The NF leined first day....originally the NF was supposed to daven shacharit second day but about 4 weeks ago, Shloime Baruch asked to be added to the rota --- to make room, the NF offered not to daven. Shloime davened really nicely....hashgacha pratit becasue the NF developed a throat cold on 1st day afternoon and now has a very mild case of laryngitis....The NF is supposed to lead kol nidrei next week....we'll have to see how the rest of the week goes.

Of final note, Cantor Sherwood Goffin of the Belz school of music and of Wink and Stare synagogue published two interesting articles on R"h/Y"k nusach and the use of niggunim in davening....the articles can be found here and here.

Gmar Chatima Tovah -

the NF

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


While still a bachelor in the late 1990s, I lived on the UWS in Manhattan. My second year there, I went to the first Selichot at OZ, that bastion of Modern Orthodox spirituality. During Shma Kolenu, a few guys started spreading the message that after selichot a bunch of people would be meeting up at some bar in the 90s. Needless to say, the NF did not go. However, a good friend of my flatmate did go and gave us an update the following day. About 50 Ortho singles piled into this bar, started having drinks and eventually started booging on the dance floor. While dancing with a few UWS maidelach, one guy yelled out:

"This is the best Selichot I have ever been to!"

For the past few years, the NF and a good friend have gone to hear a chazzan and choir on the first night of selichot. More on why a bit later...

So most years we have tried to hear Chaim Lazer Hershtik accompanied by his son's awesome choir. It's sort of chazzanut-light and the choir was trully outstanding.

Unforetunetly, Chaim Lazer was not leading selichot anywhere this year so my buddy and I went to hear Shlomo Glick accompanied by the Yuval choir. All in all they were excellent.


1. The pre-selichot kaddish --- one of the best renditions I have ever heard. The interplay between chazzan and choir was outstanding, especially from yitbarach where the entire arrangement sounded like polyphany.

2. "צדק ומשפט" right before Haneshama Lach

3. Lshmoa El HaRina (Rosenblatt)

4. Machnisei Rachamim

Things the NF could have done with out

1. The guys behind me talking through out. If you show up to this kind of selichot, you know what you are getting yourself into. Now shut up so you don't disturbe the others around you.

2. The fact that Shlomo mixed and matched three different accents --- sometimes in the same section of selichot. (Ex: Ashrai yoshrai vesecha, followed by Potayach et yadecha, followed by meata vad oylam...). Pick a style and go with it. Shlomo clearly doesn't read NF.

3. Singing Haneshama Lach to the Carlebach melody. Don't get me wrong, it is a great melody which the NF has used and will be using again this year in Kol Nidrei selichot. But in a chazzanut context it doesn't work and it seems like the chazzan is just pimping to the kahal something they will recognize. Hello Mr. Chazan!, you have 1000 people who eagerly came to hear your nusach...

4. A very shleppy Anneinu at the end of selichot.

5. Having a professional chazzan mess up the victory kaddish and say l'ayla l'ayla. Super huge Gong.

The NF wonders why the chazzanim and accompanying choirs don't sing the English mochel avonot...

All in all, an excellent davening --- I'd go back and here Shlomo daven again next year.

Now a word on why I do go hear a chazan and choir for the first night and why the NF has such trouble with selichot after that.

Certain aspects of the liturgy (Ashkenazi & Sephardi) are sometimes hard to digest. The NF has particular trouble with Hoshanot, Kinot and Selichot. See the common denominator? Poems written in arachaic Hebrew meant to elicit a certain feeling from the reader (particularly Kinot and Selichot). Kinot are only said for a period of a few hours on Tisha B'av morning and in many Mod Ortho communities, rather than mumbling their way through them, explainations for the various kinot are given. When he still lived in NY, The NF used to go to S&P (where all the kinot are sung) and listen to the beautiful melodies (all rather somber) while reading a jewish history book --- listening to kinot was really a good way to get a feeling for what the day is all about. Also the kiddush at the end of Shacharit was really good (Spanish ham and port). In short, treating kinot as an experience gave the liturgy AND the day meaning.

Going to a big Motzash selichot is an experience --- you hear that first line of the pre-Musaf kaddish and you really feel R"h is coming. And just like when you leave any good concert, you feel uplifted....

Unfortunetly, selichot are said for a lot longer than just one day...It appears to me that the piyutim found in selichot were developed to create a context to say the 13 midot and viduy. (A fantastic explaination of the 13 midot's improtance and why we say them can be found here.) That's all good and well except understanding those piytim is nearly impossible especially while mumbling them at 5:00 AM or whenever you get to say selichot. The NF simply doesn't get how people get up every morning to go and mumble something they don't understand....Does the selichot sayer:

  • feel that mumbling is a good kapara for all those nasty things he did over the course of the year? (BTW, I know what you did with that sheep --- yeah, I'm talking to you --- and although I try not to judge, you should be ashamed of yourself)
  • believe he is now a better person by mumbling?

Don't get me wrong, the NF doesn't mean to put down daily selichot sayers --- the NF just doesn't get it --- The NF actually admirers people that go to selichot and feel they get something out of it...

Before you get to excited about that last statement the readers should know that the NF is also impressed by people that:

  • rock back and forth during seudah shlishit (if and when singing), eyes shut tight with a constipated look on their faces. (When the NF does this, he feels dizzy, feels he wants to let off some post-cholent steam and with eyes shut tight starts thinking about really awful dirty jokes to tell after Maariv)
  • can teach their 3-5 old sons to pee IN the toilet! (The NF has been unable to teach little-NF --- age 5 --- that peeing is not like horseshoes and handgrenades --- almost does not count)
  • can play the bagpipes

The NF would like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone out there who he may have offended by way of the blog at some point over the year. If the NF has not offended you then he'll have to try harder next year.

Ktiva V'chatima Tovah

the NF

Monday, September 14, 2009

A technical question

The NF has recieved a technical question from a reader:

What is the correct nusach for mincha on Rosh Hashana?

This is indeed an interesting question. Being that the NF wouldn't want to mislead the readers of the blog given that different nusach traditions have been transmitted over the years, the NF spoke to two good friends (one South African and one English) -- both well trained baalei tefilla --- to see what they were taught.

The NF was taught that ashrei, uva ltzition and kaddish are said in the Shabbat mincha nusach, the beginning of chazarat hashatz is said in weekday nusach (or shabbat mincha if that is your minhag) and then you switch over to R"h nusach at Yimloch. I was taught NOT to sing the end of avinu malkeinu nor to do the victory kaddish at the end for the simple reason that it is pas nicht. My two buddies confirmed that they were taught the same.

The NF has noticed in recent years that the guy who davens mincha on R"h is often a wannabe chazzan. When he gets up there to daven mincha, it is his chance to show the gabbaim that they made a serious mistake in not asking him to daven musaf on R"h/Y"k and for that matter, naming him Chazzan for life. So the guy - often tone deaf and with no sense of nusach --- will start ashrei as if he is leading selichot at the great synagogue, will look confused during uva lztion, and will then give a, ahem, most interestign rendition of the pre-musaf kaddish.

A full dose of avot is then given (usually with a few ay yay yay yays leading into "Baruch"), followed by a full choral mekhalkel chaim b-hesed. All of this is down in an off-key manner as was down in the Beit Hamikdash. The guy is usually stuck for kedusha so he either goes to shabbat or weekday nusach although I heard one guy try to use the musaf kedusha nusach (kevodo, ahhh, ahhhhh etc) --- it doesn't work. It goes without saying that an off-key version of the victory kaddish is performed at the end of mincha. I don't want to say that this is incorrect nusach --maybe this is a valid minhag in some cruel horrible parallel universe--- it just doesn't seem to fit and hearing this sort of mincha makes the NF cringe.

More than anythign else, the victory kaddish at the end of mincha seems really wrong. It's sort of like putting on a full chef's outfit to make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. It's sort of like expecting rave reviews from the wife on a gourmet supper after making an omelot (especially without any special additions such as onions, mushrooms etc). It's sort of like coming out of the dugout for an encore/standing ovation after hitting a sacrifice fly to left field to move the runner from 1st to 2nd. It's sort of like getting invited in for a night cap at the end of a mediocre first date (in the goyish world of course, lhavdil) -- not that the NF would know from such things. The NF never had mediocre first dates. :) Gong!

The NF will be posting later on his Motzash Selichot experience of hearing Chazan Shlomo Glick and the Yuval choir at Dovev Oz in Ramat Gan and why the NF has trouble going to selichot after the first night.