LimmudPhilly: Shabbat morning at BZBI with a weird-ass Musaf thing

I went to LimmudPhilly and wrote a bunch of posts. Here’s a guide to them.

I was gonna go to Society Hill Synagogue, which the LimmudPhilly program book described as “Unaffiliate, Conservative-style” because I wanted to know what that means. According to one person I asked, there are readings. Gah.

But Desh–a regular Jewschool commenter who I had met for the first time in person the night before–said he was going to Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel–which everyone calls BZBI–because it’s much closer to him. Turns out, it was easier for me to get to as well and it seemed better to go somewhere with a friend.

Plus, I figured, it would be nice to go somewhere predictable and not feel like I have to write a review. Wrong on so many levels, was I.

First of all, at a Conservative shul, I expect a kippah patrol. I arrived with my kippah at the ready, but did not put it on. Eventually, the honors patrol came by and offered me gelilah (this story starting to sound familiar to anyone?). I accepted, certain that he was also about to tell me to cover my head. Instead, he handed me the card–intricately detailed instructions, by the way–thanked me and told me we’d have to find a kippah to wear on the bimah. I told him I had one with me and he said OK fine whatever and moved on with his honor-distribution duties.

I consulted Desh–quite the regular at BZBI and thank God for that because I ended up sitting in a rather snarky section of regulars, just my type!–and he said that at BZBI, men are expected to cover their heads in the sanctuary (so much for that), but everyone is expected to cover their heads on the bimah. Given that, I felt fine putting a kipah on for gelilah. The cantor (more on her shortly) told me I was a very skilled Torah dresser, by the way.

(As an aside, there were way too many women whose doily-laden heads looked like they might take flight at any moment for my comfort!)

Anyway, notes (mental, I mostly refrained from notetaking) from BZBI:

  • The cantor and the music: Despite being very appreciative of my Torah-dressing skillz, the cantor drove me berserk. All of the melodies in the service were familiar to me and none were unusual for the Conservative setting. However, this cantor–one of those cantors who closes her eyes while emoting her way through every other note–was all over the place with this melodies. In some, she was putting the emphasis in funny places, in others, tweaking the melody ever so slightly. It made it impossible to sing along. I also think I was sitting in the only section of singing along types in the whole place.
  • Am I done with rabbis and cantors on bimahs? I’m beginning to think I’m never gonna be happy with a rabbi-and-cantor-on-the-bimah arrangement. I hate it more every time.
  • Begin with Ps. 92? BZBI is apparently trying something new. Their services used to begin at 9 and end at 12:30. The new plan is to being at 9:30 and end, still, at 12:30. [EDITED: I got those times way wrong. Here are the correct times.] There are variety of strategies for doing this that are currently undergoing testing. One of them is to skip straight through Pesukei Dezimrah. So they begin with Psalm 92 and then it’s straight on to Kaddish Yatom and then on to Shochein Ad straight away. Given that the Kaddish that’s at the beginning of the service can tend to migrate anyway, this makes some sense. And there is, of course, a devoted corps (mostly just Desh and some old dudes) who come early to go through PD on their own.
  • No Imahot? I was surprised to find a Conservative shul with a (relatively) young Shabbat morning crowd and relatively (like, really relatively in the case of the rabbi) young rabbi and cantor that still isn’t doing Imahot. Desh and others explained to me that the rabbi and cantor are in favor of doing Imahot, but there are some very strident anti-Imahot people who are quite old. I guess they’re just waiting it out…. Anyway, it was odd.
  • The nusach massacre continues in Kedushah: This is getting grotesque. Kedushah took like ten minutes. *face-pew*
  • The hakafah crisis: The sanctuary has an aisle up the middle and one on each side and both are connected in the back and front. Normally at BZBI, both hakafot proceed all the way up the middle and down both sides. But this week, in the interest of saving time, the rabbi announced that the first hakafah would only go up the middle aisle and that it would go all the way around–skipping the middle aisle–the second time. There was a lot of discussion of how much time this might actually save from within the snark-zone I was sitting in.
  • Thank God for the Torah readers! One of the reasons BZBI needs special strategies for shortening the service is that they’re still doing full readings of the Torah! No triennial here, friends. Yet, the Torah reading is about the coolest thing ever. There’s a retired Baghdadi Sephardi rabbi in the congregation who reads Torah. He does it about as slowly as I’ve ever seen it, but it’s damn cool to hear him doing it. He differentiates in pronunciation between Chet and Chaf and I can hear him vocalizing his Ayins from time to time. His wife then does haftarah, which is also great!
  • And then the second hakafah: They almost forget that they’re not going up the middle aisle. They go up one side, halfway across the back and then turn to go down the middle. They a good portion of the way down before they get the message from the rabbi, gesticulating wildly, to turn around and go back to the back and then come back down the other side. The snark-zone is in stitches.
  • And then the little kids started singing! Good God. There’s nothing worse than accidentally showing up to a consecration service! They do religious school on Shabbat at BZBI so the consecration kids (third grade or something?) emerged and joined us in the service toward the end of the Torah service. They sang  (!), of all things, “Yachad Lev v’Lev”–and Israeli pop song–and something I’d never heard of. And then. Shit. Got. Weird.
  • Then they started singing Avot… v’Imahot. At the point in the service, I didn’t know any of the stuff I wrote earlier about how Imahot works (or doesn’t) at BZBI. The kids sang Adoani Sefatai Tiftach and then they actually started singing Avot v’Imahot. In the snark-zone, there was a lot of uncomfortable glancing about and hiding behind pews. We weren’t sure if this was meant to be musaf or what was going on at all.
  • It was musaf. But there was a poem with some remarkable rhyming. One of my new snark-zone friends said of me to Desh, “He’s never gonna come back, is he?”
  • Eventually, it was over. And we did real Musaf. And then we all moved on with life.

Rating: The Five Ballpoint Pen Rating System is explained here.

Music and Ruach: One Ballpoint Pen

I didn’t like the music at all and there seemed to be very little ruach of any sort in the room.

The Chaos Quotient: Four Ballpoint Pens

I’m gonna go ahead and count whatever those kids up to toward this service’s tremendous Chaos Quotient. Between that and the hakafah, this shul is to be congratulated. On the one hand, I didn’t like the service too much. On the other hand, the chaos was excellent and made me feel very much at home.

Liturgical Health: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

On the one hand, I don’t like having the beginning of the service so truncated and the reason they don’t do Imahot is silly. On the other hand, it’s nice to find a shul making conscious, but practical choices about liturgy. And the full reading was pretty spiffy. On the third hand, I didn’t see anyone using anything other than Siddur Sim Shalom.

Welcoming Community: N/A

I arrived pretty early, had friend there already and bolted when the service was over so I’m not gonna try to rate them on this one.

Overall Rating: One and a Ballpoint Half Pens

And they’re only getting that half because the chaos was so good.

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18 Responses to LimmudPhilly: Shabbat morning at BZBI with a weird-ass Musaf thing

  1. Geoff March 11, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    “men are expected to cover their heads in the sanctuary (so much for that), but everyone is expected to cover their heads on the bimah”

    Do you mean “not expected” in the first instance?

    “Kedushah took like ten minutes.”

    Was the person leading Kedushah standing in the classic feet-and-legs-glued-together pose? In my experience, lack of discipline in amidah-stance tends to correlate with overlong Kedushah, because you wouldn’t intentionally stay stuck in that position for so long.

    Also, I guess I knew they existed, but I’m not sure I’d really encountered a female Cantor in a Conservative shul before.

    • BZ March 11, 2011 at 10:03 am #

      Was the person leading Kedushah standing in the classic feet-and-legs-glued-together pose? In my experience, lack of discipline in amidah-stance tends to correlate with overlong Kedushah, because you wouldn’t intentionally stay stuck in that position for so long.

      I’ve seen people lead Yom Kippur musaf staying in that stance (other than when prostrating) for about 2 hours. I don’t know how they do it.

    • David A.M. Wilensky March 11, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

      I did not mean “not expected.” They expect it, but don’t enforce it, it seems. Or, at least they didn’t on that morning.

      I do not recall her pose, though I think she may have been facing us, at a podium.

      And that’s weird about female Cons. cantors. There’s plenty of them about.

      • Geoff March 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

        Interestingly, I’ve also only met one female Conservative Rabbi, and she works for a Schechter School, not a congregation. I’m sure in another 10-20 years things will be very different.

      • BZ March 11, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

        To clarify for Geoff, I think the “but” was intended to distinguish between “men” and “everyone”, not between “not expected” and “expected”.

        • Geoff March 11, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

          Aha! Thank you. Perhaps my misunderstanding was the result of what they call cultural blinders.

  2. BZ March 11, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    The new plan is to being at 9:30 and end, still, at 12:30. There are variety of strategies for doing this that are currently undergoing testing. One of them is to skip straight through Pesukei Dezimrah.

    It goes 3 hours without pesukei dezimrah??? Whoa.

    So they begin with Psalm 92 and then it’s straight on to Kaddish Yatom and then on to Shochein Ad straight away.

    I guess by doing Psalm 92, they just barely avoid making the berachah at the end of Shochein Ad a berachah l’vatalah?

    One of the reasons BZBI needs special strategies for shortening the service is that they’re still doing full readings of the Torah! No triennial here, friends.

    I don’t have enough evidence yet, but I still suspect that services with “triennial” Torah reading aren’t shorter.

    • Geoff March 11, 2011 at 10:23 am #

      I’m always amazed when I realize how much time is spent drawing things out in this way or that. It really hit home one time when I couldn’t make it to shul and davened at home, finishing in about 30-40 minutes, and doing (minus kaddishes, kedushah, and leyning) what normally takes 2-2.5 hours (we do an abbreviated PD”Z, only one big mi-sheberakh, no dvar torah, no prayer for community/israel/etc. and of course no yekum purkans or korbanos). Every time you’re doing something where people can even think about singing along, that’s, strictly speaking, a time sink. (Many would argue that we should have more of that, and less of the low buzzing speed-davening, but I’m not getting into that now.)

    • Desh March 11, 2011 at 11:05 am #

      It goes 3 hours without pesukei dezimrah??? Whoa.

      Nope. See below.

    • David A.M. Wilensky March 11, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

      It goes 3 hours without pesukei dezimrah??? Whoa.

      I was wrong about the time. See Desh’s comments below.

      I guess by doing Psalm 92, they just barely avoid making the berachah at the end of Shochein Ad a berachah l’vatalah?

      I suppose that’s the notion.

      I don’t have enough evidence yet, but I still suspect that services with “triennial” Torah reading aren’t shorter.

      How’s that evidence coming, by the way? Because I’m not buying it.

  3. Desh March 11, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Tempting to fisk, but eh. I’ll just hit a couple points.

    BZBI is apparently trying something new. Their services used to begin at 9 and end at 12:30. The new plan is to being at 9:30 and end, still, at 12:30.

    The old plan was 9-12, and they almost always hit the 12:00 mark. They were often on pace to finish early and slowed things down a bit. Usually the rabbi would talk a little longer, musaf would be a full repetition, and/or the “ok, take a few seconds to introduce yourself to someone new” part would happen at all and/or would be as many as 5 minutes. Finishing exactly at 12 is desirable because that’s when the Hebrew school ends.

    During the past two summers, they started at 9:30 and ended at 12. This was mostly accomplished by a much shorter sermon, by not having things like a consecration that would “necessitate” the full 3 hours without killing time, and by not having a hebrew school (so occasionally ending a few minutes late is ok).

    The current plan, year round, is 10-12. (I think the recent change resulted in confusion on the part of the people who edited the Limmud materials.) So far, of the four times I’ve attended under the new timing, they’ve ended as early as 12:11. Two of those four times were hallel and the consecration you refer to, so sometimes it can creep as late as 12:30. They haven’t quite reconciled the plan to start at 10 and finish “at 12” (and remember they used to be really good at ending when they say they will) with the fact that the cuts they made don’t total an hour. If they would just admit that a reasonable goal is to end at 12:15, then I’d love the new arrangement (except for the PdZ part).

    So they begin with Psalm 92 and then it’s straight on to Kaddish Yatom and then on to Shochein Ad straight away.

    This isn’t the psalm 92 in PdZ; it’s shir shel yom. In Sim Shalom and in most Conservative shuls I’ve attended, it takes place between birkot hashachar and PdZ (at least on Shabbat); in most other siddurim and most other places I’ve attended, it’s at the end of musaf. BZBI used to do it in the Sim Shalom location. The first week of the new schedule, they cut it along with the rest of birkot hashachar/PdZ; they restored it presumably with the understanding that it was more important than the rest of the cuts. I wish they’d added it in at the end instead of the beginning, but I’m more glad they’re thinking about it in that way at all.

    (In the minyan I help run, we do shir shel yom on Shabbat mornings after shacharit and before taking out the torah. It’s a Sefardi (or nusach Sefard, I always get them mixed up) thing, but it’s more because I want the service to be at least a little different and a little new for all attendees, not just the ones unused to trad/egal.)

    Desh and others explained to me that the rabbi and cantor are in favor of doing Imahot…

    To mitigate the L”H quotient here slightly, I’m not totally sure what the rabbi’s opinion is.

    On the third hand, I didn’t see anyone using anything other than Siddur Sim Shalom.

    I really shoud’ve shown you the several shelves of other siddurim that are offered in the back. They have an interesting collection. But on the other hand, they rarely get used; the only ones I’ve ever seen someone choose are the Singlish one and the Metsudah Siddur. And that’s not so common. (Some friends and I bring our Koren Hebrew/English sometimes, but I didn’t feel like it last week.)

    [I]t seemed better to go somewhere with a friend.

    Nice meeting you! And thanks for tagging along; it was fun to watch you react to our various quirks!

    • David A.M. Wilensky March 11, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

      Tempting to fisk, but eh. I’ll just hit a couple points.

      Oh, come one. Give me a proper fisking.

      I’ll correct the times in the post.

      And yeah, I wish you had shown me the siddurim in the back! Though I did find the boxes of Lev Shalem behind the choir thingy.

    • BZ March 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

      In Sim Shalom and in most Conservative shuls I’ve attended, it takes place between birkot hashachar and PdZ (at least on Shabbat); in most other siddurim and most other places I’ve attended, it’s at the end of musaf.

      Though Sim Shalom prints shir shel yom at the beginning, they also note it as an option at the end.

      • Geoff March 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

        Yup. At weekday minyan at my shul we use Sim Shalom and put shir shel yom at the end, which is disorienting what with the fakeout ending and the flipping back to the beginning. (We also usually do Mizmor Shir Chanukas at the end as well, so that we can hang a kaddish on it, which usually doesn’t happen at the beginning.)

  4. Larry Kaufman March 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    You say it’s pronounced BZBI. Is that B-Z-B-I or Bizbee?

    I ask because, here in Chicago, North Shore Congregation Israel is familiarly known as Nisky, whereas B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim is called B-J-B-E by some, and Bijbee by others. BZ can correct me on this, but I believe that B’nai Yehuda Beth Shalom is B-Y-B-S, and never Bibs. On the other hand, its neighbor, Anshe Sholom, A Beth Torah, is usually just referred to as Anshe.

    • David A.M. Wilensky March 13, 2011 at 12:59 am #

      Ah, sorry. It’s not pronounced Bizbee, but spelled aloud, like B-Z-B-I.

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