Sunday, October 23, 2011

Simchat Torah & Shabbat Bereishit

Simchat Torah
The NF doesn't like Simchat Torah very much as I've written in past years. My solution has always been to attend a hashkama minyan at 6:00 AM and be done by 8:30. But alas, the NF is the gabbai (along with J and YS) of the main minyan in the NF's local yokel shul. Going to hashkama was therefore not an option.

It wasn't as bad as a I was expecting. Having said that, it was still painful.

For our international readers, don't forget that in Israel Simchat Torah is observed on Shmini Atzeret. That means that in addition to al lthe simchat torah crap (hakafot, aliyot, chatanim, kiddush) there is also yizkor and geshem. The NF and J approached both Mendy and Big M Halevi about leading Geshem. Both refused. What the hell we thought, let's ask Ben Bollocks.

So Ben Bollocks gets up there to lead Geshem....right after putting back the sifrei torah, he asks me if he is supposed to say  "hineni". And then I knew we were in for it.

1. He started the kaddish that is used before Musaf on the yamim noraim. Gong. Only in the second half of kaddish did he correct his mistake and switch to Geshem.
2. For Avot, he used the melody for Neilah. Gong. This was a first....I have heard chazzanim use Geshem for Neilah but never Neilah for Geshem.
3. The piyut for Geshem itself was actaully done in a satisfactory manner.


Typically, The NF gets annoyed when people do shtuyot on Simchat Torah....but the NF, after working like a dog the last month (along with J and YS) hit the point of not caring sometime during the first day of Sukkot....so The NF enjoyed watching the following:

1. The Gonging Gabbai pour a cup of water on Ben Bollocks when he said Mashiv Haruach Umorid Hageshem. Not original but funny enough.
2. After Kedusha, YS belted out yimloch to the melody used on Rh and YK...Ben Bollocks didn't stand a chance and couldn't make the switch to Shlosh Regalim nusach.
3. In the middle of chazarat Hashatz we simply took away the shtender (as we would for aleinu on RH and YK) leaving Ben Bollocks grasping for his machzor....
4. Tekiah was randomly called out....

Ben Bollocks was a good sport through all of this....


Shabbat Bereishit

The NF, YS, The Big Gong and the Gonging Gabbai wewre invited to a bar mitzvah held in KY/S&M. It was probably the worst davening experience I have had  ince the last time I went to a bar mitzvah at KY/S&M. This was no fault of the bar mizvah boy who read the parsha adequatly and for the most part accurately. No. What made the davening so special were the imported baalei tefilla the family of the bar mitzvah brought to lead services.

The guy who led shacharit did so in a manner that was completely inoffensive. It was also completing boring, uninspiring and as dry as a camel turd in the middle of the Sahara. The chazzan sang absolutley nothing. It was just as well I guess because the guy who davened musaf did sing and the NF wished he hadn't.  It was embarresingly painful to hear a guy sing melodies that didn't fit the words (Birchat hachodesh), in bad keys (kedusha) and try to sing melodies he didn't know ("Tanya" at the end of kedusha).

Some conclusions:
1. Just because it's your simcha doesn't mean that Uncle Harold - the one with the nasty toupe who likes to play "pull my finger"with your children --- has to daven musaf.
2. If you are going to daven, know your crowd --- if you are in a main minyan with 400 people you are expected to sing a little.
3. Know your limitations --- if you aren't 100% sure how a melody fits don't use it. All the more so if you don't know the melody.
4. Americans for the most part do not know how to sing. KY/S&M is by and large a shul attended by Americans....I have never been in a main minyan with 400+ people where the singing sounded so bad. No one seemed to know how to harmonize.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A guest post from Dr. D, Physician - Entitled: Be Careful What you Wish For

Dr D, having enjoyed an uplifting Yom Kippur (in contrast to the NF it has to be said), looked forward to his return to one of Tel Aviv's fine hotel establishments to enjoy some well deserved R+R after the Yamim Noraim. Apart from the breakfasts, the main highlight is the excrutiating davening experience that only hotels can provide - a subject which readers of NF are only too familiar.

Dr D was expecting the same chazan as previous years - a chazan who always brings his underage kids along to 'harmonise' with him. There are pigeons outside my window who chirp in harmony better than this chazan and his kids....In addition, Dr D fondly recalled the man who led Pesukei DeZimra, putting many of the paragraphs to music....The gong had been well and truly bashed to death.

It was therefore mildly disappointing to see that the chazan had been replaced by another chazan. No kids either, and therefore - or so Dr D thought - no opportunity to write for the NF. Wrong.

It all started with Maariv on first evening. One of the slowest davenings any human has ever had to sit through. It became clear to Dr D that this chazan was clearly being paid by the minute. On the plus side, Dr D did enjoy catching up with his latest book....

The next morning brought on the same pesukei dezimra man. It looked very very bad when he stared singing 'she'yibaneh beit hamikdash' over and over again at the end of the Rabbi Yishmael paragraph. I mean, no-one ever says that bit, and here is a 'sheliach tzibbur' singing it!! Gong.

Fortunately, he restricted himself to mostly that. The Baal Shacharit was disappointingly average. The Chazan stood up for mussaf at which point Dr D was pulled aside and was asked to join a breakaway minyan. Of 100 men, over 50 joined this minyan.

Shabbat followed. Dr D was delighted to see that the famous YS was staying in the hotel. YS can verify everything written.

Chazan stood up for Kabbalat Shabbat. He sang everything - bad tunes. Gong. In addition, as no-one could be bothered to join in he turned to the Kahal like a conductor waving his arms in a failed attempt to get people to join in. Bad sign - gong. Dr D pointedly did not join in. If you have to conduct to get the Kahal to join in your tune, the tune sucks. Tough. However, the creme de la creme was his tune to the Kaddish before the Amidah. Sang to Yerushalayim shel Zahav. Double gong.

Unfortunately, he had Shacharit the next day. Dr D then noticed that the Chazan was being encouraged by the Pesukei dezimra man (herein known as PK man) who sat next to the Bimmah. Annoyingly, PK man clapped along with every tune. Dr D is very wary of the man who claps in shul. In his experience, the man who claps is signifying that he is considerably richer and more imprtant than everyone else and can do what he wants. After 2 days, PK man was irritating Dr D - too much clapping like he owned the flipping hotel.

He did own the hotel....

The Chazan then decided to end one of his kaddishes with an Amen as if it was a tekia gedolah. Gong. Seriously, at least half a minute. By the time Kohelet finished, the Kahal was exhausted and once more a breakaway minyan formed for YS to do a wonderful and quick mussaf.

The gong had been pulverised -smashed to the ground, trodden on and jumped on, buried half a mile underground.

Dr D has come to a conclusion when it comes to hotel minyanim and the activists in them - that Beit Shammai had it right all along ---- Don't suffer fools gladly. 



Moadim Lesimcha

______________________________________

--- Thank you Dr. D.
To the gonging community --- we hope to have another guest post from the Big Gong  ----critiquing the NF's Rosh hashana musaf and describing another bad nusach experience he had while attending KY/S&M this past shabbat ---- in the coming days.

Monday, October 10, 2011

YK

As ADDERabbi wrote in this blogpost last year,
 "why did I get the feeling that it wasn’t anything special this year?"
this is exactly how the NF felt this year.

Maybe it was the fact that I'm a gabbai and was therefore busy (along with J, Gonging Gabbai and YS) in making sure everyone had a seat and everything was running smoothly. Or maybe I just have too high expectations....

Kol Nidrei was led by a guy who I would call a rising star in the world of Jewish Music....I don't own any of his CDs and I won't --- not because he doesn't have a beautiful voice....I just don't like the frummy music style of Mordechai Ben David, Avraham Fried etc.

So anyway, Rising Star's voice is magnificant and he did a very nice job leading Kol Nidrei, Maariv and Selichot. But the NF came out of it very uninspired. I found the experience rather parve other than when he used Carelbach's Ana Hashem for yaaleh tachanunenu with accompanying harmony from J and Dr. D, physician.

Shacharit was led by a local yokel with very good nusach and pretty good melody selection. The only problem: he was wearing tighty whities (as he always does) that were about 23 sizes too small. So every song was begin at a pitch that was way too high to sing along and sounded rather screechy. So no inspiration there. The NF got a headache.

Big M Halevi led a highly commendable musaf and introduced some really innovatove melodies but with a heachache and the fact that the Avodah doesn't really inspire me with any spirtual thoughts, I came up empty on this one too. At least the gonging gabbai's counting abilities during "achat, achat v' achat etc." were somewhat entertaining.

mincha was mincha. Enough said. Dr. Blue finished exactly on time.

Neilah was certainly an improvement. YS did his usual excellent job --- the NF's lack of inspiration was ceratinly not his fault. There was some good singing, nice harmonies....but....as the Cubs Fans always say:
"There's always next year"

Alas, no Golden Schtenders were given out...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gmar chatima tovah

...after hitting the mikveh at 6:00 AM (contact Big Yoni Posselizer for mikveh jokes)  followed by Shacharit at KY/S&M, the NF sat down to do his daily writing....by chance, today I finished Parshat Metzora and started Acharei Mot....tomorrow's leining.

Gmar Chatima Tovah

-- The NF

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

getting ready for YK

2 links everyone should listen to before Yom Kippur:



Monday, October 3, 2011

Rosh Hashana 5772

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

First things first, the NF skipped out on his annual selichot night hot date with the LA. Srulik Hershtik's choir had not been engaged to accompany any chazzan  and past experience taught me hearing a chazzan with a random choir is about as spiritually uplifting as being on the recieving end of a high colonic (or giving end for that matter).

So the NF attended his local yokel shul where a very nice kumzitz was held in the 45 minutes leading up to Selichot. Selichot were led by the same guy who led last year's neilah using the nusach from Geshem. Said Selichot leader proceeded to do an inoffensive job until he began singing everything to the Yonatan Razel melody for והיא שעמדה. The Big Gong started giving out matzah to  the mitpallelim who then complained of bloating and constipation. The connection between והיא שעמדה (The Abeshter saving us from our enemies) and Selichot (repenting for being very naughty) is not very clear to me.

Four short days later and Rosh Hashana was upon us. Shacharit first day was led by a guy with inoffensive nusach until he got to the piyutim in חזרת הש"ץ. He then preceded to sing אתה הוא אלוקינו to the melody of  אלי אלי, the Holocaust poem by Chana Senesh. I am assuming he got confused between  יום הזיכרון and יום השואה. Either way, he succeeded in alienating the kahal. Just when the NF thought it couldn't get any worse, the Uzbekistani Bikini team showed up he sang Sim Shalom to this melody, repeating the opening line about 300 times and causing most of the mitpallelim to join Hamas. Chazzan's Grade: C
"J" led an excellent musaf.

2nd Day, the Big Gong led a perfect psukei dezimra. Nicely done Big Gong. All psukei dezimra chazzanim in the neighborhood now use the Big Gong's perfromance as a benchmark for their own.
"YS" led what was probably the best R"H Shacharit I've ever heard. YS picked excellent melodies and came up with some excellent innovations such as sing all the Kadosh's leading up to Melech Elyon to this melody. YS, you have won a golden shtender.
The NF led musaf. This was a first for the NF after having led Shacharit on Rosh Hashana about 20 times going back to when I was in University.  All in all it went well although it was far from perfect --- the NF has invited the Big Gong to write up his critique and present it here.

In the meantime, here is what the NF did:

Hineni - The Gush nusach (Rami Yanai) with three part harmony from J and YS at the end...
Unetaneh Tokef - Heinevitz for the beginning, Kibbutz for the middle and Carlebach at the end. Brosh Hashana using this and then Henivitz for all the מיs and of course, Modzitz for אין קצבה.
For Vchol Maminim - this and this (more on that later)
Pipiot - this and Ana Hashem by Carelbach
Seu Shearim - this wedding processional
Zacharit Lach - Lewandowski (with multi part harmony from J, YS, Yankel, Ben Bolloks, and the Gonging Gabbai
Halleluya - Carlebach's shomrim
Hashem Tzvaot Yaken Aleihem, ken Tagen - the high part from והיא שעמדה (Here, the meaning of the phrase matches the words of the song)
Hayom Teamtzanu - Tehei Hashaa Hazot.
Hayom Harat Olam - Avinu Malkeinu
Areshet - This melody


Some conslusions:
1. If it aint broke don't fix it. The NF switched the melody in vchol Maaminim half way through...a mistake....the kahal really got into the first melody and didn't take to the second as well.
2. You often have to  sacrifice the traditional melody you love/you grew up with if you want to the have the crowd on your side. J used the Gushi hoyom teamzanu and Hayom Harat olam and both fell a bit flat because people either don't know them or associate them with anything special....using more traditional melodies on the 2nd day, people seemed to be singing more.
3. In a participatory minyan, the chazzan is as good as the guys supporting him. Without J, YS, the Gonging Gabbai and Yankel, singing at the top of their lungs I would have been dead in the water....As it was, I was hoarse all Friday afternoon. thanks guys!

Happily, A very tired NF is not leading anything on Yom Kippur....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wrong!

The Gilded Gabbai, in his comments to the Big Gong's guest post, writes on "Puff, the past-his prime chazzan", who mis-applied the victory kaddish":

"Said chazan contends that Yossele Rosenblatt composed the "victory Kaddish" for use on regular Shabbatot."

a few comments:
1. Although the NF and his contemporaries refer to the said kaddish as "the victory kaddish", in fact, in liturgical writings, it is usually referred to as "the chassidic kaddish".
2. It was not composed by Yossele Rosenblatt but rather by Yankele Gottleib (1852– 1900), better known as Yankel der Heisereicher (Yankel the Horse Runner)  ---- you really have to wonder about that name.
3. Of the internet sources I have found, not one says that the melody was composed for weekly Shabbat use.
4. According to this blog, the melody was composed for the kaddish titkabel at the end of neilah but its use has now spread to all kaddishim titkabel during the yamim noraim.


  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A guest post from the Big Gong

I am pleased once again to present a guest post by the esteemed Big Gong Shlit"a.

________________
(NF note:  The shul for which the NF is currently a gabbai and the Big Gong,  a member in good standing (an upstanding member?) is currently praying in a non-air-conditioned atrium in the local public religious  elementry school. In the winter months, the davening is quite pleasant but in the summer the heat/humidity in the room makes it ideal for steaming vegetables. Our kehilla has raised considerable funds and has commenced construction on our shul building ---due to be finished in 2012. Another kehilla, sometimes known in the neighborhood as KY/S&M, completed their shul building earlier this year. It is in that shul building that the Big Gong attended services this past week)


This past Shabbat I had the pleasure of davening in the “Gilded Landsmanschaft” across the street from the shul/school/sauna I normally frequent. It’s funny because I always thought a “Gilded Landsmanschaft” was a handheld, battery operated device, available for purchase in specialty stores, or via discrete mail order, but it turns out that, in this case, it is referring to a synagogue.

I do like praying in the Gilded Landsmanschaft. It’s bright, airy, roomy (usually), and you can daven like a mensch.

I often reflect, whilst davening in the shul/school/sauna, on how we underestimate the importance of the physical environment in which we pray. Some of us romanticise about Kabbalat Shabbat in the shtetl, where our foreskinsfathers  would run into the fields to greet the Shabbes Queen, although the reality was, I suspect, something closer to a group of people huddled in a wooden shack hoping there would be no pogrom that week.

 It is certainly true that a quality baal tefilla is a necessity, as well as a relatively decorous crowd of people, but being in a “real” shul, somehow brings out the best in (almost) everyone (I think).

Sure it’s nice to pray vatikin at the kotel from time to time, or to daven mincha on top of a mountain, but there’s nothing like a real shul.  If the environment is hot, stuffy and acoustically lacking, then many people understandably find it tough to focus. Cue much talking and inattention. And the weeks where there isn’t much talking is usually because a large contingent didn’t bother coming because it’s too hot in the shul/school/sauna, or because they crossed the street to enjoy the much vaunted pleasures of the Gilded Landsmanschaft. 

 Enough about that. You get the point. Build the bloody shul already.

Regular readers of this blog will by now be very familiar with the Freak’s gongs, the “Victory Kaddish” and the horribly ubiquitous “Avinu Avinu” (that is mercifully becoming less ubiquitous).

 I sat in (not “on”) the Gilded Landsmanschaft, enjoying the davening that day. A pleasant shacharit had passed, leining was uneventful (as it should be) – I even received a proper aliya. We were about 1.5hrs into things, a perfectly acceptable timeframe for musaf to begin, and up strolls a slightly-older-than-average-though-not-actually-old man to the bima. I had never seen him before, and no one, amazingly, knew his name. He was clearly a somewhat-trained chazzan, and did not have a particularly offensive voice by any definition. (NF note: There is good reason to suspect that this chazzan was the one who sang hallel to "Puff the Magic Dragon on  Yom Haatzmaut  as reported by Dr. D, Physician - Gong)

And the performance began. The thing that should really have set alarms bells ringing was in the middle of the first mi sheberach. When it got to the bit about “u’mi she’notnim ner lamaor v’yayin l’kiddush u’lehavdala”, he sang it to this classic tune (Ofra sings it best).

And then, in a sense of crushing irony, we were subjected to an avinu avinu. It’s like going to a steak house and ordering the vegetarian option. It just shouldn’t happen.

When it is performed butchered in our shul, I normally roll my eyes, catch a sympathetic gaze or two from a fellow congregant, and carry on reading my book. But here, in the Gilded Landsmanschaft, I had just been served the nut cutlet, and I was mortified. Mercifully, the baal tefilla must have sensed my displeasure, and after the first line, immediately switched into the standard incantation and rattled off the remainder. It still took several minutes for people to pick up their jaws from the floor.

Musaf continued with a few little funnies, but you know what, it was air conditioned, we were still well on time for a 2 hour finish, and my kids were at home tormenting Mrs Big Gong. I was fine.

 But the best was yet to come.  By way of reminder. I am writing about a standard Shabbat in July. Parshat Balak (which incidentally is where my favourite piece of translation, ever, is found in the JPS translation (1917) of this week’s parasha):

Numbers 22:30: “And the ass said unto Balaam: 'Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden all thy life long unto this day? Was I ever wont to do so unto thee?' And he [yes, the ass!] said: 'Nay.'”. 

Brilliant. You couldn’t make it up.

This was no Shabbat Mevarachin, no Rosh Chodesh, and certainly no Yom Kippur Musaf. Why then did the baal tefilla find it appropriate to end musaf with the Victory Kaddish? Why. Did. He. Do. It?

This question, will I fear, remain unanswered for all time. There was no Gilded Gonging in the Gilded Landsmanschaft. There was only silence as the assembled looked on in disbelief, with only one word hanging from their lips. “Why?”

Fellow freaks, may all your prayers be answered (in whatever tune they are sung, and on whatever week of the year that particular tune is correctly, or incorrectly, sung).

The Big Gong.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

shabbat in Tel Aviv

The NF spent this past Shabbat in Tel Aviv at a small boutique hotel celebrating the shabbat chatan of Mrs. NF's recently married cousin.

At this boutique hotel does not have a dedicated room for tefilla purposes, the NF and his brother in laws attended an old Ashkenazi shul about 3 blocks away. Given that we are all in the 29-35 range age wise,  our presence went to lower the average age in the room to about 86. The NF was asked to daven friday night and surprisngly, the kahal sang along....

Shabbat morning, a really old dude davened shaharit with really nice nusach. Then when it came time to take out the torah, the chazan started singing all the familiar German melodies....of course the NF sang along much to the shock of all the old geezers who wanted to know how I knew German nusach....
The baal koreh leined yekke and the NF enjoyed showing NF#2 what a wimple looks like and how it is used during gelila....

By the end of davening, I had all these old guys talking to me in German (which I don't speak) and telling me yekke jokes. Example: How do we know that Adam HaRishon was a yekke? Because the Torah says: אדם, אדם איכה.....Adam Adam a-yekke.

Baal musaf was a guest who was trully horrible. He:
1. Sang the famous Kvodo Maleh Olam --- always sung by Ben  Bollocks --- but being that he was really frum, he sang it so that he didn't repeat any words. It sounded really bad.
2. He sang Mimkomo to the melody of Mitzva gedola leheot bsimcha....uh  hello! you are davening with a bunch of old yekkes whose idea of simcha is to have an ingrown toenail removed while singing  deutschland uber alles
3. For Shma Yisrael he used the famous chabad melody which is meant for nusach sfarad --- so the melody didn't fit.

Returning to the hotel, the NF and his brother in laws discovered that there was two families of a certain ethnic origin,  having a private minyan as part of a Shabbat Chatan....we were invited to join them for mincha....All the men other than the rav wore wife beaters , silky satin kippot on very gelled hair and lots of cologne....they sang some really awful pizmonim in an off-key manner bein gavra l'gavra (during mincha!) and then right after the sefer was retuned to the heichal, a fist fight broke out....The NF was completely in shock and still doesn't know what to make of it....

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How does one screw up so badly?

The NF hopes that everyone enjoyed Shavuot, זמן מתן תורתנות, or as it known in some circles, the Tisha B'av of the Lactose Intolerant.

Shavuot davening went off without a hitch in the NF's shul. The NF davened maariv, an Israeli with pretty decent nusach (and voice) davened shacharit and J led a flawless Musaf. Walking home from shul, the Logical African saw me and ran across the street. "Oh boy, do I have a story for you" said the Logical African. You see the LA davens in a small shul across the street from the NF's shul....it is mostly made up of Israelis who wouldn't know nusach from their belly button lint but there are a few guys who know what they are doing. Well , apparently the guy who led maariv on the first night of Shavuot was playing with his belly button lint for too long because the said chazzan  got up there and instead of using the traditional  Yom Tuv nusach, started the ay yay yays of the yamim noraim.

Sure the kahal tried to help and get the chazzan back on track but to no avail. The chazzan just kept plowing through using the yamim noraim melody. He even sang all the ay ay yays leading up to each bracha by himself while the kahal sat there uncomfrtablly thinking about cheesecake, blintzes and lasanga.

The NF  knows how hard it is to switch nusach mid-davening. Sometimes the chazan forgets to switch the meolody at yimloch and he just can't get the right melody in his head. On Shabbat Hazon, the haftara keeps going back and forth from the regular trop to eicha and its easy to lose the correct melody. When a chazzan messes these up its unfortunate but forgivable. BUT HOW THE HELL DO YOU START MAARIV ON SHAVUOT WITH THE ROSH HASHANA & YOM KIPPUR MELODY!?!?!?!?!?!?!

The Ofanim, the Chayot Hakodesh, the Malaachim, St. Peter, St Gabriel, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Buddha and everyone else hanging out with Abeshter let out one massive celestial GONG.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bad ideas

Hello all you gongers. My apologies for not having blogged in a while. Between, Pesach, work, and the sefer torah  (now 43% finished!) I simply have had no time to write....

A number of poeple have emailed me with a some nusach questions --- I will eventually get back to all of you --- it just may take some time.

So Friday night the NF attended an "Early Shabbat" minyan so that we could start Friday night dinner at a normal hour--- it was the first time in almost a month that the 4 little NFs were able to join us for the entire meal.

During davening the NF sat next to the Logical African (LA) and in the tradition of our forefathers, we began to schmooze. Just as a rather uninspired kabbalat shabbat was about to begin, I said the the LA, "wouldn't it suck if the chazzan decides to daven Carlebach style..."  Happily, the chazzan just sang meekly in the traditional manner and we were home and making kiddush in no time. In the meantime LA and the NF went through some chazzaning/synagogal no-nos:

1. Using Carelbach (with lots of niegh neigh neighs) at an early Shabbat  davening
2. Singing hallel on a weekday rosh chodesh at any minyan that starts before 8:30 AM
3. Making noise for every haman at a morning megilla reading (not attended by more than 5 women and children)
4. Trying to prevent the gabbaim from "ad-kanning" during hakafot at a simchat torah hashkama minyan.
5. Insisting on singing lmaan achai at the end of pitum haketoret.
6. A victory kaddish after any tefilla other than shacharit and musaf on R"H, the five tefillot of yom kippur and tal and geshem.
7. Singing random songs in psukei dezimra just because they have been set to music (example: שבחי ירושלים)
8. using the melody of heveinu shalom aleichem or hava nagila in davening, ever.

Unfortunetly, the NF has experienced each and everyone of these....

any others?

In other news, Dr. D reported that at the minyan he davened at on Yom Haatzmaut, an old (past his prime) chazzan used the melody of Puff the Magic Dragon in hallel. Gong.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Applying a new approach & the Youth Minyan

So the davening in the NF's local yokel shul got so bad over the past few months that "J", "YS" and the NF decided to take over as gabbaim. In the 5 weeks since taking over, we have prevented small children (alvins) from leading kabblat shabbat and focused on getting the best quality baalei tefilla up there for every tefilla. So far so good ---- but not so much for the Nusachfreak blog. As J pointed out to me, if the NF puts a guy up there and he sucks or does some monkey business leading to a severe gonging, the NF is just as responsible as the Gongee.

So what got so bad and what are we changing?
There are lots of "philosophies/approaches" regarding how to run a shul.
1. There is the perfomance approach --- there is usually a chazzan (and maybe a choir), a professional shamash. Members of this kind of shul, may lead psukei dezimra (and nothing else) and generally don't sing along while the chazzan belts out something long and boring. this works because most members are approaching 90 and can't hear the chazzan without turning their hearing aids way up. Examples: the Great Synagogue (Jerusalem).
2. The all inclusive "Barney" shul. I love you, you love me, we are all part of a damn annoying shul family. We want everyone to feel confortable in our warm and fuzzy shul so we try to get as many people involved in the davening as possible. Serving as a chazzan is kind of like the old "Yo Mama" Joke ---- Yo Mama be like a merry go round, everyone gets a turn.  While in theory the NF is not opposed to this approach, in practice when expanding a sampling of baalei tefilla which includes lots of unknowns, you will end up with davening that, in the best case situation, lacks any umph and in the worst case situation sounds like a bunch of dying cats. It is very hard for a shul to develop a particular style or quality because every week there is something different --- sometimes good sometimes bad and the really good, compentant baalei tephilla only get to daven once in a blue moon because as noted above, everybody needs to have a turn. More often than not, a sub par guy will get up there and run through the davening as fast as possible.
3. Selective participation. In every shul there are those that can, those that can't and those that think they can but can't.  In order to set a tone/style for the shul, the gabbaim create a rota where only those than "can" daven. Of course, one risk insulting the two other groups and particularly those that think they can but can't.

Last year saw the gonging gabbai try to implement more of a Barney shul. However, the real trouble started when the gonging gabbai stepped down and caretaker gabbaim stepped in. Kids davened kabbalat shabbat every friday night ruining any sense of "avirah". "whoever" davened on shabbat morning --- usually off key and thankfully superfast --- and week by week the davening got worse and worse. It was at that point, J, YS and the NF had enough...

We have informally defined a rota of about 13 guys (which akwardly includes, J YS and the NF) and using the selective participation appraoch, the davening has become a lot more enjoyable in the last few weeks. So far the pushback has been limited....

Youth minyan

the concept of the youth minyan is a chutznik concept. For some reason Israelis have this idea that their sons should sit next to them in shul. This, in theory, allows the sons to absorb their fathers' (authentic) nusach. In  practice, if they actaully make it to shul, the teenagers wander the halls rather than sit with their father and if we want to talk about nusach....a) their fathers' nusach is usually awful and b) the kids almost never get a chance to hone their davening skills as chazanim.

A group of teenagers in our shul took it upon themselves to start a youth minyan that starts about an hour after the main minyan....so far so good. More and more kids are coming and I've heard from a number of parents that their kids are actaully excited to come to shul.  The NF has gone up to the classroom where the kids are davening to fetch the sefer torah and put it back in the aron in the main minyan...suprisingly, its a pretty serious minyan. no fart jokes. very little talking, and generally good decorum (another sign they have not learned anyhting from sitting with their fathers). Of course, given that the teenagers in our shul are all tone deaf, the davening sounds like a group of sea otters begging for herring but I guess you can't have it all.

the NF's question: For those of you that went to youth minyanim growing up, how did you learn to daven? by hearing the guy next to you? Or were you taught by the minyan madrich (or from tapes)?

Monday, January 17, 2011

contact info

the NF can now be contacted via email at:
nusachfreak@gmail.com