A review of a new minyan in Austin–and how a Christian gospel tune wound up there

I have previously written about this tune’s use by Jews here.

The review of Minyan Kol Zimra at Congregation Agudas Achim is toward the bottom. I begin this post with some history about the bizarre liturgical wanderings of this song:

I first heard “Lord Prepare Me” at Kutz, the Reform movement’s high school-only summer camp, in the summer of 2006. A girl’s cabin was leading services and they sang this song to begin services:

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary / Pure and holy, tried and true / With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you / etc.

After that, I heard it multiple times in Reform youth settings. I have heard it sung in English, sung as a nigun and I’ve heard it used as a tune for Hinei Mah Tov–and as combinations of all of the above. I’ve also heard a version where the line “V’asu li Mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham (Build me a Temple so I can dwell among you)” is used as the lyrics.

Recently, I started hearing it in the indie minyan world. According to notes in the margin of my Koren Talpiot Siddur, I heard it on Nov. 19 at Kol Zimrah on the UWS of NYC. It was used as a tune for Mi Chamochah. A quick survey of two people sitting with me found that neither of them knew the origin of the tune. A bigger survey at dinner revealed that no one I asked about it knew where the tune was from.

I’m also pretty sure I’ve heard it in some other indie minyan setting, but I can’t recall where.

This week, my dad and I went to check out Minyan Kol Zimra (no relation), a new chapel minyan at our local Conservative shul, Congregation Agudas Achim. Rachel Kobrin, their young new assistant rabbi, started the monthly minyan a while ago (meaning she’s been there a year, I became aware of the minyan this summer, but I have no idea when it started). She bills it as a musical, community-led minyan. Clearly, she’s trying to replicate the feeling of an indie minyan.

To some extent, it works. To some extent, it doesn’t. She tried to get people to get up and dance with her twice, with very limited success. She said at one point that people often shout out a new tune or nigun and the leader will adjust to follow the spontaneous change. Yet, I observed that on the couple of occasions that this happened, it was just Kobrin starting up with something and leader following suit.

One of the nigunim that she lead (and there were many) was a nigun of “Lord Prepare Me.” She also used it as the tune for the Musaf Kedushah, which only kind of worked.

Overall, I liked MKZ. It was spirited–mostly. There were a few stumbles where the majority of people–including myself–seemed complete confused as to where we where in the tune or the nusach, which was mostly because tunes from anywhere and everywhere in the Carlebach-indie-etc-whatever repertoire were being applied to pieces of liturgy they weren’t necessarily made to fit. But that was fine.

The level of chaos was off the charts. My dad and I love chaos in a service, especially in Shabbat morning, but even we were surprised by the level of chaos achieved by this group. Which isn’t a criticism. We loved that aspect of it. And the group was as warm and welcoming as a high level of chaos usually indicate.

I have one major criticism: The service began with Shacharit. We skipped right over Morning Blessings and Pesukei Dezimrah and went right to Nishmat. From there on out, it was a full Conservative service–though we did use the “Heiche Kedushah” business where you don’t do a repetition of the Amidah or Musaf. You might think that excluding the whole beginning of the service and the Reader’s Repetitions, only doing Shacharit, Amidah, Torah Service and Musaf would shorten the service. Yet, MKY managed to drag the service out from 9:40 or so all the way until noon! This is probably because of excessive niguning and the terrific chaos.

EDITED 12/21/10 around noon: Apparently, for the first nine months of Minyan Kol Zimra, they did Pesukei Dezimra. It was a new experiment this week to replace is with some niguning.

I give Minyan Kol Zimra at Congregation Agudas Achim three ballpoint pens.

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12 Responses to A review of a new minyan in Austin–and how a Christian gospel tune wound up there

  1. Harold December 21, 2010 at 10:56 am #

    Yeah, it was great fun! Not having the experience of attending other indie-style minyanim like David, I can only compare it to two things: lay-led Shabbat morning services at our Reform Congregation Beth Israel when there is no bar/bat mitzvah and a year-long experiment of a library minyan CBI.

    The low level of chaos that is usually present at any CBI event is charming and makes us feel at home. The level of participation and ruach at Minyan Kol Zimrah at Agudas Achim is what I had in mind when I helped start the CBI library minyan. We never quite got there with the Library Minyan.

    I enjoyed the fact that small children were in attendance at KZ and clearly welcomed by all. There was a pile toys in the back that they made good use of. One kid even found a tambourine in the pile which added just a bit to the chaos.

    My main complaint is that the mix of melodies did not always work. As David mentioned, some did not quite fit the liturgy they were applied to. I was also disappointed that they skipped the morning blessings and Psukei D’Zimrah.

    I was happy to see people from multiple congregations there which made me feel much less like an outsider. Also, Rabbi Kobrin was about as friendly and welcoming as one can be when we met here before the service started.

    I may not go there every time, but I will definitely be back.

  2. David A.M. Wilensky December 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Apparently, for the first nine months of Minyan Kol Zimra, they did Pesukei Dezimra. It was a new experiment this week to replace is with some niguning.

  3. Larry Kaufman December 21, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    I knew babies took nine months — but niggunim?

  4. Jenn B December 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    If you ever find yourself in Madison, Wisconsin come check out our monthly alternative minyan at Temple Beth El. We’ve got 4 core families and two of them have kids under 2. It’s chaotic to say the least, although I do try to keep the noise down so those who wish to focus on the prayers stand a chance (except for me, because I’m wrangling a toddler). I’m so glad to hear that we’re not so odd. Sometimes we show up and realize there’s no leader for the week and the guitarists take a turn leading with input from the group. It’s crazy but it’s home.

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