Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged Recap

This past Saturday evening, Jews from all over the city visited Congregation Beth Sholom to mark our entrance into the final days of preparation for the Yamim Noraim ("the Days of Awe"). A joint production of Beth Sholom, The Kitchen, Kehillah San Francisco, and Congregation Anshey Sfard, Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged made for a special night (and early morning!) – the spirited service didn't end until almost 2 a.m.!

The centerpiece of Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged was a communal singalong featuring brothers Yehuda and Nahman Solomon. (Yehuda is the frontman of the Israeli-American folk-rock band, Moshav, as well as founder of Los Angeles' Happy Minyan.) Yehuda and Nahman were joined by prayer leaders and hazzanim from all of the participating communities – together, they led the crowd in giving voice to Selichot, our tradition’s beautiful and penitential piyyutim (liturgical poems). According to Ashkenazi tradition, the recitation of Selichot begins after midnight on the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah and, although our service didn't wind down until the wee hours, there was no shortage of energy and ruach in the Beth Sholom Sanctuary! Even at the end of the service, attendees danced, stomped, and swayed with the music and piyyut, awakening to the urgency of this moment and our need for teshuvah.

Before the main service began, attendees gathered for a lovely Havdalah ceremony and a community Selichot beit midrash co-led by Rabbi Aubrey Glazer and Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan. The study session compared our traditional High Holy Days liturgy and selected lyrics of recently departed songwriter, Leonard Cohen (z"l). The takeaway from the session was the value of wrestling with the difficult personal work of teshuvah and cultivating a relationship with the divine (a struggle reflected in Cohen's poetry and lyrics).

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, the need for a commitment to teshuvah becomes increasingly urgent, but it is likewise important to balance the moments of reckoning with moments of joy. Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged provided both.

Thanks to the rabbis, performers, and prayer leaders who made the evening so moving and fun. Thanks, too, to all of the friendly folks from The Kitchen, Kehillah San Francisco, and Congregation Anshey Sfard who participated, making a memorable evening that much better. Todah rabbah, and l'shanah tovah u'metuka (for a good and sweet year)!

A selection of photographs and videos are included below. Please visit our Facebook page for more.

Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged

Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged
Sing in the "Season of Awe"!

Congregation Beth Sholom,
The Kitchen, Kehillah San Francisco, and Congregation Anshey Sfard
co-present a rollicking musical exploration of the traditional Selichot liturgy.


September 16, 2017
9 – 10 p.m.,
Special "Heart Opening" Havdalah
   w/ Moshav (for young adults)
10 – 11:30 p.m.,
Broken Prayer & Its Repair: A Communal Selichot
   Beit Midrash
On The Prayerful Songbook of
   Leonard Cohen
11:30 p.m. – 1 a.m.,
Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged

At 9 p.m., we invite young Jewish singles, couples, and friends to join us for scotch and a rousing musical Havdalah with Yehuda Solomon (frontman of the popular Isareli-American band, Moshav), Nahman Solomon, and our community leaders.

At 10 p.m., all ages are invited to join us for Broken Prayer & Its Repair, a deep dive into the songwriting of the late, great Leonard Cohen (z"l) and its Selichot significance.

Then, at 11:30 p.m., we’ll open our hearts, dance, and prepare for the work of redeeming our world in 5778! After the incredible success of last year's Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged, we're super psyched to again raise our voices together. Yehuda, Nahman, Hazzan Avyatar Alfassi, Rabbi Glazer, and other friends will lead us in the joyous communal sing-along experience, one that features appearances by many special guests – musicians, singers, and rabbis – it’s a neo-Carlebach kumzitz meets The Last Waltz mash-up! Singing and moving together with communal leaders and singers from CBS, Kehillah San Francisco, The Kitchen, and Congregation Anshey Sfard, we’ll rediscover the power of the Selichot, our tradition’s beautiful and meaningful penitential piyyut (Jewish liturgical poems).

All parts of this special evening are free, but pre-registration is required. Please register below!

Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged Recap

facebook_yehudasolomonduvidswirsky_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016Almost two hundred people visited the CBS campus this past Saturday evening to mark our entrance into the final days of preparation for the Yamim Noraim ("the Days of Awe"). A joint production of CBS, the Mission Minyan, and The Kitchen, Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged made for a special night (and early morning!) – deeply affecting, joyous, and fun.

The centerpiece of the night was a communal singalong featuring Yehuda Solomon and Duvid Swirsky of the Israeli-American folk-rock band, Moshav. Yehuda and Duvid were joined by prayer leaders and hazzanim from CBS, the Mission Minyan, and the Kitchen – together, they led the crowd in giving voice to Selichot, our tradition’s beautiful and penitential piyyutim (liturgical poems). According to Ashkenazi tradition, the recitation of Selichot begins after midnight on the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah (or the Sunday prior, if Rosh Hashanah falls on a Monday or Tuesday, as it does this year) and, although our service didn't wind down until 2 a.m., there was no shortage of energy and ruach in the CBS Sanctuary! Attendees danced, stomped, and swayed with the music and singing, awakening to the urgency of this moment and our need for teshuvah.

Speaking of teshuvah and the related seasonal demand for chesbon hanefesh (a rigorous "accounting of the soul"), Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan shared some moving words during the film panel that occurred earlier in the evening. Following a screening of Fire On The Water, a short film dealing with the Akedah (the binding of Isaac) that Rabbi Aubrey Glazer made during his days as a student filmmaker, Rabbi Wolf-Prusan spoke earnestly of his anxiety about the lack of communal sacrifice experienced by Jewish Americans in the last 50+ years. What loss has our society felt, he asked, as we wage an ongoing war in Afghanistan? Too many families lose their sons and daughters, of course, and our federal coffers are steadily drained, but the majority of Americans are insulated from the war – it remains a background abstraction, and there is little to no sense of communal commitment, contribution, or sacrifice. Even during the Vietnam era, Rabbi Wolf-Prusan argued, despite the anti-war movement and the greater public awareness of the body count (on both sides of the conflict), our culture experienced the 1960s and early 1970s as a period of economic growth and general prosperity. He contrasted this with the American experience during World War II, when all citizens were required to ration foods, fuel, and many consumer goods. We haven't experienced anything like that since the 1940s. "When will the bill come due?," he asked the audience.

Rabbi Dorothy Richman responded to Rabbi Wolf-Prusan and quoted the 20th century sage, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: "Some are guilty, but all are responsible." With so much racial strife, ongoing overseas wars, ugly partisanship, and reactionary politics, she said Rabbi Wolf-Prusan's anxieties about our lack of sacrifice hit her hard. Doubtless, many people in the room were similarly stirred.

This sort of earnest, challenging soul-searching is what the High Holy Days are all about. Observant Jews devote the entire Hebrew month of Elul – which began on September 4 this year – to the spiritual heavy lifting of teshuvah. And what exactly is teshuvah? Depending on which Jew you ask, you'll get different answers. Most resources translate teshuvah as "repentance," but many rabbis scorn this translation, and instead frame teshuvah (which literally translates as "return") as the work of returning to relationship with God. Given contemporary Jews' varied conceptions of deity, that's too vague a formulation for many. However you translate or characterize it, though, teshuvah is about working to develop and improve our character – and it's meant to be hard.

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, the need for a commitment to teshuvah becomes increasingly urgent, but it is likewise important to balance the moments of reckoning with moments of joy. Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged provided both.

Thanks to all of the panelists, performers, and prayer leaders who made the evening so moving and fun. Thanks, too, to all of the friendly folks from the Mission Minyan and The Kitchen who trekked out – in some cases, carpooling (kol hakavod!) – to the Richmond to make this memorable evening that much better. Todah rabbah, and l'shanah tovah u'metuka (for a good and sweet year)!

A selection of photographs snapped during the event are included below.

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Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged

HardlyStrictlySelichotUnplugged_PosterHardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged
A Communal Soul-singing Experience

Congregation Beth Sholom, the Mission Minyan, and the Kitchen co-present a communal Selichot experience like none other.

September 24, 2016
9 – 11 p.m.,
Fire on the Water short film screening & forum
11 – 11:30 p.m.,
Coffee, dessert, & schmooze
11:30 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.,
Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged

At 9 p.m., following a musical Havdalah with Yehuda Solomon and Duvid Swirsky of the Israeli-American folk-rock band, Moshav, we will stretch our spiritual and intellectual muscles with a screening of Rabbi Aubrey Glazer's short film, Fire on the Water. The 30-minute film uses a father-son fly fishing trip to grapple with divergent notions of sibling rivalry, parental love, trust, reconciliation, and sacrifice. This special screening will be followed by a panel discussion exploring the themes of the film as they relate to the spiritual journey of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe – featuring many of our CBS High Holy Days spiritual leaders, including cantorial soloist Aviva Chernick, filmmaker Jonathan Crosby, and Rabbis Aubrey Glazer, Peretz Wolf-Prusan, Dorothy Richman.

Then, at 11:30 p.m., we’ll put those limber muscles to work as we usher in “the season of awe” with Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged. Yehuda and Duvid will lead us in a joyous communal sing-along experience that features appearances by many special guests – musicians, singers, and rabbis – it’s a neo-Carlebach kumzitz meets The Last Waltz mash-up! Singing and moving together with communal leaders and singers from CBS, the Mission Minyan, and the Kitchen, we’ll rediscover the power of the Selichot, our tradition’s beautiful and meaningful penitential piyyut (Jewish liturgical poems).

Both parts of this special evening are free, but pre-registration is required.
Please click through to register.

Yair Harel visits CBS for Kabbalat Shabbat

BethSholom_JimenaEvent109-1024x589Join Israeli performance artist, musician, and community organizer, Yair Harel, for a special musical Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday evening, April 8.

Piyyutim (Hebrew liturgical poems) were chanted for centuries throughout the Diaspora. The poems have been adapted to different melodies, evolving into a form of Jewish "world music" in Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East. This singing tradition, a core component of synagogue practice, has also entered secular life in Israel through public performances, workshops, and performing arts festivals.

Yair is active in the revival and contemporary interpretation of this ancient art of liturgical Hebrew poetry, and he will perform and teach a selection of these piyyutim when he visits CBS.

If you'd like to listen to some piyyutim before Yair's visit, click here.

Image details: Meirav & Yair Harel at CBS in October 2014, photo by Christopher Orev Reiger