A long, long time ago I was forced to go to Sunday school and Friday night services in order to learn for my bat mitzvah, just like the majority of Reform youth. I always resented it then, and even now I wonder if anything valuable came out of those 7 years of Jewish education. I always thought Judaism was that boring thing your parents made you do because their parents made them back all the way to Abraham. That is until I started NFTY- the Reform youth group.
At my first event we had a few song sessions and services, and much to my surprise, everyone was singing and having fun. And I started learning all of the songs, and I started to connect to prayer through the beautiful melodies that we used.
At Penn, the Orthodox and Conservative minyanim also had beautiful melodies. Once I had davened at their Friday night services instead of Reform for a few weeks, I went back to Reform, and realized there that I missed the songs from kabbalat Shabbat that the Reform minyan always skips. There were also tisches and shalshuddises and meals that had more songs for me to learn. Even now I don’t have all the words to every song memorized.
Eventually I stopped being comfortable without a mechitza and started davening Orthodox full-time. Which was fine in Israel when there were tons of places like Yikar and Shir Chadash where they sang all of Kabbalat Shabbat and most of Ma’ariv. But then I got back to Penn, and sadly I learned that many people did not want to sing all of Kabbalat Shabbat. I always wonder how anyone can have kavanah when they say the words so fast.
And slowly the tisches also started to lose their ruach for me. Our wonderful Chad Gadya [not the traditional melody, but our own Penn nusach] was retired back to its original status as a Passover and Simchat Torah song, as opposed to being sung at tisches and random engagement parties. The shalshuddis set up was changed, despite my objections, to having everyone be in the same room, whether they were singing or schmoozing, which means that now no one can hear the singing [unless you try very hard and are in the front 2 rows]. My spirituality has been intertwined with music, and it’s hard for me to separate the two, it’s hard for me to feel that I am getting anything out of saying those fixed words to G-d every day. In fact, even now, whenever I can, I thinking my head of the words I am saying out loud as being sung to the tunes I know for them.
Where has the kavanah gone? Why do we daven like this? Where can I find a community of BTs who grew up in NFTY or USY and miss all of the singing and have services that are slightly longer but actually spiritually intense? Does such a thing exist?
Until then I do what I can to try and get that spiritual high, though it’s very hard. There’s only so much you can do when you’re in a place where most people are somewhat complacent, ok with the status-quo. People who have not been exposed to a ruach filled davening, have no idea what they’ve missed. I could be willing to host a tisch every Shabbat, but if no one wants to come, then there will be no tisch. I could be willing to organize a carlbach minyan [and find a willing guy to lead it] but if there’s not 9 other men besides him interested, then it won’t happen. And I understand that the OCP co-chairs want to keep together the community, but I wonder whether shalshuddis should be just a time for talking. I could organize a women’s only song session, but if the girls want to talk instead, my efforts will just be thwarted. There’s nothing wrong with their approach, but I feel like I’m just a black sheep here. There must be some other way. I welcome all of you to comment with practical suggestions of how to find communal ruach.