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Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Slichos at the Carlebach Shul

Hey all - a gutt yohr and gmar chasima tova to you.

I realize I'm a week late, here, but I've been mulling some Yamim Noraim-related issues and now I have a chance to write a little.

I davened the first set of Slichos at the Carlebach shul in Manhattan this year. If you've read any of my music rants, you know I'm a big 'chasid' of Shlomo and proud member of the Monsey 'chevra.' I was excited to see the Moshav Band in concert and then to daven with like-minded people. Over the previous two years, I've been honored to participate in Slichos with the Monsey chevra at private houses - and those have been deeply moving and meaningful. I figured I'd get the same feeling, amplified exponentially, at the source.

So first of all - the Moshav Band ROCKS! I am no expert, but I know quality guitar work when I see it. Duvid Swirsky and Meir Solomon, despite their relative youth, play off each other like veteran musicians - they're a joy to hear live. That's really all there is to say.

We then paused for a few words from Cheryl Shammes - whose brother, Andrew Zucker (HYD), was killed in the World Trade Center attacks - and R' Naftali Citron, rav of the shul. Slichos kicked off around 1 a.m., led by Yehuda Green. I had never met Reb Yehuda before, and I was very impressed with his enthusiasm and vocal skills. He's a consummate singer and a spirited chazan.

What I wasn't prepared for was the influx of (presumably) Brooklyn people. Streimels, payos, beepers, nextels, and the hocker-type folks to which they were connected streamed into the shul by the dozens. And they all pushed their way to the front of the shul, which miraculously accommodated them all.

The davening went nicely, I thought, until we reached "lishmoa el harina." There are a few Shlomo niggunim that fit this piyut well - Sholom Aleichem, Al Eileh, and Eishes Chayil, just to name a few. But here, they sang each stanza to a different tune, and spent a good 5-10 minutes on each one. Cute and sweet, mamesh the highest, right? Okay. But the singing was getting more enthusiastic and joyous than contemplative and prayerful. And people were clasping hands and dancing happily - which I thought was a little anachronistic.

I know, I know. "Dance your way into the book of life." You're supposed to be happy all the time. Slichos are not about misery - I get that. But they are about connecting with G-d in the darkest hours of the morning and pouring out your heart in prayer. The Slichos I've had with the Monsey chevra have been more along those lines.

So then I was thinking - this is probably why so many Brooklyn types came in. The teshuva and mussar aspects of Slichos and the Yamim Noraim have been pushed down their throats so heavily by the 'yeshivish' establishment there, and the emphasis on propriety and piety and crying and fasting so thoroughly embedded, that they feel a need to break out. And the rebound effect pushes the Carlebach Slichos past the 'rejoice in trembling' mark and into Simchas Torah territory. It's sad that this is the case, but I'm glad that these people had an outlet. It would be even more tragic to have them skip Slichos and feel that they can't be accepted without judgement anywhere in the frum world.

So - the singing faded and the davening continued, until we hit Shma Koleinu. Again, each pasuk had its own tune. More singing and dancing. Slichos didn't conclude until 3 a.m. I felt a little like it was an edurance test more than a session of soul-stirring prayer.

But the singing was deep and beautiful, and the chevra was diverse and welcoming and also beautiful, and if there's any model to follow for creating a davening where Jews of literally all races and levels of observance can be comfortable, this is the place to start.

With blessings and love to everyone - I remain yours truly.

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