Approximately 1,000 people are singing the late songwriter Debbie Friedman’s version of Lech-Lecha. Craig Taubman, musician and composer, leads them along. In a moment, Taubman asks the crowd to stop singing—the large band accompanying him continues to play a gentle instrumental—and he calls everyone’s attention to Friedman’s parents, who are sitting in the audience. Taubman asks everybody who are sitting in the first eight rows to turn away from the stage and face the center. He asks Friedman’s mother, who is seated in the lower-center seating area, to raise her hand.
Friedman wrote the song that you are all singing, Taubman says. I’m standing on the shoulders of my parents, but I’m also standing on the shoulders of Debbie Friedman, Taubman says.
The crowd—a mix of old and middle-aged couples, young professionals and parents with their children—applaud Friedman’s parents, and everyone continues singing Lech-Lecha.
It’s one of the last songs of the evening—an approximately two-and-a-half hour music-filled Shabbat service called “A Mid-summer Night Shabbat,” at the Ford Amphitheater, on Friday, Aug. 24. By the end of the festivities, there are more than 25 artists, performers and presenters on stage, including Taubman, Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute; Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom; musicians Josh Nelson, Shany Zamir and Ari Herstand; Jewish-yoga instructor Zack Lodmer; artist Amir Magal and other performers and presenters.
Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, co-organized the event with Taubman, founder of Craig N’ Co, under the auspices of cultural series the Big Jewish Tent. Founded in 2011, the Big Jewish Tent facilitates themed, large-scale recreational community events, hoping to build bridges. Past Big Jewish Tent events include the Tu B’Shevat Nature Fest; Spavuot, a mind-body-Torah Shavuot festival and the Jewish County Fair.
During Mid-Summer Night Shabbat, three simultaneous Shabbat celebrations took place across Los Angeles last Friday. According to Kaplan, who also served as master of ceremonies at the Ford, over 2,000 people in total attended the three events, including a Shabbat picnic and concert at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills and Shabbat-themed family-friendly activities at Westward Beach/Point Dume in Malibu.
Several synagogues, including Temples Aliyah, Ramat Zion, Judea, Kol Tikvah, Congregation Or Ami, Shomrei Torah Synagogue and Valley Beth Shalom and the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance gathered for the event in Woodland Hills.
At the Ford on Friday, the concert followed the structure of a Shabbat service. Taubman and co. led, and the crowd participated in, the various traditions, prayers and blessings of Shabbat, including a pre-service Kiddush, the welcoming of the Shabbat bride and musical renditions of the shema, amidah and aleinu. Many in the crowd arrived early and dined on food and wine at the Ford’s patio areas, and many drank at their seats.
“Just like the shul I grew up in, right?” Feinstein joked. Throughout the evening, Taubman and his and Feinstein switched off taking the reins. Feinstein told stories and jokes and asked audience to forget about the daily struggles of the Los Angeles workweek, to let go of their inner kvetch and to enjoy the wine, the company and the unusual setting and finally, to embrace Shabbat.
“You’re in the Ford-freaking-amphitheater on a Friday night!” he said.