This week’s Torah portion from Leviticus names and describes the sacred festivals of the Jewish year: Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. As Elyse Goldstein writes in her commentary on the URJ website, these sacred festivals invest time with holiness and declare ourselves as active partners with God.
In another commentary by Rachel Mikva, she adds the point that these holy days are holy because they don’t “await our convenience” and don’t accommodate our own personal schedules. As Jews celebrating a holiday, “We have an appointment, so we drop everything and show up. That’s part of what makes it special.”
She also quotes the Midrash Tanchuma that asks “whether we keep these appointments for God or for ourselves. The paradoxical response is that they are wholly for our own enjoyment . . . because the Holy One wants us to keep showing up (B’reishit 4).”
The question of showing up is an important one and is critical to how we define ourselves as Reform Jews in 2016. How do we create spiritually and socially meaningful experiences in our shul that will get people to show up? One way is clearly….Jazz Synaplex! Jazz is the perfect musical medium for Jews because it’s all about improvisation – something that is central to Jewish culture and religion and our historical status as wanderers, as we constantly needed to adapt to the mores and traditions around us. We are always striking a balance – between our ancient melodies and our new riffs on those old tunes.
Jazz, too, has some Jewish roots. Reading about Jews and jazz in one of Nat Hentoff’s JazzTimes columns, for example, he wrote about how Artie Shaw’s longtime jazz theme song actually was based on a cantorial niggun. The improvising chazzans in Orthodox synagogues sang a kind of “soul music” that connects us not only to jazz but to American blues as well.
Every generation of Jews needs to find its own voice to remain vital, its own ways to inspire people to show up. This year, as our community collectively and metaphorically composes what songs we want to sing, I imagine there will be lots of improvisation.
And all of your voices are needed! As Henry Van Dyke, an educator, once said, “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang best.”
We need all your voices and we need you all to show up…because the shul must go on!