January 26, 2006
The Sabbath Rap
The service begins with "Shalom Aleichem," but there's a twist: Injected between the traditional verses are some fast-talking, spoken-word interludes with messages for those entering into the ritual. "So recline, right after you drink this wine/ See this time is a gift from the mind of the Divine."
Welcome to Hip Hop Shabbat.
Created to help make Shabbat services more appealing to a generation that would rather spend Friday night at a free-styling rap concert, the concept mixes expectations with surprises. It was conceived by a group of friends who grew up in Oakland and call themselves the Original Jewish Gangsters (OJG), a name they took on as a minority group of white Jewish kids attending a largely black public school.
"Hip-hop adds another element to the service -- the power of the word -- which is a very big thing in Judaism," said Judah Ritterman, 25, who manages the OJGs, and also sings and raps for them. "Our lyrics add another layer of meaning to the prayer, so that [people] can understand it better."
For Ritterman, hip-hop is a natural partner to traditional Judaism.
"There is an intimate connection between the Jewish and Black communities in this country, going back to New York where there were a lot of immigrant groups in general, but more specifically in my parents' generation, when they were all fighting for civil causes," he said. "But the history of hip-hop/rap has been disproportionately influenced by Jewish people, like the Beastie Boys and the Wu Tang Clan."
Currently Ritterman and the other OJGs -- Elana Jagoda and Jonathan Gutstadt --have been performing their service in Reform congregations, which have been the most accepting of the use of electronic music on Shabbat. But they are starting to get interest from Conservative synagogues as well, and they hope that eventually Hip Hop Shabbat will reach a broad segment of the community.
"Our goal is to create an experience that is as celebratory as possible, because Shabbat is about getting people out of their day-to-day mindset and breaking into a new space for the weekend," Ritterman said. "We really want to create that."
Hip Hop Shabbat will performed at the Friday night services of Temple Isaiah at 7 p.m. on Jan. 27; Sinai Temple on Feb. 10; and Stephen S. Wise Temple at 7 p.m. on Feb. 17. For more information, visit www.hiphopshabbat.com.