Dear Family and Friends:
Working with Jewish college students on a big campus is always interesting. Or, maybe I just find things interesting...as they say: “Whatever.” I am fortunate to advise a group that leads a once-a-month all music Shabbat service. Like so many other Jewish outfits we call it “Shabbat Rocks.” Our leader couldn’t be with us so I filled in the other night when the group got together to plan this Friday's musical service. As most know, I'm no song leader and certainly not that kind of musician, but I've worked with a lot of great ones and have a sense of what's good and what may not be. So I led the meeting but the group made all of the musical decisions. It was a good meeting.
Michelle Bennett, Jim and Amy's youngest was great. She stepped up to the plate to suggest tunes and put together the program. She's a freshman here at IU. At one point toward the end of the evening as we discussed the final prayers of the Shabbat service, she told us that she had learned a new melody, call and response, for the Aleynu. She began, “LET US ADORE,” we responded, “Let us adore,” she, “THE EVER LIVING GOD,” us, “The ever living God,” she “AND RENDER PRAISE...” us, “And render praise...” and so on. I was floored. When I asked Michelle where she learned this new tune she replied that Dan(ny) Nichols had taught it to the campers and staff at Goldman Union Camp Institute last summer. I could only smile.
You old timers in the crowd may be able to put the melody to the call and response Aleynu Michelle taught the other students. It is the one we all grew up with in our classically Reform synagogues. Here it was again. Now it was new.
Thinking back on it, it seems to me that Dan Nichols, phenomenal Jewish songwriter, performer and (always) song leader, one of the greats at creating new and exciting Jewish music, is taking our camps, synagogues, teens, college students and adults back to the future (I wonder if he has a musical flux capacitor), creating new music and remembering the music that was. Evidently, some of that music may be again. He's guiding our Jewish communities toward new musical experiences with two eyes looking forward and one looking back. I loved that the group thought it was a cool version of the prayer. Am I reading more into this than I should? Probably.
When we actually had the Erev Shabbat service a nice crowd gathered and sang with gusto. I was assigned the D’var Torah (short sermon) which came just before the old/new Aleynu. Since it was a music service I decided to lead a few folk songs instead of talking about the Torah portion of the week. I explained that it seemed to me that our world is in quite a bit of turmoil what with situations in the Middle East, Europe, and here. I said that when I sat in those college student seats the world unfortunately was also in great turmoil and we sang songs that expressed certain hopes for peace, solidarity and equality. Civil rights, Vietnam, poverty etc. were our themes. Then we sang. First it was for solidarity, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” Then for peace, “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” Then for hope, “This Little Light of Mine.” I’m happy to say that, once again we sang with gusto…and the banjo sounded pretty good as well.
Then came Michelle to teach the Aleynu. I was transported back even farther than the time of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” when I was a youngster and, at least for me, there was no turmoil; just my family and me in our little B’nai Jehoshua synagogue on 20th and Ashland, standing and singing the prayer together.
Now it’s new. Thanks, Michelle.
When Friday rolls around, have a rockin' good Shabbat.