Late last summer at Adat Ari El, when work was going on in earnest to craft the new One Shabbat Morning service, Rabbi Moshe Rothblum recalled feeling some resentment at having to drop his High Holiday preparations to attend a One Shabbat Morning meeting.
"But afterwards, I would be so rejuvenated and energized by the whole process of talking about it," Rothblum said. "It had an impact on everybody."
That impact has spread throughout the year, as the monthly service at the Valley Village Conservative synagogue draws between 600 and 1,000 people to a worship and study experience that puts an innovative stamp on traditional prayers and tunes.
"The idea was to find a way to build a bridge between traditional chazzanut to more innovative melodies that have been popularized by singers like Craig Taubman and Debbie Friedman, in the hopes that it will make services more accessible for a new generation of shul-goers," said Lorin Fife, chairman of the board at Adat Ari El.
The service, with some original compositions, was developed through a collaborative effort involving Rothblum, Taubman, Associate Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard, Cantor Ira Bigeleisen, lay people and outside experts in synagogue transformation and the cantorate.
The result is a service that begins at 9 a.m. with Torah study, usually by a guest scholar, and after a short coffee break at about 9:45 a.m., with the music beckoning people to join. The hall where the service takes place is set up with a the bimah in the center, so that the clergy -- one of the rabbis, Taubman and Bigeleisen or another cantor -- are closer to congregants.
Taubman leads a full band, and portions of the service are abbreviated. The Torah processional is festive and participatory, and the Torah reading consists of one aliyah -- usually a group aliyah. During the musaf service, someone shares aloud a personal spiritual journey.
The service takes about two hours and is followed by a kiddush.
Fife says the service, originally meant to attract young families, has blossomed to appeal to a wide swath of the community, surpassing all expectations. Senior citizens, empty-nesters, teenagers and kids in soccer uniforms all participate in the service, funded with seed money by the Jewish Community Foundation and the Stone Family Foundation of Baltimore.
"The kind of response we've gotten from people has been very moving," Rothblum said. "We have a lot of our members who come to it who said they ordinarily don't come on Shabbat morning, and this has reconnected them to the Jewish prayer experience. And we have people who are not affiliated with any congregation who have come to join in with all their strength in making it a meaningful experience."
For traditionalists who prefer the kind of service they have always known and loved, the main sanctuary still holds regular services every week. Bar and bat mitzvah celebrations also take place in the main sanctuary.
But the style of One Shabbat Morning is also having an impact in the sanctuary, where Rothblum and Bigeleisen are working to integrate some of the new melodies. Rothblum says they are also looking into ways to bring the clergy physically closer to the congregants in the main sanctuary.
Word about One Shabbat Morning has spread throughout the country, with synagogues calling Adat Ari El for guidance. A presentation at the Conservative movement's Cantor's Assembly this year won rave reviews. Fife says they are also working on putting together a CD with the music, to be distributed nationwide.
Los Angeles rabbis and synagogue leaders will have a chance to see what all the hype is about next week, when the One Shabbat Morning leaders put on a demonstration service for members of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California at the Jewish Federation offices on June 10. (Due to space considerations, this program is not open to the public.)
Rothblum is eager to share what he has learned with colleagues.
"I see this as something that has really strengthened the entire congregation," he said.
"It shows that we are aware |that people have different needs, and we are not trying
to do everything the same way and have one approach for everybody, because that is not going to work -- not today."
The next One Shabbat Morning service is Saturday, June 10, at Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. Torah study begins at 9 a.m., services begin at 9:45 a.m.
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