There is a story of a young boy who went to services and didn’t know how to read Hebrew, but he was able to sing the Aleph-Bet. With each prayer recited, the young boy would sing at the top of his lungs the letters of the Aleph-Bet over and over again. Congregants around him started becoming annoyed and looked at the rabbi to silence the boy. The rabbi understood though that the boy’s simple prayer with sincere intention reached God. “The individual letters of this boy’s heart,” the rabbi said, “would be received as complete sentences.”
Anyone who has ever sat next to me during services knows that I am not gifted musically. I love to sing, but unfortunately, I don’t sing well. Even though we share the same first name, after hearing my voice, no one will ever confuse me for the Hazzan. Still, during services, I sing – I pray – loud and proud for song is the way that I engage in worship.
At the end of a long week, there is nothing like Friday night. In order to fully appreciate Shabbat, we depend on the symbolic transition from the busy work week to the relaxed Sabbath experience. Just as Havdallah serves as that transition from Shabbat back to the rest of the week, we need a way to pause the demanding and hectic schedules of our weeks and relax. We need an opportunity to take a deep breath, exhale, and let go of the stress of the week that has passed. We need to be able to ‘click’ into Shabbat-mode. We need a moment to embrace Shabbat. Friday night is that moment.
Now I know Shabbat morning is an opportunity for us to come together and create community through worship and conversation, through learning, teaching, and sharing words of Torah. I also understand that Shabbat morning is the central Shabbat experience for many members of our community. However, Shabbat is about more than just three hours in the sanctuary on Saturday morning. Shabbat is a twenty-five hour experience spent with family, friends, and community. Our Friday night service that welcomes in Shabbat is an opportunity to heighten our spiritual experiences in an intimate and welcoming environment.
Kabbalat Shabbat is a very different experience than our Shabbat morning service. Different worship experiences speak to different people and allow for multiple entry points into Shabbat. Our Kabbalat Shabbat service is a service that allows for one to engage on multiple levels. In the coming weeks and months, we will be exploring how we can make Friday Night Shabbat services more accessible and more engaging to you. We need your help for that! What are the reasons that you currently don’t attend our Shabbat evening service? What are the things that you believe it is lacking? What are you looking for to help you better engage in the service?
Our Friday nights services are a short service (roughly one hour in length) compared to the Shabbat morning experience. Kabbalat Shabbat is a service filled with singing, clapping, and dancing, a service that is easy to access and easy to engage. Kabbalat Shabbat services filled with melodies to sing along to are a perfect opportunity to join us in song. It is not about how well you sing (after all, I participate!) but rather, about one’s willingness to sing, to engage, and to participate. Kabbalat Shabbat is about setting the proper tone for Shabbat with reflection and kavannot, guided intentions, and rejoicing in song.
As children, we sing and we dance during services at camp or in youth group, but somehow, as adults, we think we are too old to dance around, to clap our hands, to raise our voices. Let us transmit those camp and youth group experiences to Friday Night services at the Jacksonville Jewish Center. Let us learn from the young boy in this story. Even if we don’t know the words, that does not mean we cannot sing. Even if we do not know the words, that does not mean we cannot participate.
So if you haven’t been in a while, come and check out our Friday Night Shabbat services. Engage. Participate. Sing. Welcome in the beauty of Shabbat with our community!
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
This Blog Post also appears in the June 2013 edition of the Jacksonville Jewish Center’s Quarterly “Center Pieces” Magazine