Saturday, January 23, 2010

A guest blog

The NF's  introduction to this week's guest blog written by The Big Gong:
Roughly three weeks ago, the gongoing gabbai showed tremendous levels of hishtadlus and put the yodeller up to daven musaf knowing full well that:
1. the yodeller would sing avinu avinu (and badly)
2. the yodeller would probably yodle kedusha like he did on y"k
3. The NF would be forced to bring out the gong and then write about it on the blog.

Actual results:
1. the yodeller did sing avinu avinu leading a number of people in the shul to vomit on their shoes.
2. Kedusha was indeed yodelled as it was on Y"k. At the time the Yodeller did this,  the shul was hosting a number of prospective gerim/chayilim from the Netiv program many enjoying thier first ever experience in a shul. Let's just say that the Yodeller succeeded in discouraging gerut in a way that would make Shulchan Aruch proud.
3. Unlike Y"k the NF --- standing next to the Big Gong ---- did not laugh/cry. I was shocked and stunned that someone could so horribly mangle the davening. The NF had absolutely no idea what I could say about this experience. So the NF asked the big Gong if he would like to guest blog.
4. It took much prodding to get the the Big Gong to finish his writing....but folks here it is....
I was honoured when the Freak asked if I'd write a guest piece for the now famous blog. This request came some weeks ago, and I now find myself sleepless and on an aeroplane, with nothing better to do, so here goes.

As one of our good books says, 'potchim bichvod ha'achsania'. I suppose that's the Freak.

Ashreinu that he's torn down barriers I never knew could be torn down. Never before did I realise that it could be entirely appropriate to wet oneself during a mussaf kedusha, and yet that's almost happened on several occasions.

At least in the shul I grew up in, and I don't suppose it's especially unusual amongst modern orthodox institutions in chu'l, things like the Tefila l'shalom ha'medina are said with more kavana by the tzibbur than Kol Nidrei or Unetana Tokef. And yet, just this last week, I found myself in pieces as a now timeless rendition of 'Avinu Avinu' was belted out by an otherwise passable baal tefilla. It was special not only because the Freak called it the night before, but because it was executed so badly the fellow lost his place half way through. Even our yodelling friend never got it that wrong.
This post would be incomplete without expressing my profound and personal thanks to the Freak for an act of sublime chesed recently performed for my benefit.
I had a bad cold (man flu - nearly fatal don't you know). I was asked to daven shacharit. I said yes. I don't claim or pretend to have a good voice. I can probably hold some tunes, and I'd like to think I know my limitations - ie I try to get it done quickly and passably. It got to Kel Adon. Normally I'd churn out some Carlebach something - perhaps to 'shomrim hafkid' or similar (don't they all sound the same?), but this time I went for my favourite - and if you've never heard Ehud Banai sing it, you must. Unfortunately with mutilated sinuses (sinii?), I started at a key so low, the only things capable of joining in were manatees and certain species of wild dogs. One stanza in, I'm enjoying myself, and with ears equally blocked, I was blissfully unaware of the pain being felt around the room as the low wave frequencies started interfering with the workings of people's bowels.
From the corner of my eye, I saw some sort of interchange between the Freak and the Gonging Gabbai, and before I knew it, the Freak was leading the rest of the piyut in a key several scales higher. The congregation and I were reunited.
Now you probably couldn't get away with doing that in many shuls, but it's certainly a measure of something good that it can happen in our shul.

Now for something a little more serious to think about: The Big Gong and his long suffering wife had the pleasure of lunch chez Mr + Mrs Freak. Lunch was excellent, and dessert was even better. After lunch, the Freak and I were killing time until the children got particularly out of hand and we could sneak off to mincha. A measure of the Freak's modernity is that he was washing up whilst Mrs Freak was lording it in the garden with Mrs Big Gong.

Of the many things we discussed, we talked about nusach. Now I may not be able warble away like Hershtik, Helfgott or Haschel (trying saying those three names when you've drunk too much Slivovitz), but I do have a good understanding of the structure of prayer, what we say when, and what tunes fit with the moment and are generally acceptable - at least according to the venerable 'Blue Book'.

This is simply because I grew up in a proper shul with a proper chazan, and with a congregation that actually got upset if the Pesach yigdal was sung instead of the Shavuot yigdal, or if the shaliach tzibbur fluffed a 'someich noflim' or an 'Avraham yagel' during shabbat mincha.

And you know what, as ridiculous as it may sound, my love for 'organised prayer', my spiritual connection to certain times of the year and certain tefillot, is so much stronger because of this experience during my formative years.

And then I think about our kids. They'll grow up davening in a shuk, where you can only buy fruit in sealed paper bags, and you won't know what you've bought until you open the bag. Sometimes the oranges will be nice, other times the apples won't be. Sometimes they'll get something out of davening, and other times they'll be wetting themselves during kedusha, when let's be honest, they really shouldn't.

So my view, for whatever it may be worth, is that the shul should have a defined nusach (and not just the nusach of the person at the amud), and possibly even some preferred tunes. I appreciate that it's difficult when the 'mob' tend to daven one nusach, and the vast majority of the quality baalei tefilla daven another, but you get my point.

One of the many things communities are built on are the songs we sing together, and I can't help but feel a tinge of sadness that my kids are unlikely to feel those same moments of connection when they hear a particular tune that I always will.

What do you think?


ADDeRabbi said...

From what I've seen of the Nativ program (see ), the yodeler might have done Klal Yisrael (in the broader sense) a favor.

yoni r . said...


Although he probably put it a different way (less emphasis on bodily functions, for instance), Rav Soloveitchik held the same way.