Thursday, May 8, 2008

3 Ways to Use Contemporary Jewish Music in Worship

For nearly 10 years, I have had the unique opportunity to help rethink our worship services, and I’d like to share a few things that I’ve learned, easy changes that you can make, to re-involve your community in worship. The desire to be inclusive of all, regardless of Judaic background or affiliation, has prompted much of my music, and has driven our congregation to embrace Ontemporary Jewish Music (CJM) as a central part of our worship. Here are a few "action steps" that we've found to use CJM to build participation and community.

1) Expose ways that Judaism offers a magnificent legacy of prayer and a beautiful structure and flow to our Shabbat service. Although many are familiar with the basic prayers, few have stopped to appreciate the ways that our liturgy applauds and supports our daily lives. As we seek to include more members who have limited Judaic background, it becomes ever more important to draw them in and make them familiar with the structure of our traditions and rich content of our liturgy.

Take 5 minutes in each service, and dissect a prayer. Translate the Hebrew into modern English, and relate the prayer to a human moment and emotion. One of the ways that I’ve found to do this, is with music which marries the traditional Hebrew with English interpretation. Once someone connects their life, their feelings, their joy or their pain with the ancient words of our ancestors, they embrace and become linked to that prayer, that moment of discovery. Here is an example of interpreting/translating a prayer with "Esa Einai" Note this is a FREE MP3 download from my project ben David, please enjoy and consider using it in your worship.

2) Celebrate the creations, promotions and achievements in your worship community. Often, the names we hear recited at our worship services are names of people in need; people who could use our healing, people observing Yartzeit, names of the departed. These are critical moments where our community draws together in support, but we also need to rally together in constant celebration, and give the positive equal airplay. We cannot ignore the constant positive that surrounds us that often goes unacknowledged. Worship has, in many cases, taken a turn to acknowledge mourning and healing over triumph and recognition. Celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Invite congregants to present their achievements, the books and articles that they have written, the music and art and sculpture and poetry that flows from them; the unselfish voluntary acts of kindness that often go unnoticed. There is no greater way to become conscious of the presence of God than to celebrate publicly with a bracha, a Shehechiyanu or a Mi Shebeirach. Again, you can find music to help integrate, applaud and recognize these personal moments that serve to unite your community and draw congregants closer to worship. The prayer Mi Shebeirach is an example of this, praying for healing but in an upbeat, conscious-of-our-blessings way using CJM. Mi Shebeirach lyrics.

3) Use the first-person in worship. Here’s where I was told that I broke the rules, but I’m glad I did. Over time, this prayer, based on Y'Hiyu L'Ratzon, has captured the personal relationship with God that each of our worshipers must ultimately establish. This prayer, written for my son’s Bar Mitzvah, has endured in our congregational worshipfor reasons far beyond my own talent. In my opinion, this prayer has touched many lives because it speaks directly to God. “I stand before this congregation, and pray to You, O God.”

Over time, we as Jews, have evolved away from expressing our personal relationship with God, in favor of introducing a third party, our Rabbi and Cantor and Worship Leaders, to speak for us. Our prayers provide a wonderful structure, a context for worship, that has endured for generations. But, in the process, the language has evolved away from our direct contact with God, and towards speaking to God in the plural, as a congregation and community. Any time we delegate, we lose some of our direct contact. And prayer, to me, is a visceral , one-on-one, get-your-hands-dirty personal activity that defies being delegated. Ultimately, each of us forge our own personal relationship with God. I invite you to explore prayer-based music that speaks directly to God, as a way to personally draw in your community to individually find meaning in worship. Here is a link to Y'hiyu L'ratzon mentioned above.

I appreciate your comments and hope that some of these ideas will help you to incorporate CJM into your community and to make worship a rich and unifying experience for all. -Arnie

1 comment:

Jack said...

Hi Arnie, great post. Welcome to the jBlogosphere.