The word Renewal arouses suspicion in me. At Limmud NY on Friday, there was a Renewal service being offered. It was led by David Ingber, the endlessly fascinating spiritual journeyman who founded the flagship Renewal outfit in New York, Romemu. The music was by Romemu Musical Director Shir Yaakov as well as Shoshana Jedwab on the drums.
I took a lot of notes. By way of a review, here they are, polished a bit:
- Kirtan Rabbi: We began with Hareini Mekabel Alai by Kirtan Rabbi, which I love. I hadn’t expected tunes from KR to show up here, perhaps because I’ve never heard them anywhere except on his albums. I suppose it shouldn’t have been too surprising, given that I’m on KR’s e-mail list and I know that he plays at Romemu pretty regularly. It was a very nice beginning to the service.
- Things that make me suspicious: Shir says things like, “Breathe in the first breath of Shabbat. Breathe out the previous week.” OK. What is this Kol Haneshama?
- Things that make me downright uncomfortable: Shir says, “Don’t worry about the recipe book. Enjoy the meal we’re making together.” Don’t worry about the siddur? Fat chance. Also, a curious thing for him to say, as we’ll see later. This is the attitude that makes me suspicious of Renewal.
- Liturgical health check: Most present are using the copies of Sim Shalom provided by Limmud NY. Joe Rosenstein is in the front row and looks like he’s loving it. Not surprisingly, he’s using Siddur Eit Ratzon, which he edited. Also, Shir Yaakov created Joe’s website, newsiddur.org. I’m using Koren Talpiot. There’s one Koren Sacks in the crowd. And my friend’s girlfriend, rather curiously, has brought Gates of the House with her.
- his album, “Zeh.” I can’t dislike it. But the music is good: Shir then leads Higale Na, a tune from
- And then the dancing starts: We move into the Carlebach Psalm 96 (Shiru lAdonai, shir chadash etc.), skipping 95. When the Psalm ends and the nigun begins, people are out of their seats dancing. We’ve gone from zero to ecstatic dancing in less than half the time and liturgical space it takes Kol Zimrah or B’nai Jeshurun. In a conversation with Ingber later, he’s pretty proud of this. Between the clapping, the stomping and drumming, the floor is shaking.
- I’m into it: We go into Psalm 29 (Mizmor leDavid etc.) with more Carlebach. Somewhere around this point, I decide to visit Romemu in person.
- Kid Friendly: This is not a kid’s service. But it is a forceful refutation of the idea that such things necessary. Right before the service, I heard to kids bargaining with their mom about how much time they’d be in the service. They Jewed her down to 20 minutes without much trouble. And then they stayed for the entire service.
- Ana Bechoach? I don’t know from Ana Bechoach. I rarely see it done at the places I go, but we did a tune that I’ll assume was a Shir Yaakov tune for the line from Ana Bechoach “Yachid ge’eh le’amecha feneh zochrei kedushatecha.” Again, it was nice. I like his music in a liturgical setting. There’s thinking to be done this week about guitar liturgy, given Debbie Friedman’s recent death.
- Kab Shab: Generally, I prefer that we do all of Kabbalat Shabbat, but I don’t feel as strongly about that as I do about some things. In a conversation later with Ingber I tell him I find Kabbalah and mysticism suspicious. Then I tell him I prefer a full Kab Shab. He rightly calls me on this and I have no answer.
- About that cookbook: The injunction to ignore the siddur is a curious thing from a guy like Shir Yaakov, who is reaching into relatively obscure pieces like Ana Bechoach, which is otherwise untouched by contemporary guitarish Jewish songwriters. The service is interestingly inaccessible to some. Given that we have no transliterations and there isn’t a lot of page number announcing going on, one friend–far less liturgically literate than I–is having a lot trouble keeping up. She doesn’t sing at all until we hit Lecha Dodi–is that another Shir Yaakov original we’re doing?–because it’s common enough in liberal Jewish liturgy that she knows a lot of the words. Musically, the service is accessible, textually it isn’t. One with out the other is not enough. The problem of access to text is too important to push aside with a quip about cookbooks.
- Krakow! I was beginning to wonder when we’d get to the Krakow nigun. At the sixth paragraph of Lecha Dodi, we begin to use the Krakow nigun melody, which is novel to me. It works. One woman in the front row is dancing again. Later, a lot of people join her. Can you spot Romemu regulars by how quick they are to start dancing during services?
- Shmooze fest: Between Kab Shab and Maariv, Ingber asks everyone to say Shabbat to people around him that we don’t know. “Careful though,” he says. “I don’t want it to become a shmooze fest.” Yeah, OK. It quickly becomes a shmooze fest.
- Call and response: Barchu is done with an unfamiliar tune. People often have a hard time discerning what to do during Barchu when it’s a tune rather than nusach because the call and response nature of it is hard to parse. That happens here.
- Shma: One, two, skip a few… aaaaaand Shma. We do the long, breathing, slow, ponderous version of the first line of the Shma. I’m impatient. We chant the second paragraph and the rest is silent.
- Rain Stick? During Mi Chamocha, Jedwab starts in with a rain stick. After two goes with the stick, I’m done with it and–thank God–she cuts it out.
- Chanting and whatever: “Ufros aleinu sukat shelomecha” in Hashkiveinu to that tune I like. I don’t know whose it is, but you know what I mean. Then we chant Shalom a bunch. Then we chant Salaam a bunch. Ingber occasionally interrupts with things like, “Peace in every heart… peace in every mind… peace throughout the world… peace out the wazoo… etc.” Then we chant, “Let there be peace” for a while. And then there’s the chatimah.
- And then the Christians show up: Oddly, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary” cropped up. In this instance, we did Yihyu in English to the tune, then we sang the chorus of “Lord prepare me etc,” then we niguned it for a while, then we did “Ve’asu li mikdash etc.
Then I had to run out to do announcements somewhere else, but ended up coming back and doing them at the Renewal service anyway when I got back. I missed the rest of the service though.
I’m curious to see more. I’m strongly considering attending Romemu on Shabbat morning this week.
And I’m gonna go with 3 1/2 Ballpoint Pens for this service: |||-
But I wanna be very careful in pointing out that this isn’t a rating of Romemu. It’s a rating of a thing that a group of people from Romemu did somewhere else without their core group.