Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fallen tabernacle

I returned today from the 8th (my 6th) Hadar Shavuot Retreat, and I have a couple questions about the davening culture at Hadar that I've been meaning to ask for a while.

  • When the Carlebach Mi Chamochah is sung at Hadar in the morning, the standard way it is broken up into lines is:

    Tehilot le-Eil Elyon, baruch hu umvorach
    Mosheh uvnei Yisraeil
    Lecha anu shirah
    Besimchah rabah ve-ameru chulam
    Mi chamochah ba-eilim Adonai
    Mi kamochah ne'dar bakodesh

    Nora tehilot oseh fele
    Shira chadashah shibechu ge'ulim
    Leshimcha al sefat hayam
    Yachad kulam hodu ve-himlichu ve-ameru
    Adonai yimloch le'olam va'ed
    Yai dai dai dai dai dai dai...

    And the hurry-up-and-wait nature of the last three lines has always mystified me. Why jam lots of syllables into the antepenultimate line, only to have extra beats left over for yai dai dai? Why not just

    Yachad kulam hodu
    Ve-himlichu ve-ameru
    Adonai yimloch le'olam va'ed

  • Melodies go through cycles of popularity. This is in part influenced by ordinary use -- if a particular melody is used successfully, it might be emulated by other shelichei tzibbur and slowly gain popularity; on the other hand, it might also become overused and then (silently) deprecated. A melody can also be placed on the fast track through mass exposure if it is taught in a large-group setting such as the Shavuot Retreat or the melody classes preceding the High Holidays. When a melody becomes popular, it's often possible to trace a mechanism by which it spreads. But I was away from New York and Hadar for a year (2007-08), so whatever happened during that year is outside my firsthand experience. So can someone explain what the deal is with "Im Eshkacheich Yerushalayim"? Don't get me wrong, I like it and I use it. But I generally use it only in instances that call for a specific mood, e.g. the Three Weeks, and that's the type of situation where I had previously encountered it in davening (e.g. selichot). And then I come back to Hadar in summer 2008, and Im Eshkacheich Yerushalayim is everywhere! It's just become a stock "slow" niggun, seemingly stripped of its specific associations. So I'm just curious how and when this happened.

And another question that isn't specific to Hadar:

  • I noticed a few weeks ago that Amos 9:11 says "sukkat David hanofelet". And "hanofelet" has an etnachta, so if there were a special pausal form of this word, it would already be there. So why do some benchers say (in birkat hamazon) "hanofalet"? Is it just a hypercorrection? The actual Tanakh text is presumably authoritative.

    A quick survey of some of the benchers in my apartment shows that the bencher population is distributed fairly randomly:

    Nofelet: B'Kol Echad, B'Osher Ashir, L'chu N'ran'nah, Livnot, Mizmor Shir, UJA, Yedid Nefesh, Zimrat Yah
    Nofalet: Ain Sof, Anim Zemirot, Artscroll, Eit Hazamir Higiyah [sic], Kolot, Limmud, Nevarech, Zemirot Yomeiru

    And that's just benchers; I didn't even get started with siddurim.

This last item isn't really a question:

  • At havdalah on the Shavuot Retreat, everyone got an individual teabag for besamim. At that point, everyone in my section simultaneously got the idea that this havdalah felt like it had been sponsored by Fox News. Of course, this probably wasn't Hadar's fault, because Hadar plans things well in advance, so this had likely been in the works before it had been usurped by the astroturfers. But it plays into a larger trend, since it is reminiscent of the fiasco at the 2005 Shavuot Retreat, when Hadar gave out free Nalgene-style bottles. A great souvenir, with just one problem: the bottles (and the folders for that retreat) were orange, so we couldn't be caught in public with them for many months afterward. Again, not Hadar's fault: the color scheme was inspired by The Gates, and the bottles and folders had been ordered well before the anti-disengagement movement took root. The point is this: time and again, the Hadar Shavuot team has shown an uncanny ability to predict the next inane right-wing meme (or at least the superficial symbols associated with it). They should start thinking of ways to capitalize on this. Does Intrade have a category for what color or prop will be waved in the protests against Obama's second-term agenda in spring 2013?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hanhu chavurata #6

We've gotten word of many more stories in the independent minyan world since last fortnight's column!

  • This week's top story is Los Angeles's newest prayer community, the Westside Minyan. Founded by people who moved west from New York, it is modeled after Kol Zimrah: full liturgy, guitar accompaniment, mostly singing, two-table potluck, etc. The Westside Minyan is actually the second minyan in LA that can claim lineal descent from Kol Zimrah: Minyan Malei Shirah was inspired by Kol Zimrah Jerusalem z"l (which was founded by people from the original Kol Zimrah in New York, but had a different style from the beginning, hence the two styles now coexisting in LA). As far as I know, there is no connection to the West Side Minyan on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (the minyan founded in the '70s that later became a part of Congregation Ansche Chesed and spun off Minyan M'at).
  • In my hometown of Chicago, this past Friday night was the first meeting of the brand-new apartment minyan in Lakeview, a neighborhood with a hopping Jewish scene. It's so new that it doesn't have a name yet, but one of the founders wants to call it Mitzpeh Yam (i.e. Lakeview, or perhaps Seaview, but it's a Great Lake).
  • We also hear that there are new minyanim in Charlottesville, Virginia (home of the University of Virginia) and Princeton Junction, New Jersey (home of the Dinky). That's all we know so far.
  • Minyan Tehillah in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a "10+10" minyan: they define a quorum as 10 men and 10 women. (This requires twice as many people as either an egal minyan or a conventional non-egal minyan.) For large minyanim that have this policy, such as Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem, a quorum is always present anyway. Smaller "10+10" minyanim can be put to the test when they have to decide what it means for them if they don't have 10 of each: Do they continue as if there is a minyan? Do they continue as if there is no minyan? Do they wait indefinitely? We have previously linked to an account of one minyan's struggle with this issue (the Mission Minyan in San Francisco). Because Tehillah has not always had 20 people of the appropriate genders, they called a town hall meeting for last night to determine what to do in this case. No word yet on the results.
  • What we reported last time about the bike ride home from the Hadar Shavuot Retreat was too good to be true; the bike ride was cancelled due to insufficient registration. The same cannot be said for the retreat itself; as usual, it has sold out and there is a waiting list. For some reason, people don't seem to want to bike 50 miles so soon after staying up all night.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Hanhu chavurata #5

After a long hiatus, the independent minyan gossip column is back!

  • The next big thing in the Boston area is the temporarily-named JP Minyan (not affiliated with JP Morgan), in the southern Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. JP is a booming area where many young Jews are moving but where not much organized Jewish activity has been happening yet. The new minyan, which has met twice so far, meets on the first Friday night of the month in participants' apartments for services and a potluck Shabbat dinner, and people are explicitly invited to come for either or both.
  • Moving further south, to the demilitarized border region between DC and Maryland known to (some of) its residents as "Sheish Esrei Elyon" (Upper 16th St): Minyan Segulah will meet for the first time this coming Shabbat morning. This new project's name alludes to the inchoate Purple Line (currently locked in a tight competition with New York's Second Avenue Subway; which will be finished later?). Segulah will be meeting three times over the next few months in participants' homes for full-liturgy egalitarian services and Shabbat meals. Unlike JP, the neighborhoods of Shepherd Park and Silver Spring have a wide array of Jewish congregations of many flavors, and this adds another option to the mix.
  • Further down the pipeline, we hear that a new Friday night thing is starting up in Vancouver. That's all we know for now; let us know if you hear anything.
  • There's also something in the works for Shabbat morning in Center City Philadelphia, aiming to start on Shabbat Noach 5770 (October 2009).
  • Here in New York, Techiyah of Harlem has been a victim of its own success, attracting not only Harlem residents but people from Morningside Heights, the Upper West Side, and elsewhere. We hear that this has led to communal soul-searching, since the minyan strongly identifies with Harlem (the name means "Renaissance") and meets in apartments, but there is now a shortage of hosts who actually live in Harlem. Techiyah has begun exploring its boundaries and occasionally meeting west of Morningside Park or south of 110th St (though not both, rachamana litzlan).
  • People from all these communities and elsewhere will be gathering in New Hampshire at the National Havurah Committee Summer Institute, which is 3 months away and filling up faster than ever. In a year when everyone predicted that attendance would be lower due to the economy, Institute registration has been counterintuitively countercyclical: 205 people have already signed up, and 4 courses are full. The Institute could actually sell out Franklin Pierce University this year! So if you're thinking about going, register ASAP if you want to guarantee a spot.
  • Not to be outdone, the Hadar Shavuot Retreat, in cooperation with Hazon, is offering a 50-mile bike ride as one option to get back from the retreat to New York City. I'm so there (and, given today's rain, glad in the end that I didn't register in time for the Five Boro Bike Tour).