Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, May 11, 2018 / 26 Iyyar 5778
Mishnah Berurah class meets this Sunday at 10 am. Drop-ins are welcome.
Summary: Rabbi Kosak describes many of the places he and Laura prayed during rabbinical school as a backdrop to our new once-a-month fourth Friday night service, Living Room Shabbat.
Laura’s and my years in Los Angeles and Israel were formative in so many ways. One of the opportunities we were afforded was the ability to visit and pray with countless Jewish communities on Shabbat.
In LA, we lived in Pico-Robertson, a neighborhood packed with synagogues. In addition to the large Conservative congregation, there was an egalitarian Carlebach minyan we attended, and an Open Orthodox shul whose rabbi was a protege of Rabbi Avi Weiss. A few times I tried out an Ultra-Orthodox place where the davenen (praying) possessed this singularly silent, focused fervor.
There was also an “old man’s” haskhamah minyan which began at 7 am. That was a service I would go to when I had a lot of studying to catch up on. It was in a small room down some stairs, and by 8:45 the entire service was over, and the guys would serve up cholent and Schlitz. A bit early for bad beer if you ask me–although I once read about a less-prevalent custom of drinking beer on Saturday and reserving wine for Friday’s kiddush!
In Israel, we prayed at dozens and dozens of minyans, representing a vast mosaic of the Jewish people: Yemenites, Syrians, the national religious, kabbalists, black hat and so on. Laura and I would discuss the experience on the women’s side and the men’s side of the mechitzah. What worked? What felt good? Where were we inspired?
Jerusalem is an endless buffet of religious opportunity for countless religions. Like a long-parched flower, I soaked up all this remarkable diversity and variety. Until the modern period, we Jews looked at our long years of exile and the suffering they entailed. Yet in the Holy City, the fruits of those experiences and cultures are all on display. It is an incubator of religious possibility.
Each of these services left an imprint. There are slightly different versions of the Hebrew prayers in many of these communities. Certainly the music varied, informed by the styles prevalent in the larger surrounding culture.
A less obvious and equally important difference resides in the architecture of those prayer communities. There was a 4 am weekday Sephardic minyan I attended twice (4 am is NOT my time of day). The chairs were set in a large circle and leadership of the service ping-ponged around the room, seemingly without any given instruction. The room set-up perfectly matched their highly participatory prayer culture.
And so it was with many of the most successful of these services. Architecture shapes our interactions and gives us clues as to how we are meant to behave and relate in a given space. It states something about the values of that community and ideally aids in helping them implement those concerns.
Beginning on June 22nd, we are going to take all of these insights and use them to create a new service with a laid-back, come-as-you-are Portland vibe. One that reflects how we like to gather together in a casual, easy and down-to-earth way. Without pretension, yet in a beautiful manner.
In addition to some of our normal seating, there will be comfortable sofas and loveseats, and even cocktail height tables (high tops). You’ll find light snacks and adult and child-friendly beverages scattered around the room. We’ll also enjoy our ancient, familiar and beautiful Shabbat prayers and melodies–with a twist. That coffee-house, living room vibe? Cantor and some friends are going to smooth the edges so that together we can let go of the week and slide into relaxed Shabbos-time.
We are calling this one-year experiment “Living Room Shabbat.” On the fourth Friday of each month (with the exception of December and April) in place of our 6:15 service, we will gather at 8 pm in Stampfer Chapel. That way you don’t need to rush home from work and you can enjoy a nice meal with friends or family beforehand. Hopefully, you’ll linger after the service ends, sipping on something as we enjoy each other’s company.
Shabbat Table Talk
- What have been some of the most interesting or unusual Jewish services you have attended. What stood out about them? Did you find the changes easy to deal with or did it take you a bit to get use to them?
- Do you feel better dressed to the nines or in sweats? Why?
- How do you let go of the week and enter Shabbat?
If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.