By Cantorial Soloist Jodi Blankstein
Each Shabbat we have the privilege of listening to and learning from lessons and mitzvot that are conveyed through not only the words of Torah but via the way in which they are shared musically: the artful chanting utilizing an elaborate cantillation (trope) system for which we essentially croon the narrative of a history.
Some Shabbatot and their corresponding Torah portions bring along a certain extra excitement and anticipation. It seems wonderfully fitting to me that this year’s Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts) Arts Matter Shabbat, held in collaboration with arts-advocacy organization MASSCreative as part of Arts Matter Day, falls on the Sabbath on which we chant B’reishit, the first parasha of the Torah. Detailing the creation of the world through the art of text painting, this is certainly a spectacular artistic accounting of events.
Sixteen congregations across Greater Boston, from Andover to Westwood, will be joining JArts to host special artistic Shabbatot on either Friday evening, Oct. 25, or Saturday morning, Oct. 26.
As the cantorial soloist at Congregation B’nai Torah of Sudbury, I am honored and very excited to have CBT be part of this extraordinary innovative Shabbat initiative. Our program for Arts Matter Shabbat will be a special “Kick Back and Relax Shabbat” on Friday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. It’s a unique service where we infuse songs by artists such as Louis Armstrong, Joni Mitchell, Charlie Chaplin, Fleetwood Mac, Phish, Bob Marley and others into the traditional Shabbat prayer menu.
So, how do we mesh jazz, pop, rock and country into our prayers? At CBT, once a month we include topical songs into our service that mirror the meaning of the prayers. To maintain the intention of the liturgy, I look for secular pieces that preserve and complement each prayer’s significance. For example, when substituting a piece for the Hashkiveinu, a petitionary prayer to be able to lie down in peace at night and to return to life the following day, I may sing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” or the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.” In place of the Mi Chamocha, highlighting the redemption of the Israelites, we may sing “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley or “Blackbird” by the Beatles. After these particular selections, we include the traditional chatima, or blessing seal, paying kavod (honor) to the essence of the prayer and ultimately tying us back to the liturgical text.
For Congregation B’nai Torah’s special Arts Matter Shabbat, we are very fortunate to have percussionist John Dorizzi, bassist Ben Hoadley and soloist Anne Kalis joining me, Rabbi Eiduson and guitarist Adam Dehner on the bima. You won’t want to miss this very unique musical Shabbat experience emphasizing the artful strength of Torah through various musical genres.
Please save the date for the Jewish Arts Collaborative’s third annual Arts Matter Shabbat. Presented in partnership with MASSCreative, JArts is empowering our communities to embrace Shabbat in conjunction with Jewish arts and tradition.