Limmud NY Notes: Yes, I went to a Renewal service. And yes, I liked it.

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle. I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts. Here’s a guide to them.

I'm gonna go here on Shabbat. Who's with me?
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.

  • Seriously, though. Buy this CD.
    But the music is good: Shir then leads Higale Na, a tune from his album, “Zeh.” I can’t dislike it.
  • 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.

26 thoughts on “Limmud NY Notes: Yes, I went to a Renewal service. And yes, I liked it.

  1. At Pesach second night last year, we did some of b”hamazon to “Lord, prepare me” etc. This is apparently a thing.

  2. Thanks DAMW (BTW, A.M.=?). FYI the first melody is not by KR; it’s an adaptation of a Venezuelan folk melody that Gabriel Meyer HaLevy brought to B’nai Jeshurun.
    Good point about the siddur/cookbook comment. We should have been calling out more page numbers than we did, though we don’t generally use Sim Shalom at our home shul.
    Ana Bechoach was indeed an original tune. Available on the ADAMAH “Avodat Lev” CD.
    The first Lecha Dodi melody was adapted by David Ingber from a Krishna Das chant.
    Barchu was sung to the melody of an “Ain Od Milvado” chant which we use quite often at Romemu. I don’t know the composer, though I should.
    I asked Shoshana to quit on the rain stick as soon as I could. 😉 The melody there was the Chatan’s Niggun from the Belz chassidim.
    3 1/2 pens out of how many?

  3. Another point we discussed: neither of us like the term Renewal and in fact the Limmud NY course catalog was inconsistent on this point. There were no “orthodox” or “conservative” services, rather those were described as “mechitzah minyan led by men” et al. It would have been more fair to state our service was “led by men and women with mixed seating and instruments”.

    1. Shir Yaakov writes:
      Another point we discussed: neither of us like the term Renewal and in fact the Limmud NY course catalog was inconsistent on this point. There were no “orthodox” or “conservative” services, rather those were described as “mechitzah minyan led by men” et al.
      Limmud NY used to have a rule that names of services could not include names of denominations. Does anyone know what happened to that? (“Renewal” might or might not violate such a rule, depending on perspective, but the Shabbat morning “Reform” service definitely would have been over the line.)

  4. Shir, thanks for the clarifications/explanations. The Hareini Mekabel is on a KR CD though, which is why I thought that.
    I actually noticed you telling Shoshana to stop the rain stick. It’s in my notes, but I left it out here in case it was a thing. And I also remembered you saying you don’t like the word Renewal, but didn’t want to out you on that point.
    I also noticed the inconsistency in the program book. There was also a service referred to as Reform in the program book, which I was surprised by. In the past, we’ve stayed far away from those words and used descriptive, rather than prescriptive ways of describing the services.
    And that’s 3 1/2 ballpoint pens out of five.
    Ruby, yeah that one.
    miri, I hear it popping up everywhere lately. I have a whole post on it here: http://davidsaysthings.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/a-review-of-a-new-minyan-in-austin-and-how-a-christian-gospel-tune-wound-up-there/

  5. David,
    Thank you for your thorough review! I loved talking to you and felt there is much to explore in future conversations.
    One point I would like to explore with you is the issue of ‘cookbook’ vs. wordless prayer. It is true, as you gathered, that as a neo-hassidic community our emphasis is decidedly on the state of mind/consciousness that prayer can create, independent of and often despite the verbal signifiers on a given page of the siddur. Though many view the liturgy as a repository of values, theological tenets, and beautiful poetry (which it undoubtedly is!)
    it also requires tremendous exegetical imagination to work with many of the words, ideas, assertions. I personally love learning about the liturgy, understanding intertextual nuance and historical conditions under which prayers were written, that, for me, is not the heart of prayer. Prayer can transport to a space where are hearts are open, where we feel, tangibly and viscerally, connected to a transcendent Presence, palpably connected with what we call G-d. This is what my teacher Reb Zalman means when he says we must not confuse the cookbook(siddur) with the meal (experience of G-d/heart opening).
    Of course, this model will not work for everyone though it certainly has ample precedent in our sources, especially within the Hassidic world. We need prayer to be more real, more honest, more embodied and less of an intellectual exercise. Again, one man’s opinion. I am open to hearing your opinion.
    And, the siddur we regularly use has transliterations. Thank you for pointing out the need to make the liturgy we do use accessible.
    All the best,

  6. BZ, my guess, knowing Limmud NY is that it simply failed to get transmitted to a generation of Shabbat Team leadership.
    David, when I began to learn even the smallest things about why the service was structured in the way it is, I found that I suddenly wanted to pray. I wanted to go to services all the time. And, eventually, I became obsessed with siddurim because of this.
    It may be that some people will always feel encumbered by the words, while others will always stumble over the wordless. If that’s the case, the key to accessible prayer is giving both of those populations something to latch onto.

    1. Clearly something got transmitted, or else there would have been a service called “Orthodox” (perhaps the least controversial label).

  7. David… you were doing fine, until you got to “Kid Friendly” and then, “They Jewed her down to…”
    That anyone should use that pejorative stereotype is bad enough.. but for a Jew to use it in describing a Jewish event in a Jewish blog is unforgivable.
    Goodbye David… and goodbye Reform Shuckle from my daily blog list.

    1. Also, “Mechitza service led by men and women” was the clunky title we came up with for Limmud NY 2005, since “Shira Hadasha-style” and “Darkhei Noam-style” were out because the services weren’t supposed to be linked to specific communities, and the term “partnership minyan” either wasn’t around yet or wasn’t known yet to us. But now that the term “partnership minyan” exists, that would seem to be preferable.

  8. I was at a Jews in the Woods shabbaton a few years ago where everyone was obsessed with the Sanctuary Song (a.k.a. “Bilvavi in English”). I got the feeling it had just recently hit the Hippie Jew radar. We used that tune for eeeevvvvverrything.

  9. I enjoy much about renewal. But… please…. no more circles, holding hands, StrangeSpellings, non-words (Lo-Milim, copyright JG)or commercial logos masquerading as names (‘the’ Kirtan Rabbi? Really? Thanks for ruining kirtan-ity for all other rabbis…. Stay tuned for ‘the’ Shofar Rabbi, ‘the’ Darbuka Rabbi, ‘the’ Likes-to-touch-’em Rabbi, etc.)
    You’re all welcome!

  10. Must agree with the “needlessly serious” (really?) Bob. Some things are serious. Some things are sacred. Some things, in an internet forum, are not funny. Maybe no non-Jew has hurled this particular slight (“Jewed down”) at you in person (that is, outside of cyberspace) and you’ve been protected from such people. Enjoy relating only to those who think just like you. Many of the rest of us will be appalled.
    I attended a Romemu service a couple of years ago (and earlier, a few similar in style at Elat Chayim). Fine for those who need/like it, although as far as being innovative, it’s more 80s touchy-feely than anything else. Clearly, though, R. Ingber knows his stuff. And I think there should be variety in the Jewish world. But I do hope that regulars who don’t know the standard prayers are given an opportunity to learn them. As I discovered recently, there is an ecstasy to be experienced *through* the words — both in the siddur and in the Talmud — that lies in wait for those who put in the time and effort. Totally worth it, btw.
    The Reform movement refers (often) to “informed choice.” If one has not studied, one is not informed, and the choice is not a real choice.
    Shalom, y’all.

  11. This is Rabbi Andrew Hahn — “Kirtan Rabbi,” or “the” Kirtan Rabbi, or whatever you would like. I was not at Limmud, but someone sent me this link. My first purpose in writing this is also to reiterate that the Hareini M’kabeil Alai is a South American folk tune set to those words by our friend, Gabriel Meyer Halevi; I “kirtanized” it and recorded it live on our first CD. I first learned it at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun and have heard it often since. I love it very much. I like how it links creation to the mitzvah of loving the other, because I think this phrase very much sums up WHY precisely God created the world in the first place: that we would evolve to increasingly love and appreciate that which is different, other and — at first blush, perhaps — frightening.
    I a practice which I first learned at Romemu when this phrase is juxtaposed over against the words “Ein Od” (there is none else). The latter expression is perhaps the marque wort for non-dual Judaism. Because those who assert a non-dual philosophy often (though not always!) recede from the world in a kind of acosmism and shun action, I love it when we sing “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” or at least the melody which Gaby set to it, in a contrapuntal manner to “Ein Od:” It acts as a corrective, perhaps saying, “while I am now asserting the Oneness of everything (and especially of Hashem before chanting the Shema), I have to remind myself (at least musically) that there is an Other, or that we construe others — and he/she/they must be loved as the primary starting point of our worldly activity.
    As for the name “Kirtan Rabbi.” It is a funny story as to how I came about it, a story which tells something of the age we live in. I was just doing Hebrew Kirtan (call-and-response chant with a specific meditative, prayerful bent) and — believe it or not — was resisting all things commercial. But it became time to make a Web site. I was trying to think what the Web site should be called. I have a friend who is known as the “Adventure Rabbi,” so maybe that’s what allowed http://www.KirtanRabbi to pop into my head? In any case, retrospectively, I thought, “Wow. I guess I’ll be the ‘Kirtan Rabbi!'” So, that’s how it came about: from thinking of a url back to the brand.
    I apologize if it offends anyone that I, as a non-pulpit, rabbi with no institutional support actually have to market my work and have a “shtick.” Welcome to the rainbow which is the post-modern, 21st century. Kirtan Rabbi is not a logo: It is a name that most accurately in one phrase describes what I do (among other things). I object that someone (who, by the way, takes on a secret identity and does not name him- or herself) would extrapolate from that to some pretty disgusting thoughts.
    I also want to say that Rabbi David Ingber who, in full disclosure, is a good friend of mine is making every effort to provide the information so that choices can be made. I appreciate that comment and it has been a concern of mine for a long time: How do we change things (specifically, matbea – prayer structure) without causing people to lose sight of what was once there? If you would like to read a first-stab of a Blog I wrote about the relationship between kirtan and “regular” Jewish prayer, please go to this link:
    Thank you and Shabbat Shalom,
    Rabbi Andrew Hahn, the Ph.D. Rabbi

  12. In an effort to provide meaningful spiritual experiences, some practices call for non-traditional blocking of ceremonies and for breaking down the normative touch boundary that keeps people separate. (‘blocking’ = scripted choreography)
    The problem is that an emphasis on non-traditional blocking and violation of the no-touch norm serves to exclude many who would otherwise benefit from renewal services. (I’m thinking, normal people.)
    I object to the conflation of cultural markers (circles, touching, flowing robes, ostentatious friendliness, beards, invented words) from the essence (liturgy, theology, experience) of renewal. That said, my objection counts for previous little – and I know it. Maybe this will help:
    Dear Hippies:
    I accepted your invitation to services. Great music! And I do love the English language prayer. Only – please don’t touch me, force me to dance, stretch or stand in a circle. What’s wrong with you?
    Let’s put up that fourth wall, people. Where it belongs.
    Thanks so much!

  13. Shavua Tov!
    Correction to something I wrote about the contrapuntal music to Ein Od. The tune which juxtaposes nicely with it is the music to Lo yisa goy el goy cherev, not Hareini M’kabeil Alai. So, what I like is how the wish for peace is sung along with the seminal, Jewish (at least) non-dual statement.
    Truth is, I’m something of a dualist. But that’s for another day.
    R’ Andrew

  14. It makes me sad that Renewal gets such a bad rap from people who have never attended a Renewal service. Thank you, David, for admitting that it was actually quite inspiring. I lived in New York for almost ten years in the 90s (before Romemu’s time) and never quite found my niche. I moved to Berkeley in 2000, and it happened right away. Granted, I was a little shocked at my first Renewal service, but it soon drew me in. I had never experienced such a joyful expression of Judaism before.
    I know plenty of others like me. Renewal reaches a lot of people that were turned off to Judaism years ago and have never been back. If you are ever in Berkeley, come visit us at Chochmat HaLev, (chochmat.org) to see what we’re up to, and let me know you are coming. (This goes for any reader of jewschool…)

  15. Only – please don’t touch me, force me to dance, stretch or stand in a circle. What’s wrong with you?
    Yes! Jew Guavara, you’re awesome.

  16. Only – please don’t touch me, force me to dance, stretch or stand in a circle
    seems to me this could go for many hasidim too…

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