Galilee Diary #545, August 17, 2011 Marc Rosenstein
Praise Him with the blast of the horn; praise Him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and
the pipe. Praise Him with the loud-sounding cymbals; praise Him with the
clanging cymbals. Let every thing that has breath praise the Lord. Hallelujah.
I recently spent a Shabbat in Tel Aviv with a group of young Jewish educators
from the US, and finally had the opportunity to participate in Kabbalat
Shabbat with "Bet Tefila Yisraeli," a Jewish renewal congregation led by
Esteban Gottfried, a rabbinical student in the Israeli Rabbinic Program at HUC. During the summer, the congregation holds its Kabbalat Shabbat service on the
boardwalk in Tel Aviv port, an "in" place with shops, entertainment, and
restaurants along the waterfront. This service has become such an attraction
that the municipality publicizes it as one of the cultural events occurring in
the port. Attendance can reach 1,000. I didn't count, but it felt like the
crowd on this particular Shabbat was of that order of magnitude, seated on long
rows of plastic chairs facing the sun setting over the Mediterranean. The
community has published its own prayerbook, containing the core of the
traditional liturgy and a lot of additions, especially selections of modern
Israeli poetry and song. The rabbi is supported by an ensemble of instruments
and a high quality sound system, and the service is very musical, including both
artistic (i.e., hard-to-sing-along-with) and familiar songs and prayers.
I had mixed feelings about the experience, as did the members of my group.
On the one hand, a festival atmosphere prevails: people skate and bike by,
coming and going throughout the service; others come in beach attire, carrying
cold drinks; in the middle of the service people jump up and call out a greeting
to a long-lost friend they recognize five rows away; some sing along
consistently, while others drift in and out of attentiveness - chatting is OK.
On the other hand, the sea and the sunset and the music, and the sense of
communal celebration, and the fact that the content is, after all, liturgical,
do have a certain power. The Israeli family sitting next to us, ice cream cones
in hand, said that they would never go to synagogue, but that they come every
week to this Kabbalat Shabbat as a meaningful family experience. So
maybe this is a harbinger of a new Israeli form of Judaism.
On Saturday night we wanted an Israeli cultural outing for the group, and
bought tickets to a concert of Diwan Halev at the Zappa Club, without really
knowing what to expect. This is an ensemble of four musicians proficient in
Middle Eastern and western instruments, and four vocalists. They wear a variety
of robes and turbans and dreadlocks, and play music drawn mostly from North
African traditions of Jewish liturgical poetry, but in a fusion with rock or
jazz styles. At first it felt a bit weird and I wondered how long my group of
Americans (who appeared to be the only tourists there) would last, especially
after a few beers (the place is a large night club) and especially when the
leader asked us to sing along and clap with the music - but not to applaud,
since the songs were all prayers - so there was silence after each piece. After
two hours, the place was alive with a strong sense of community and involvement,
with people dancing in the aisles. On the way home, a few group members
commented that it wasn't clear which night was the service and which night was
It seems that the denominational models we Ashkenazic Jews built in our
European and North American Diasporas may in the end not be the models that will
sustain the spiritual life of the reborn Jewish state. As these models
encounter eastern traditions, and the new reality of a secularized Hebrew
culture, new syntheses are only now beginning to appear. It is exciting to
contemplate what "Torah will go forth from Zion" a generation from now.