Shabbat morning @ Romemu… a month late

A picture I did not take–rather, I stole it from Romemu’s website–of some kid and Rabbi David Ingber.

Crossposted to Jewschool

A month ago, I wrote about my experience with a Renwal-style service led by some of the leaders of Romemu–NYC’s premiere Renewal shul and one of the most prominent Renewal outposts there is. It was a Friday night service being led, not actually at Romemu, but at Limmud NY.

I gave the service three and a half ballpoint pens (|||-), and said that I’d be going to Romemu the following week for Shabbat morning. To me, one of the true tests of a shul with a reputation for spirited davening is the morning after. A reputation for spirited davening usually comes from a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat, so it’s always interesting to see if a community can maintain a good morning service as well.

This can be harder to do because people have to drag themselves out of bed–and when it comes to liturgy, it’s harder to make me happy because there’s more to do on Shabbat morning than on erev Shabbat.

So I went. As I said, it was about a month ago, so my memory is a tad rusty. But I took a lot of notes while I was there and I started drafting this the day after, so I think I’ve got most of my thoughts in order. This is the first review I’ve written since I refined the Five-Ballpoint Pen Rating System. What I’m going to try to do is go through the copious notes I took first, as bullet points. Then I’ll do a more concise write-up at the end using the new rating categories. In the service notes, the section on the Torah service may be the most interesting and insightful about Romemu as a community.

Shir Yaakov, Romemu’s [musical director/insert correct title here] provided me with a copy of the song list he was using that week, so I’ll be able to provide correct [read: coherent] descriptions of the music this time.

Getting Started

  • Began with “Hareini Mekabel Alai” by Gabriel Meyer Halevi, which I think I’ve identified as being by Kirtan Rabbi once before. That was wrong, although Kirtan Rabbi does a cover of it.

The Setup

  • There is a guy playing a cajon, Shir Yaakov is playing a djembe–though he also played guitar throughout–and a guy playing some very lovely classical guitar-type stuff.
  • Rabbi David Ingber, of course, is leading. He’s using a mic, which it doesn’t seem to me that he needs. He’s a loud-voiced fellow. I asked him about it later and he said he does need to keep his voice from getting destroyed every week. However, does he really need a flesh-tone pop star mic? And does he need to be so loud? And do we need a full-on sound guy in the back sitting at a control panel and everything? The whole things engenders and odd atmosphere, in my opinion.
  • There are, as we begin, about 20 people. They don’t fill the space at all. It feels quite empty. Ingber later told me that the previous night’s service had been one of the most packed they’d ever had. (This, mind you, was not the one I was at, which had been the previous week.)
  • The set-up is quite similar to B’nai Jeshurun, in that there is a rabbi leading from a podium, plenty of open space between the rows pews and the rabbi, and a semicircle of musicians behind and to the left of the rabbi.
  • Architecturally, the space is more similar in style to Anshei Chesed. I figure that they were probably built around the same time. Major difference: Romemu is in a church. It’s a wonderful space. If Romemu bought it from the church, they could turn it into a fantastic sanctuary for their purposes, but for now, I’m quite unsettled by the imagery around me. I’m actually a big believer in the notion that Jews ought now pray in churches. After services, I chatted with Ingber about this. He said that many in their community actually like that it’s a church. It’s a sign to many of the radical atmosphere of welcoming they want to engender at Romemu. I think you’ll all get my drift if I respond to that with an unenthusiastic “Whatever.”

An Atmosphere of Radical Welcoming

  • The radical atmosphere of welcoming, by the way, leaves something to be desired. When I arrived–a tad early, as is my wont–there were some congregants puttering around near the entrance. I wasn’t greeted by any of them, nor did any of them offer me a siddur. And about this “siddur…”

The “Siddur”

  • Siddur P'nai Or

    The siddur is P’nai Or by Rabbi Marcia Prager. I chatted with Ingber about this creation after the service. Apparently it’s one of two Renewal siddurim. I told him I didn’t think too highly of it and he said that, in that case, I should stay away from the other one all the more so! He said it’s not quite right for Romemu and that they are working on their own.

  • PO is pamphlet-y construction, overfull of clipart and poorly, inconsistently laid out.
  • Liturgically, it goes far beyond cringe-worthy.

Birchot Hashachar

  • Chanted Modeh Ani
  • For the daily blessings, we alternated between Hebrew and English
  • Once we had completed the blessings from the siddur, Ingber had people shout out the blessings they were thankful for in their own lives. Cringe-worthy doesn’t begin to cover my reaction to this. People are shouting out stuff like, “Warm gloves!” and so forth. And they’re doing all of this to the nusach!
  • There’s a quite a bit of “Take deep breaths, etc.” sort of things from Ingber. Too much of that for my taste. More than once per service, and I start deducting ballpoint pens, I think.
  • The guitar is doing this cool Spanish-sounding thing. It’s great.

Pesukei Dezimrah

  • Yeah, but how did we get here so fast?
  • Psalm 92 (“Mizmor shir leyom haShabbat etc.”) to a slow, chant-y melody. We end after “Zamru lAdonai bechinor.”
  • They play with God’s name a lot. It’s not clear if this is Ingber at work or the siddur at work on Ingber. Among others, we say Hashem, Yah, Ruach Ha’olam and Shechinah. It’s not per se, bad in my view, it’s just odd and jarring.
  • Ashrei is done to a melody I don’t know. The song list Shir Yaakov gave me says, “Ashrei–Or Zohar.” It’s unclear to me what that means. After a bit of googling, I still don’t know.
  • The spirit of the group, which is steadily growing in numbers at this point, is good, but Ingber’s mic is overpowering at times.
  • We end Ashrei after chanting the first two lines through a few times. The melody would work for a complete Ashrei–but for that, we’d have to flip all that way to page 64! Why has it been hidden somewhere other than where it belongs?
  • Psalm 150 we do to a tune I know, but it sounds quite new because the tempo is different and the instruments bring a new sound and a flavor to it. It’s good.
  • Ingber asks for “chaotic” chanting “in our own way” for Nishmat. Sounds great! Is he pandering to me? (Kidding, obviously.) It doesn’t come out chaotic at all anyway.
  • For “Uvmakhalot… Shochen Ad… Barchi Nafshi… Yishtabach… etc.” it’s quite hard to join in and follow Ingber’s wandering chant.
  • The song sheet, however, says, “Shochen Ad–nusach / U’vemakalot rivovot–Carlebach / Yishtabach–nusach.”
  • Directly from my notes: “Rm. has filled more, but still too big”
  • Chatzi Kaddish is normal
  • A Hadar fellow arrives. This seems quite odd to me. On the other hand, Romemu and Hadar are sponsoring some learning together lately, so perhaps it’s not so odd.

The part where things start to get meta…

  • Ingber mentions that a new friend he made at Limmud NY is here and looks at me. He mentions that in my review of his service at Limmud the week before, I noted: “…Ingber asks everyone to say Shabbat [Shalom] to people around [us] that we don’t know. ‘Careful though,’ he says. ‘I don’t want it to become a shmooze fest.’ Yeah, OK. It quickly becomes a shmooze fest.” So we all say Shabbat Shalom to the people around us, and successfully avoid a shmooze fest.

Shacharit

  • In my notes, it says, “Barechu same as at Limmud.” So I’ve consulted that review, where it says:
  • “Barchu is done with an unfamiliar tune. People often have a hard time discerning what to do during Barchu when it’s a tune rather than nusach because the call and response nature of it is hard to parse. That happens here.”
  • The song sheet, however, says “Barchu — Ein Od.” I guess that’s the particular melody they did?
  • Yotzer Or: Ingber wanders in English and Hebrew, chanting and explaining through Or Chadash, which is:
  • From the song sheet: “Or Chadash — Robert Esformes chant”
  • Shir Yaakov has his talit over his head for a quite meditative Ahavah Rabah
  • From song sheet: “Ahavah Rabba — Shimshai”

Random stuff from the middle of my notes

  • This resembles the loopier end of Reform almost?
  • More meditative than ecstatic, where Friday was more ecstatic. This is confirmed in a conversation with Ingber after about intentionally creating very different moods through Shabbat
  • A Hadar fellow arrives, davening out of Koren Sacks
  • I’m surprised by the number of stage directions. Maybe I shouldn’t be. I guess I’m used to spirited davening in a shul going hand in hand with a more knowledgeable community, which often means that stage directions are not needed.

Back to notes on Shacharit

  • The Shema is done in full, with a very meditative, long-lasting opening
  • From song sheet: “Mi Chamocha, Tzur Yisrael traditional”

Amidah

  • First three aloud, the rest silent, as I anticipated
  • Musically, it’s interesting. At Mechalkel in Gevurot, the instruments comes in as the nusach picks up. This, I note, requires the musicians to remain standing during the Amidah.
  • Kedusha uses a couple of Carlebach tunes I was unfamiliar with. From song sheet: “Nekadesh — Yasis Alaich Carlebach / Mimkomcha — ‘VeShamru’ Carlebach”
  • After Kedushah is over,  Shir Yaakov gets up and starts the Amidah on his own from the beginning.
  • We end the Amidah with Yihyu Ratzon in English to the tune of “Sanctuary.” More on what the means can be found here. Then, we move into the chorus of “Sanctuary” and then into a nigun version of it. Then we’re off into “Ve’asu li mikdash etc,” which often ends up in these odd Jewish liturgical mash-ups of the Christian gospel song “Sanctuary.”
  • Ingber does something that I’ve never heard before in Kaddish Shalem. It deserves its own post. So here’s that.

Interruption on demographics

  • I wrote at this point in my notes that the congregation appears to be demographically slightly older than my usual NY davening hangouts, but it’s still a quite diverse group age-wise.

Torah service

  • This felt like the longest Torah service of my life.
  • Ingber says that anyone who wants to should come open the ark. “Grab a talit!” he says. “If that sounds new agey to you, it’s from the Ari!” He looks directly at me.
  • I note a surprising lack of chaos in the service so far. This, of course, is a little troubling.
  • But then the ark door like falls off while they’re trying to extract a Sefer Torah from it. “How many Jews does it take to to take out a Torah?” Ingber jokes.
  • The service runs very much on the charisma and personality of Ingber and I wonder if Romemu could function without him. He is not just its current leader, but its founder.
  • It’s appropriate this group called Romemu is at its most ecstatic in the morning service during the hakafah as they sing… Romemu.
  • Someone is carrying the Torah around like a pile of wood. It’s bothering me.
  • Musically, it’s remarkably clear that this, the Torah, is the climax of the service.
  • Ingber mentions grassroots, DIY Judaism in the last 10 years. So nice, he says, to see people stepping up to take charge and lead their own Judaism. This seems a tad odious to me, given that Romemu was founded by a rabbi–Ingber!–and that the service is not at all lay-led. There will be some lay involvement as we get into the Torah service, but it’s worth noting that there has been none whatsoever so far.
  • There are 20 people for the first Aliyah.
  • He seems to mini-drash before each individual Aliyah. Each of these leads into an explanation of his kavanah for the Aliyah at hand, such that each Aliyah is for “anyone who [insert the particular thing here].”
  • The drashing is quite participatory. He often asks for suggestions and ideas from the community, so there is a strong sense of communal involvement at this point in the service, but it’s still not lay-led, by far.
  • The Torah is lay-read.
  • Some of the Torah is read by Jake, whose Hebrew name is Ya’akov. It is his 30th birthday and he feels he is at a turning point in life, so this is the occasion of his Jewish name-change. He is now known as Yisra’el. The name change takes place after he reads the third and final Aliyah.

Garb notes

  • There are many men and many women wearing talitot.
  • The talitot tend to be more tradition in shape and color so there are few of the sort of contemporary talitot.
  • Almost all men have their heads covered. I might be the only one with a bare head.
  • In stark contrast, only a handful of women have their heads covered.

Rating?

This is gonna be a hard one to do an overall rating for. Again, the full rating system is explained here.

Music and Ruach: Four Ballpoint Pens

The congregation is engaged and participates loudly and ecstatically. The music, led by Shir Yaakov, is fantastic, through and through. I’m giving four instead of five because of the bits chanted by Inger that were hard to follow along with and because of the sung Barechu.

The Chaos Quotient: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

Ingber is such a strong leader for the service and there are few moments of transition for chaos to occur within. Because of that, despite the loud and ecstatic nature of the service, there is little chaos. However, the near-demolition of the ark is a pretty good little bit of chaos. So two and a half sounds like a good rating to me.

Liturgical Health: One and a Half Ballpoint Pens

Liturgical health is indicated primarily by two things: 1) Attention to and regard for the structure of the service, and 2) the apparent liturgical knowledge and interest of congregants, as indicated by their siddurim of choice. The overall structure of the service was intact, but they play very fast and loose with the content of the morning blessings and Pesukei Dezimrah. The only people who brought their own siddurim were two visiting Hadar fellows. And that siddur. Oh, that siddur.

Welcoming Community: Four Ballpoint Pens

I noted earlier that I was not particularly greeted on arrival, but the kiddush afterward was fantastic and everyone was very friendly. Overall, the quality of the community is great. Romemu, in essence, is good people.

Overall Rating: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

I thought a lot about how many pens to rate this service overall. Though the people and music were truly phenomenal, the liturgical issues I had are too big for me to overlook. That said, keep in mind that this is a rating of this service, not of Romemu itself, which is comprised of much more than its Shabbat morning services. I am keen to go again, though I think Friday night might be as far as I get with Romemu again.

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21 Responses to Shabbat morning @ Romemu… a month late

  1. Geoff February 22, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    You talk alot about what choice of siddur people make, and the apparently clear connection between an engaged and knowledgeable laity and bringing one’s own siddur. Do you ever encounter people who don’t bring a siddur davka because it’s Shabbos? Or is that a NYC-thing, where the entire universe is in an eruv (yes, I know Reform/Renewal types might just not care)? I know the laws of carrying are among the most popular ones to ignore even for MO types, but it seems incongruous to me to carry an Orthodox siddur to shul on Shabbos, kindof like adding the Imahot while davening Nusach Sefard or Ari. Hey, there’s an interesting idea…

    • David A.M. Wilensky February 23, 2011 at 11:54 am #

      Do you ever encounter people who don’t bring a siddur davka because it’s Shabbos?

      Probably, but I’m essentially never in straight-up Orthodox shuls. The Hadar fellows, I assume, wouldn’t carry if there wasn’t an eruv, but–lucky for them–the whole UWS is an eruv, I believe.

      adding the Imahot while davening Nusach Sefard or Ari. Hey, there’s an interesting idea…

      Psssh. It’s been done, I’m sure. And for an Italian rite siddur with Imahot, see this post.

      • Geoff February 23, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

        Wow, I just got virtually psshed! Actually, come to think of it, I saw this:
        http://www.neohasid.org/resources/the_mommas/
        I’m rather sure someone would have stuck this into a Nusach Sefard Amidah based on this.

        • David A.M. Wilensky February 23, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

          Holy shit. This is tremendous. This is becoming its own post.

          • Geoff February 23, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

            Hooray! I win the comments! In case you haven’t seen it before, different ideas about the halachic approach behind the piyyut mode of including Imahot vs. the conventional Reform/Conservative mode can be found here: http://www.uscj.org/Including_the_Imahot8068.html

  2. Larry Kaufman February 22, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    I may comment later with my over-all reactions to this post, but for now let me clarify the meaning of Or Zohar.

    Or Zohar is a young (early thirties perhaps) Israeli musician/kabbalist/HUC rabbinical student, who is also the founder and guiding spirit of Tefilat HaLev, a prayer community in downtown Tel Aviv. Although Tefilat HaLev started out as “independent,” it has recently affiliated itself with Beit Daniel, filling the geographic void between Beit Daniel itself, in north Tel Aviv, and the Mishkan Ruth Daniel complex in Jaffa. I put quotes around independent above, partly because the kehilla, even before it became a Beit Daniel outpost, was getting a small subsidy from the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism; and also because when I think of an indy minyan, rightly or wrongly, I think of something that is essentially propelled by a group, rather than by one charismatic leader.

    I don’t have the link handy, but I wrote about my visit to Tefilat HaLev on the Reform Judaism blog, probably in July 2010. To spare anyone interested in having to look for that post, I’ll recap here. You can also check it out on Facebook.

    THL meets, if I remember right, one Friday night a month — Or refers to this as an event rather than as a service. Or leads, his wife provides music on a harmonium, and there is a lot of emphasis on singing, even though most of the crowd are newcomers to davening. THL was meeting in a dance studio, courtesy of its proprieteress, but I understand that she has closed down her dance business, and that they have moved. In addition to the room where the service was held (followed by a vegetarian potluck), another room is used as a supervised playroom for small children, who also run in and out of the service — providing a nice sense of chaos, BTW.

    There is no siddur, just a photocopied sheet which includes the words for some of the main prayers. I don’t remember whether there was any reading from a scroll, but Or does provide a drash on the parasha. The night we were there, as part of a URJ mission group, Or gave the drash in English, explaining that virtually all the Israelis had more English than the Americans had Hebrew. The service concludes without Aleinu or kaddish yatom; when I asked about this after services, Or said that he might add those later in the development of the group, but for now he thinks his constituency might find them a little threatening.

    The constituency include young families, couples, and singles, tilting towards people in the same age cohort as the Zohars, but ranging up to people who looked to be fifty-ish. (The Anerican contingent was much older.) They are attracted by a little newspaper advertising, word of mouth, Facebook, etc.

    It sounds to me as if I had a better time at Tefilat HaLev than you did at Romemu, but I don’t have a ball-point rating system to make any kind of apples-to-apples comparison.

    • David A.M. Wilensky February 23, 2011 at 11:58 am #

      The funny thing that often doesn’t come across in these reviews is my level of enjoyment. I had a good time at Romemu. I just have a lot of thoughts and nit-picks even when I like the service!

  3. Rich February 22, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    And do we need a full-on sound guy in the back sitting at a control panel and everything?

    Last time I was at Temple Israel for the HiHos I said Yesher Koach to the sound guy. It makes a difference.

    A Hadar fellow arrives, davening out of Koren Sacks
    Lesson of the year: a Koren Siddur makes EVERYTHING better.

    The song sheet, however, says “Barchu — Ein Od.” I guess that’s the particular melody they did?

    This is not an unusual treatment for the barchu. At my Conservative shul, we all know what to do with it. The lay leader most likely to use it learned his chops from a cantor who was old when he was young, so this has . . . roots.

    I think I could survive Shacharit there, but I think I would flee that Torah service.

    The earlier you arrive the less likely you are to be greeted anywhere. Since I like to make the transition into prayer with as little prior dialogue as possible, I use this to advantage.

    • David A.M. Wilensky February 23, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

      Last time I was at Temple Israel for the HiHos I said Yesher Koach to the sound guy. It makes a difference.

      It does something to the atmosphere for me. It gives a slight concert edge.

      Lesson of the year: a Koren Siddur makes EVERYTHING better.

      Always. Though my point there was just to observe siddurim in use. I usually note which siddurim people bring with them, if there are people who bring their own.

      I guess that’s the particular melody they did?

      There’s nothing unusual to me about singing Barechu. I just hadn’t heard this melody for it.

      I think I could survive Shacharit there, but I think I would flee that Torah service.

      In the final assessment, I don’t think I minded the Torah service so much. That’s the part of the service that I’m least opposed to mucking about with. But I love shacharit and the big mess of liturgy that comes before it, so I think I actually had more trouble there than anywhere else.

  4. Larry Kaufman February 22, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    @ David — You said:
    To me, one of the true tests of a shul with a reputation for spirited davening is the morning after. A reputation for spirited davening usually comes from a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat, so it’s always interesting to see if a community can maintain a good morning service as well.

    Granted I live in the world of the institutional synagogue, but it’s been my experience that the Friday night crowd has relatively little overlap with the Saturday morning crowd. Thus the challenge of maintaining ruach might depend on the resiliency of the clergy, rather than that of the community.

    At my synagogue, kabbalat Shabbat tends to be more formal and less participatory, in some measure because it’s an older crowd, in some measure because the sanctuary architecture tends to absorb rather than transmit the sound of the congregation, and also because the cantor tends to overwhelm even when he is holding back and encouraging the congregation to sing along.

    Shabbat morning, on the other hand, the music is led by someone whose voice, though lovely, is not big; when clergy are there, they sit in the community; and the congregation tilts more towards the 30’s and 40’s than towards us geriatrics. Without counting pens, I find our kab shab highly satisfying, but our Shabbat morning virtually unparalleled among congregational services.

    The one situation where I daven with the same crowd Friday night and Saturday morning is at URJ functions, which derive their ruach in part from having a community of perhaps 250 at a Board meeting or a regional biennial (z”l) who are all into participatory prayer. The numbers go up into the thousands at a North American Biennial, but the vibe is enhanced by the numbers. In either setting, I tend to find Shabbat morning more satisfying, possibly because it’s more leisurely, more focused on the liturgy than on the dinner to come.

    One more observation — the impact of the space on the service. Our Shabbat morning service is in the lower level social hall, with a view to an attractive courtyard, but in an environment which, on the one hand, is otherwise vastly unimpressive, but on the other hand, let’s us hear one another. URJ services, too, tend to be in the sterility of a hotel ballroom or the frigidity of a vast convention center. Thus, though I kind of feel that the space should play a role in the affect, in real life it tends not to.

    I don’t need to discuss the liturgy — in all the settings I’m talking about, it’s standard Mishkan T’filah. Don’t hold that against us!

    • David A.M. Wilensky February 23, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

      it’s been my experience that the Friday night crowd has relatively little overlap with the Saturday morning crowd.

      Indeed. I suppose I meant maintaining general institution ruach. I think it’s genuinely much harder to have any at all on Shabbat morning, so it’s all the more impressive when there is some.

      At my synagogue, kabbalat Shabbat tends to be more formal and less participatory…. Shabbat morning, on the other hand, the music is led by someone whose voice, though lovely, is not big; when clergy are there, they sit in the community.

      This sounds quite similar to the synagogue I grew up at. I suppose I should re-think some of what I said about this. In NYC, it seems like there’s a sort of competition going on–everyone wants to have the most spirited Kab Shab, so there are many exciting, highly participatory options. But a similar spirit of Kab Shab as the big service of the week leads to more stately services elsewhere, as you’re describing.

      The one situation where I daven with the same crowd Friday night and Saturday morning is at URJ functions, which derive their ruach in part from having a community of perhaps 250 at a Board meeting or a regional biennial (z”l) who are all into participatory prayer.

      Yeah, that’s just like my experiences with NFTY stuff in high school.

      The numbers go up into the thousands at a North American Biennial, but the vibe is enhanced by the numbers.

      At the Houston biennial, I found those numbers did not help my vibe. Maybe it was the jumbotrons.

      • Larry Kaufman February 23, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

        Houston was the one Biennial of the ten I’ve been to where Saturday morning didn’t work, I think because of so much emphasis on introducing Mishkan T’filah. When I began going, probably 1983 (Los Angeles), there were no jumbotrons, possibly because they hadn’t been invented yet, but also because they weren’t really needed. Even though I sat in the peanut gallery, I didn’t feel remote from the action on the bimah. At the two Biennials I attended as a regional president, I had a reserved seat for services up front — but by then, the Biennial had grown and even in like the fourth row, I found myself consulting with the jumbotrons from time to time. All in all, I understand why some people find them off-putting (and not just Luddites) — but I find them an enhancement.

  5. Alex February 22, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    funny, I just went to Romemu for the first time last friday evening. I think what they’re doing lends itself much better to kabbalat shabbat than to shacarit, which is why I went to darchei noam (if I had to describe it in 3 words: mechitza partnership-minyan) for saturday morning, to kind of balance out my practice for the weekend.

    without writing an overly long post, I actually kind of liked their friday night service, but I could never make it my regular place to daven, “liturgical health” possibly being the main reason. But I was impressed at how seriously they take prayer, perhaps more seriously than some of the “frummer” outfits I’ve prayed at. I liked the idea of focusing intently on one line and chanting it over and over, so often I zip through things in order to keep up with the daily minyan at Hadar that I forget to slow down and pay attention (I had the opposite “problem” pre-Hadar. I wonder what that says about the yeshiva?). And, the long chanting gives me time to finish up sections of the liturgy that they skip over if I’m feeling like being a completionist.

    On the other hand, the fact that they take prayer seriously doesn’t mean that I like all the decisions they make in trying to make the prayer environment better. Cutting out large chunks of my favorite service was quite disappointing, although they did a rousing full Lecha Dodi, which was nice. And the setup was all wrong in regard to musicians. BJ can pull it off because their musician-to-congregation ratio on a friday night is something like 7:300, whereas when I was at romemu it was about 20:80 or so. The bongos, etc. were overpowering, and they even had folks on mics singing the same liturgy as the rest of us. Nice idea, but I think it’s better to leave the straight up singing job to the congregation without supplementing it with a mini choir.

    That said, I had a really nice time there and would definitely go back. Just not every week. I think on nights when I don’t manage to pull together shab dinner plans, it’s a great welcoming warm place. The service is surprisingly long, so it’s great if you don’t have somewhere to be afterward and have no plans to fill up the rest of your shab evening. The energy is great, people are friendly, and Rabbi Ingber knows how to put on a great show. His dvar was really wonderful and I like the way he leads services. I think you’re right about the danger of having it be a one-man show though, his charisma–while wonderful–definitely carries the day. I’d be interested to hear about how he works to empower (hadar terminology!) other members of the congregation to learn from/with him.

    Also, which hadar fellow went to romemu that weekend?! I’ll have to ask around…thanks for an insightful review.

    • David A.M. Wilensky February 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

      I think what they’re doing lends itself much better to kabbalat shabbat than to shacarit

      I think you’re right about that.

      which is why I went to darchei noam (if I had to describe it in 3 words: mechitza partnership-minyan) for saturday morning…

      It’s on my list of places to go.

      Rabbi Ingber knows how to put on a great show

      That’s a sort of troubling way to put it.

      Also, which hadar fellow went to romemu that weekend?!

      There were two, but I only know one of them by name. E-mail me and I’ll tell you who it was.

  6. Jacob T February 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Serendipitously, a friend today tweeted a link to one of Shir Ya’akov’s albums: http://shiryaakov.bandcamp.com/track/lecha-dodi-sos-tasis. Not sure if this music is representative of the style at Romemu (haven’t made it yet), but I find the pronunciation of the Hebrew to be fairly off-putting. Lovely arrangements, but challenging to my understanding of piyyut.

    • David A.M. Wilensky February 24, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

      What’s wrong with the pronunciation?

      And I don’t know if it’s representative. It’s certainly similar. But there’s a different feel in the services themselves, I think.

      • Jacob T February 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

        Listen to the first stanza of Yedid Nefesh: http://shiryaakov.bandcamp.com/track/yedid-nefesh. Though the tune works a little bit better for some of the other stanzas, it forces the Hebrew to jump through hoops more than I like…the words serve the tune rather than the tune serving the words–which for a piyyut as resonant and multi-layered as Yedid Nefesh is, to me, a shame. The pronunciation here and elsewhere is very much inflected by American English–very casual, with the accents falling out in the wrong places.

        Does this make the piyyut more approachable? Or more singable? I’m not sure, honestly. Jews have always mutilated and spindled Hebrew until it meshed with the language of their particular diaspora, and maybe it’s my own prejudice that I can appreciate ashkenazis but not this new American modality.

        • David A.M. Wilensky February 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

          That’s all very interesting. I, on the other hand, often cringe at certain Ashkenazifications and especially a lot of common yeshivish nonsense.

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