A Year of Shabbat Feasting and Singing: The Emerging Story of Shabbat with Friends NM and What the Future Holds.
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg Posted on the SWF Blog on Friday, March 17, 2023
The first thing I did, when I started imagining Shabbat with Friends in the late fall of 2021, was to contact Clara Byom, a musician I greatly admired here in Albuquerque. Clara has been involved in Klezmer and Jewish liturgical music in New Mexico and works remotely for the National Klezmer Institute based in New York City. I had worked with her briefly in March 2020, organizing a Purim Singalong with Jordan Wax of Santa Fe at Congregation B’nai Israel where I was serving as interim rabbi. The pandemic shut down our early collaboration, but when it started to fade in the fall of 2021, I met with Clara to share my emerging vision.
I shared with her my view of how singing on Shabbat in the home was a key element of the Jewish way of life. We usually associate the Passover Seder as a gathering where we not only, eat but we also sing. But in reality, the tradition of Jewish singing is characteristic of all the festivals, but especially on Shabbat, and especially around the three traditional meals of the Sabbath, Friday night, Shabbat lunch, and the third meal toward the end of the day.
A Shabbat table culture is a way of describing the Jewish way of life. It is the “life is with people” dimension, in which Shabbat is an intimate experience of sharing meals, hospitality, and the cultivation of relationships through table song, informal storytelling, face to face Torah study, and just being with family, friends, and new faces. Most of all, I feel this form of singing around a Shabbat meal gets at the heart of the intrinsic joyfulness and playfulness of Jewish life.
But this life-enhancing Jewish tradition has been deeply diminished by decades on Liberal Judaism’s (Conservative, Reform, Renewal) focus on the synagogue. As a pulpit rabbi, I fought this tendency to bring everyone to the building and tried to decentralize congregational life to find a balance between home and synagogue. It was often an uphill battle.
I told Clara that I wanted to find a way to bring back home singing on Shabbat by creating a Jewish organization that was entirely focused on bringing people together on Shabbat in homes and bringing a musical experience that was magical and engrossing. While Jewish tradition for nearly 2000 years did not allow the playing of musical instruments on the Sabbath, we followed recent precedents within liberal Jewish movements for restoring live music. But we moved the music from synagogue to home gatherings around meals and shared the traditions of Shabbat table singing with great enthusiasm.
Clara loved the project, bringing Jordan Wax and me together to form the Oneg Shabbos Ensemble. As we began in early 2022, we brought to 'nigunim' (wordless melodies), 'zemirot' (table hymns), 'shirim' (short songs), to monthly gatherings first in ABQ, and then to Santa Fe. I feel confident to say that in our first year, we turned on many folks to the beauty of singing and feasting on Shabbat and have helped people rediscover this dimension in the way we “do Jewish”. I owe so much to the collaboration of Clara and Jordan for implementing our vision and to the hundreds of people who have joined us for a Shabbos meal in the past year.
Now I am asking you who have tasted this approach to Jewish life for your help in determining our next steps forward. To that purpose I have set dates/times for two forums, one in Santa Fe and another in ABQ to imagine together the future of Shabbat with Friends NM. Please save these dates:
Forum on the Future of SWF: Sunday, April 16, 2023 from 9:45 to 11:45am at a location to be announced in Santa Fe. RSVP LINK
Forum on the Future of SWF: Sunday, April 23, 2023 from 9:45 to 11:45am at a location to be announced in ABQ. RSVP Link
The forums are free and will also be accessible on a Zoom link for remote participation. Pre-Registration is requested for both in-person and Zoom access. Those details will be provided by April 1st. (no fooling). You can make a simple RSVP with this links above even before the details are posted.
In my coming blog posts, I will share ideas from our new leadership team and from engaged SWF participants on what those next steps should be. Here are some of the questions we are asking.
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Convener, Shabbat with Friends NM
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Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Rabbi Dov is the founder of Shabbat with Friends NM. He became a rabbi at 29 after schooling at UC Berkely, Harvard, and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He has maintained a blog for over twenty years, giving commentary on a wide range of themes, concerns, and passions.