The Latest from BZBI

New Ritual at BZBI

January 27, 2016

Late this past December, I had the pleasure of teaching Shabbat zemirot[1] as a guest faculty member of Mechon Hadar’s 2015 Singing Communities Intensive. It was a treat to teach songs to a group so passionate about singing- song leaders, ritual leaders, clergy and people who simply love Jewish music. In my session I shared with the group about how I developed my love for music and Jewish ritual- sitting around the Shabbat table each Friday night and Saturday morning singing song after song in full harmony with my father and brother, and powerful prayer experiences in my youth, including Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Carlebach Shul in Manhattan. Reflecting on those times brought back beautiful and poignant memories from my youth and young adulthood of deeply moving Jewish ritual experiences- times when, using the ancient forms of our Jewish heritage, I felt deeply connected to my soul, to my community, and to something greater than me- greater than us.

It got me thinking about how I started leading ritual outside the framework of Orthodox Judaism.  Around the time that I began attending Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School- an “Open Orthodox” seminary- I began co-leading healing circles with a Conservative rabbi, Paula Mack-Drill- a mentor of mine. I have always known that healing and pastoral care would be a central part of my rabbinate, and those healing circles provided a framework to create a space for healing that drew on my love of music and Jewish prayer. It was the first time that I really thought about the power of ritual to create reflective, meaningful experiences and about the possibility of creating ritual outside the framework of fixed prayer services or the Shabbat table.

I spent the summer of 2005 as an intern at the Elat Chayyim Jewish spiritual retreat center in Accord, NY. That summer was the first time that I led prayer services that incorporated movement, chanting, poetry and meditation. I had been practicing yoga and meditating since my college days at Yeshiva University. It felt like an epiphany knowing that I could bring all these different parts of myself- body, mind and spirit- into prayer. That summer I also realized that I would not be completing my studies as an Orthodox rabbinical student, that I needed to find a spiritual home beyond the confines of the Orthodox world.

In the past decade I have followed my passion to create ritual spaces that allow people to mark meaning in their lives, or even to have transformative experiences. I’ve learned a lot from spiritual leaders of many faiths. I’ve lead a wide range of musical and contemplative Shabbat services across New York and Israel, in places like Romemu, BJ and Nava Tehila; creative life cycle rituals; and even participated, as a drummer, in sacred dance rituals rooted in Native America traditions. I am happy to be bringing that passion to my rabbinate here at BZBI.

Over the past year and a half I’ve worked with Cantor Grainer, Rabbi Stone and Rabbi Friedman to expand the variety of ways to connect spiritually through ritual at BZBI. I have been facilitating healing circles here at BZBI- prayerful spaces forall who are in need of healing of body, mind, or spirit, as well as caregivers and those with loved ones in need of healing. The Healing Circles at BZBI have been a powerful tool for me to reconnect spiritually in the midst of difficult times, and I’ve been moved to see strong relationships form among some of the regular attendees of the circles.

I put together a BZBI “house band”- the Marom Band. The band has played at our RH2 concerts in Rittenhouse Square the past two Rosh Hashanahs and they’ve accompanied Cantor Grainer and me in festive Hallel services for Rosh Chodesh whenever the start of the new month has fallen on a Sunday. Cantor Grainer and I have also introduced the musical Marom Kabbalat Shabbat service- a more intimate and spirited service, full of song and punctuated with moments of silent contemplation. Marom Kabbalat Shabbat is accompanied by the skilled percussionist of the Marom Band- Shawn Hennessey.

This past High Holy Day season we introduced an alternative prayer space on Yom Kippur afternoon. Co-led by me and our member Dr. Deb Glassman- a certified yoga instructor- this Minchah alternative combined a reflective text study with light movement. For me, it was a refreshingly different way to prepare my body and mind for the final Neilah prayer.  

And starting next month, Deb and I will be introducing Shabhaktian embodied, prayerful Shabbat morning alternative on the third Saturdays of February through May. Now you can spend Shabbat morning at BZBI reconnecting to your breath, body, and soul through yoga, chanting and a discussion of lessons from the week’s parashah.

I’m excited to continue exploring together the possibilities of creating new ritual here at BZBI. Do you have feedback about any of our offerings? Do have ideas for new rituals that you’d like to discuss. Feel free to be in touch or come by my office. I’d love to talk with you about it.

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