Tag: Shabbat

Drumming our Way to a Spiritual Shabbat

Ken Meyer Leads the Drumming
(All Pictures by Michael Kaplan)

We learn in Torah that Miriam took a timbrel in her hand and led the Israelite women sing, as they, her brother Moses and the Israelite men crossed through Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds. We regularly tout the spiritual uplift that comes from music of shofarot (rams’ horns) and of singing.

This timbreltof in Hebrew, a percussion instrument, part mini-cymbals, part drum – was new to the Israelite orchestra. If our ancestors added this instrument into the mix, shouldn’t we?

There is something about rhythm, about holding a beat, that is primal. Drumming brings people together; it forms disparate elements in a group. Drumming transforms individuals into a community.

In the Torah, no doubt the tambourines and drumming gave purpose and direction to the Israelite tribes as they walked through the sea. Just as the heartbeats of choir members beat in sync, so too the drumming might have kept the Israelites on the exodus on task.

Drumming can Greatly Enhance Jewish spirituality

Sheryl Braunstein Sings
While Aaron Meyer Plays Piano

On a recent Friday night, at a backyard Shabbat service at the home of Rabbi Wendy Spears and Eitan Ginsburg, Congregation Or Ami worshippers gathered for a musical drumming Shabbat. Playing a range of instruments – drums, tambourines, maracas, and sticks among others – worshippers explored the hypnotizing and meditative experience of praying with a beat. Soloist Sheryl Braunstein, pianist Aaron Meyer and drummer Ken Meyer led us through a rhythmic service. Same prayers, same tunes, but with an entrancing beat. Rabbinic intern Jonathan Rothstein-Fisch told a story about our responsibility to respond to the beat hat calls to us. Then Ken Meyer led us in a “call and response” drumming activity.

Drumming Leader Ken Meyer explained,

It was a meaningful service to me for several reasons. It is always great to be outdoors on a beautiful summer evening… I am so glad I came to help. I have been drumming for over 50 years. By giving each of the congregants an instrument of some kind to play, they were more active participants; no experience was needed and anyone of any age could join in. Since everyone can easily make a sound, we all played various beats to the songs. We even created another new version of Cantor Doug Cotler’s prayer-song, Listen.

Sometimes I think that non-musical congregants might feel awkward when asked to sing, especially if they think they might sing out of tune or off pitch. With percussion instruments, there is no such worry. 

When we did the drumming-only “call and response” section of the service, we kicked it to a higher level of participation. It was great for community building, group bonding, teamwork, cooperation, and stress relief. It was also a lot of fun. This all led to a higher degree of spirituality for me.

Following the service, we invited other worshippers to reflect upon the spiritual rhythmic experience. The discussion continued longer than expected because the experience was so meaningful. Their experiences varied.

An Intense Active Full Body Experience

A Few of the Drumming Participants

Steve Greenberg said, Drumming along with the group got my body to pray along with my brain. It brought us together so that it felt like I was praying with the whole of my being.

Rabbi Wendy Spears wrote, I loved the sense of connection that the drumming vibrations gave us. It felt like all of our hearts were beating in a synchronous rhythm. There was a different sense of active participation when we added our hands to our voices in song.

Kevin Palm explained, Friday night’s “out of the box” Shabbat service kept worship fresh and did two things for me: It made me an involved participant by having to match the beat and participate wholly in the songs and prayers. Simultaneously, it proved once again that we don’t need to be in a synagogue to create a holy place – we can create one anywhere including a backyard, a campfire, a park… anywhere…

A Sense of Communal Connectedness

Aaron Koch wrote, The experience of everyone joining together in the collective rhythm of prayer, created a feeling of connectedness, community and Shalom.

Dianne Gubin emailed, Friday night’s Drum service was a memorable and touchstone experience for me. It was really fun and creative to be so fully engaged in services. Soloist Sheryl Braunstein, pianist Aaron Meyer and drummer Ken Meyer were easy to follow and quickly had everyone drumming together… I love the variety of services we have at Or Ami!

Soloist Sheryl Braunstein noted, The rhythm connected us all to each other and to the prayers. I loved Jonathan’s story and story telling!

A Liberating Participatory Experience

The Lachers and the Koches

Ralph Lacher responded, A liberating environment seemed to grow as the evening of Shabbat drumming and humming matured into a communal singular voice. The experience was a very enjoyable stress reliever that had a child like quality of innocence.

Rabbinic Intern Jonathan Rothstein-Fisch texted, For someone who is not musical I looked forward to being able to play an instrument no matter how out of sync I was because I knew it was acceptable.

Of course, Congregation Or Ami will again hold a Shabbat Drumming Service again soon. Still, this experience leads me to wonder…

What are other ways that we might enhance (and change up) the communal prayer experience?

Is it Kosher to Walk in The Great Race on Shabbat?

It is rare indeed when a rabbi has a free Shabbat (Sabbath). With 54 B’nai Mitzvah a year, I joyously find myself in the sanctuary almost every Shabbat, being inspired by our young people as they lead services, chant from Torah and teach us about the intersection between Torah and life.

When a Shabbat comes along during which I do not need to be in shul (synagogue), there are five items on my short list that I want to accomplish. Each helps me observe the holiest day of the week.

What this Rabbi Seeks to Do 
on a Shabbat Away from the Shul


First, I try to be out in nature. Our tradition teaches m’lo chol ha’aretz k’vodo – the whole earth is filled with God’s glorious creation. Moreover, God is sometimes called HaMakom – The Place, because every place is where God is. On Shabbat particularly, the day we are called upon to recognize as a sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, I want to be out in nature to revel in God’s greatness.

Second, I want to be involved in Tikkun Olam – fixing the world. On Shabbat, rather than acting upon the world, we are invited to sit back, notice and celebrate the blessings of this world. Taking it one step further, many activities which heal this world are by definition opportunities to celebrate and advance the blessings of this world.

Third, I want to be involved with learning. Shabbat is a day of study. Most often we Jewish understand studying as referring to Torah, the repository of God’s wisdom. Yet we know that all knowledge comes from the Holy One and has its roots in Torah. So on Shabbat, I try to learn myself, help others learn, or more generally, support the enterprise of education itself.

Fourth, I try to be with my family and our community. Our sages teach Al tifrosh min hatzibur – do not separate yourself from the community. Shabbat, given as a day of rest, provides us a chance to gather with those closest to us, to celebrate life and its blessings.

Fifth, I recite blessings and prayers to honor the Holy One and celebrate the holiness of the Sabbath day. On Shabbat in the outdoors, I can recite the words of Yotzeir Or (which praises the Maker of Light who is the Creator of All Things), the Shema (which recognizes the Oneness of all Creation), and Oseh Shalom (which asks the One who makes wholeness and peace to help us bring wholeness and peace to the world and everyone in it).

Supporting Local Schools
The Great Race of Agoura Hills was established in 1986 by a group of parents looking to raise money for their children’s elementary schools. Now professionally produced by Endurance Events and in its 28th year, The Great Race of Agoura Hills is one of the largest running events in the Los Angeles area and continues to donate to many schools in Agoura Hills and Oak Park.

The proceeds from The Great Race benefit seven elementary schools in Agoura Hills and Oak Park as well as the athletic programs at Agoura H.S. and Oak Park H.S. In the past, the event has helped to pay for programs that were not funded by the state. However, with huge state budget cuts to education, these schools face financial hardships and must find many more ways to raise more funds to just to maintain their exisiting programming and staffing levels.

Come Walk with Me – and Celebrate Shabbat
So, is it kosher to walk in The Great Race on Shabbat? I say “yes” and therefore, on Saturday, March 23, 2013 – after praying at the synagogue on Friday night – I will be walking in The Great Race of Agoura Hills. In doing so, I will be doing Jewish because I will be:

  • Out in nature, amongst the hills of Agoura
  • Doing Tikkun Olam, as I help support the improvement of our local schools
  • Involved with learning, as I support an event that raises funds for our schools
  • Connecting with community, as with family, I participate in the race and then welcome the community at Congregation Or Ami’s post-race booth. 
  • Reciting blessings, particularly one which praises the Creator of all for bestowing upon me a body which is able to walk distances and recognize the beauty surrounding us.

Whether being outside is as much of a religious experience for you as it is for me (I once wrote that I most often encountered the Holy One in our national parks), I invite you to join me and thousands of others for a run or walk out in nature to change the world by supporting deeper education for all our young people.

Visit the Congregation Or Ami Post-Race Booth
And if you walk, run or just wander around the race area, come by the Congregation Or Ami booth to say hello and Shabbat Shalom (a Sabbath of Peace) and to receive a fun giveaway. You may register for the Great Race of Agoura Hills here.

[Can You Volunteer at our Booth?
BTW,  thanks to Vic Cohen for heading up the booth. If you can volunteer an hour at the booth, please let me know and I will put you in touch with Vic.]

A Rabbi’s Dream: Attending Services Cuts Risk of Death

I’m bracing now for a flood of new worshipers…

JTA reports: Study: Attending services cuts women’s death risk (November 25, 2008)

Regular attendance at religious services reduces the risk of death for women by 20 percent, according to a new study. The study by researchers at Yeshiva University and its Albert Einstein College of Medicine was published Nov. 17 in the Psychology and Health journal. The researchers evaluated the religious practices of 92,395 women aged 50 to 79 participating in the Women’s Health Initiative, a national, long-term study aimed at addressing women’s health issues and funded by the National Institutes of Health. Those who said they attended religious services at least once a week showed a 20 percent mortality risk reduction compared with those not attending services at all. The study did not attempt to measure spirituality; its authors stress that it examined self-reported measures of religiosity. The study adjusted for the women’s participation in organizations and group activities that promote a strong social life and enjoyable routines, behaviors known to lead to overall wellness. “Interestingly, the protection against mortality provided by religion cannot be entirely explained by expected factors that include enhanced social support of friends or family, lifestyle choices and reduced smoking and alcohol consumption,” said Dr. Eliezer Schnall, the lead author of the study. “There is something here that we don’t quite understand. It is always possible that some unknown or unmeasured factors confounded these results.”

Climate Change: What’s the Jewish Take?

Shabbat. The day of rest. We refrain from acting on the world, so as to take pleasure in it. We thank the Holy One for the world in which we live.

But it seems that we never stop acting on the world. And often in very detrimental ways.

Once again Thomas Friedman (NYTimes, 8/5/08) poignantly and articulately sounds the alarm (speaks the truth) about the effects of Climate Change on our world. Writing from Greenland he notes:

And my trip with Denmark’s minister of climate and energy, Connie Hedegaard, to see the effects of climate change on Greenland’s ice sheet leaves me with a very strong opinion: Our kids are going to be so angry with us one day. We’ve charged their future on our Visa cards. …
That’s how I learned a new language here: “Climate-Speak.” It’s easy to learn. There are only three phrases. The first is: “Just a few years ago …” Just a few years ago you could dogsled in winter from Greenland, across a 40-mile ice bank, to Disko Island. But for the past few years, the rising winter temperatures in Greenland have melted that link. Now Disko is cut off. Put away the dogsled. There has been a 30 percent increase in the melting of the Greenland ice sheet between 1979 and 2007, and in 2007, the melt was 10 percent bigger than in any previous year, said Konrad Steffen, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, which monitors the ice. Greenland is now losing 200 cubic kilometers of ice per year — from melt and ice sliding into the ocean from outlet glaciers along its edges — which far exceeds the volume of all the ice in the European Alps, he added. “Everything is happening faster than anticipated.”

It occurred to me that scientists have made clear that Global Warming and Climate Change are facts (not theory). Businesses and some politicians are starting to see the light. What about Jews? What is the Jewish take on Climate Change?

Head over to the Jewish Climate Initiative to read their blog and check out their website. Dedicated to illuminating the Jewish ethical and philosophical response to Climate Change, they write about a Jewish theology of climate change, Midrashic narratives, and a thoughtful article on Halakha and Climate Change: Because the Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions. Clearly Jewish thought and teaching makes clear that we are responsible in big and little ways to protect the earth, a gift from God.

Head over to Shma Magazine and read its August 2008 issue. The issue focuses on environmental issues from a Jewish perspective. Or check out COEJL (Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life), which is chock full of articles on Jewish values as it relates to climate change.

It is Shabbat. Today, up here during our jaunt in Northern California, I shall refrain from acting on our world and just schepp nachas (share the joy) at the beauty that surrounds me. Nonetheless, I shall be thinking about what we are doing – on non-Shabbat days – l’takein haolam, to fix this broken world.

Jewish Journal Praises ABC’s The Nine “Shabbat Dinner” Episode

Following our lead, the Jewish Journal’s Shoshana Lewin published an article, Will Shabbat dinner drama hold ‘Nine’ viewers captive?, on the upcoming Shabbat Dinner focused episode of The Nine.

“Rabbi Kates and his wife, Sheryl, recently invited their doctor-son and his girlfriend of two years to Shabbat dinner. Nothing too out of the ordinary there — unless you consider the fact that the couple is not married, although the young woman is pregnant and they broke up during a 52-hour crisis where they were held hostage at a bank. And did we mention the Shabbat dinner took place on a soundstage and the rabbi’s wife is played by JoBeth Williams? You gotta love sweeps month!”

Since I introduced the author to the episode, she quoted me, writing:

Yes, Jeremy is a flawed character (he sleeps with Franny after the funeral), but it is a TV show and, as Rabbi Paul Kipnes, of Reform Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, said, “Everybody has tsuris, otherwise it wouldn’t be interesting. [Jeremy] is an accomplished Jewish doctor, bright, handsome, outgoing, confident — and profoundly human.”

Kipnes, a big fan of the show, said the Kates’ portrayal of a Jewish family “was refreshing. [In the previews,] I saw something about Shabbat and thought, ‘This was good.’ [Jeremy] has lunch with his mom, who is not neurotic and doesn’t shriek, shout ‘oy gevalt’ or pressure him,” Kipnes continued. “She speaks to him out of love. His father starts to pressure him a little bit during Shabbat dinner, but then he just stops and listens … this is not Woody Allen.”