Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Yom Kippur Groupies

Every year, for the past seven years, we have been regulars at the “Leader Minyan,” a heavy-duty Carlebach chevra that meets for the High Holidays and during the year on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh. Officially known as Amiqa DeBira, the Leader Minyan was founded by brothers Avraham and Zelig Leader and Zelig’s son Ebn (it has nothing to do with the congregation being being ‘leaders’…so now you know).

Amiqa DeBira is the kind of place you either love or hate. Shabbat services never end before 2:00 PM, what with all the spirited singing and dancing and drawn out m’shberach’s at Torah reading time. Those who don’t appreciate the intimate joy that this kind of over-the-top davening brings are quick to deride its unholy length, rolling their eyes judgmentally and commenting how they like their prayer short and to the point. To each his own. We love it.

The minyan is always a blast. But it especially rocks on the High Holidays when Ebn (who has been in Boston for the past several years completing a PhD and studying for Rabbinical Ordination) returns to Israel to lead services.

Ebn’s style is unique. He scores the service like a rock opera, bringing the music at times to crescendo, dipping down to melodic introspection, rocking out with an infectious beat, and finally soaring with a repeating wordless chorus on a par with the best of Genesis in its heyday.

Arms flailing, dancing at the bima, he mixes Israeli pop tunes, snatches of reggae, classic folk (Greensleeves is a favorite), Sefardi nigunim, the best of Carlebach (but not only Carlebach as in the other Carlebach minyans), and urban rap (his hip hop adaptation of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ during last year’s Rosh Hashana services is missing only the scratching on an old 45).

There are those who say Ebn is too over the top. That he is more self-aware than selfless. I say he is Yom Kippur’s first true rock star and we are his groupies. Were he not in Boston, we would follow him anywhere. We are awed when he enters the room, breathless with anticipation as his deep baritone belts out Kol Nidre, and high on life during the all-together, arms-bonded dancing at the end of Kaddish (I always used to tell people it went on for a full 20 minutes, but this year I timed and it only lasts 7).

For those who still imagine that prayer must necessarily be composed of old men wailing and shuckling, and that Yom Kippur is a somber day of reflection, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Yom Kippur is the happiest, rockin-est, dancin-est day of the year. And I know a shul-full of pre, post, and wanna-be hippies who’ll testify to that!

There’s more on the growing number of “happy minyans” in this Jerusalem Post article.

May you be inscribed in the blog of life!

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