By thewarehousenyc, 15-Mar-2013 15:37:00
Cross-posted at ReformJudaism.org (click here for the original post)
Everything seems simple at 30,000 feet.
I'm on my way to Austin, TX, for South By Southwest (SXSW), one of the most exciting and influential music/film/interactive conferences in the world. Tomorrow night will be the culmination of five years of work, dreams, and struggles; of pushback, scowls, and great joy; of transcendent communal moments, quizzically raised eyebrows and outright looks of disdain. Tomorrow night, we'll share WAREHOUSE Shabbat with the world at large. The Union for Reform Judaism and the ROI Community have generously stood behind this project and formed a unique partnership so that they might support its mission.
If you've not heard of it before, WAREHOUSE is an alternative Shabbat worship experience that's held in a bar. It features a live band playing both liturgical and secular music, spoken word, multimedia, great food, and incredibly cool people. And, it's completely free. Born out of the feelings of disconnection and abandonment that typically come as standard equipment on a late model, 20-something Jew in the city, WAREHOUSE was designed to be a point of access for 20s/30s who felt shut out by the organized Jewish establishment.
The story here is actually quite simple. After a disastrous (and unfortunately prototypical) Hebrew school experience and a traumatic life event (the sudden death of a sibling), I had thrown up my hands and given up on gOD.
Yes. gOD. I actually typed it that way for a while. I was very angry.
I was also very lucky. In the midst of my spiritual free fall, I was suddenly caught and guided back to a place of positive connection by Debbie Friedman (z''l).
I was growing… as a man, as an artist, and as a Jew. I needed a spiritual venue that didn't come with emotional baggage, that wasn't laden with expectation or obligation. I needed a place that could reflect God's light through the lens of a contemporary aesthetic. I needed a place to be. Yet, no matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find the right fit. I didn't even feel comfortable walking into a synagogue, despite the fact that I traveled to nearly forty of them each year.
I designed WAREHOUSE because I needed it to exist for me. Like most of my contemporaries, I was searching for a meaningful Jewish experience that happened on my own terms, for a spiritual practice that met me where I was instead of insisting that I compromise and move away from my center. And, as I shared these ideas with my friends and colleagues, I found that they were searching for the same.
So, we built it.
And they came.
NYC. Washington, DC. Boston. We reached out and started the process of opening a door for a demographic that felt isolated and locked out. And, in what was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever known, these young people responded with stories of newfound spirituality, a sense of belonging, and a feeling of connection.
I acknowledge that I can't get back the time I lost with God. But nonetheless, I've walked back through that door. And tomorrow night, if I can help just one person do the same, I'll know that every step of this journey has been worth it.
By thewarehousenyc, 05-Mar-2012 17:00:00
by Caryn Roman
Cross-posted to Jewish Music Voice - The Jewish Rock Radio Blog
On the long list of things that my young, Jewish, city-dwelling peers and I cram into a typical week, Shabbat is usually absent. It’s in large part, I believe, because we’ve been taught that Shabbat is incompatible with our secular existence. Somewhere along the line, we were presented with a choice between ‘doing Jewish’ and ‘having fun’, and at the end of a stressful workweek, most of us choose to spend Friday evening in a bar or restaurant with friends rather than walk into a synagogue. Unfortunately, as the only option for Shabbat observance that most young Jews are familiar with, the typical Friday night synagogue service is not a very compelling one.
Imagine an alternative: an opportunity to separate Shabbat worship from its traditional confines of space (the synagogue) and to focus instead on Shabbat as a holy moment in time – one accessible wherever we choose to spend it. Enter TheWarehouse, a fresh model of contemporary worship held in an unconventional physical space, utilizing innovative music and new media to provide a truly different worship experience and an open door to the broader Jewish community.
Since launching last spring, Warehouse Shabbat has offered an access point to the holy moments of Shabbat from within truly non-traditional spaces – specifically, bars. Attendees arrive for pre-Shabbat drinks and appetizers followed by Shabbat candlelighting and a 55-minute, interactive worship service led by singer-songwriter Josh Nelson and his band. The service contains traditional liturgy and familiar Jewish tunes alongside secular music, poetry, and video animation. Words to songs and prayers are provided on a screen. A rotating clergy presence (usually a local rabbi from within the 20s/30s demographic) offers a d’var Torah or other teaching. The evening concludes with more music and announcements of upcoming social, learning, and worship opportunities from around the community – and, just maybe, another drink or dinner with a new friend.
In post-event surveys, respondents called Warehouse Shabbat “a cool way to experience Shabbat with my friends in a low-pressure environment,” and described the experience as “innovative,” and “fun.” We’re looking forward to learning more about what Jewish young adults are looking for as this program continues to grow.
Will the idea of ‘Shabbat in a bar’ appeal to everyone? Of course not. There are obviously those who are attracted to more traditional programming, and they are also more likely to seek out (or create) Jewish communal opportunities on their own. TheWarehouse is intended to meet disconnected, under-engaged young Jews on their own terms – to literally bring Shabbat to them – and to offer them a new access point to the daily, weekly and yearly holy moments of our tradition. All are welcome to join us for the next Warehouse Shabbat on Friday, March 16 at Tammany Hall on New York’s Lower East Side. Details can be found at www.thewarehousenyc.org or facebook.com/thewarehousenyc.
By thewarehousenyc, 16-Feb-2012 06:00:00
by Josh Nelson
Cross-posted to Jewish Music Voice - The Jewish Rock Radio Blog
Truth be told, this is not a new phenomenon. In terms of spiritual/cultural sensibilities, the story of my generation is also the story of earlier generations. Our children will not see the world as we do, because they simply will not be looking at the same world. Will we force our ideas and preferences on them, or will we allow them to develop relationships with culture that are born of their own selves?
I spent a good part of my life wandering without a spiritual lifeline. I was lost, having climbed out of the wading pool of organized religion. Somehow, Jewish music and prayer re-opened a door that had been locked for a very long time. I found my way back, and opened my eyes to see that much of my generation had become spiritually homeless and Judaically disenfranchised. I feel strongly connected to this group because I was once a part of it; when I create art on their behalf, I create it on my own behalf as well.
A.J. Heschel once wrote, “Song is the most intimate expression of man. In no other way does man reveal himself so completely as in the way he sings.” These words are incredibly wise, and they resonate with me in a personal and powerful way. To see a group singing together is to see one of the most unique and beautiful ways in which human beings share a common experience. The communal voice produces the unique sound of unity, the empowering sound of a group of disparate individuals engaged in a common, focused outpouring of spirit.
My generation consumes culture at an astounding rate, faster than any earlier generation in history. In these times of rapid technological growth, a probable causal relationship exists between this rate of consumption and the sheer volume of modern media… media which is both readily available and thrust upon us all. If we suddenly want to hear the latest Killers’ track, we surf over to YouTube for instant gratification. Mine is a generation that wants for very little in terms of its immediate access to culture and information.
And so, in the established Jewish community, we are the wild card. A majority of us are unaffiliated with most types of established Jewish organizations, and are generally disconnected from the Jewish community at large. This statistic has been verified by both anecdotal and empirical data.
Here’s the rub… Generation Y is mostly disconnected because of a failure by the established community to provide points of connection that are aesthetically and spiritually relevant to its cultural sensibilities.
My relationship to this group is personal… I sense their frustration, and experience the challenge of engaging them, both in worship and concert settings, on a regular basis. I write music for them; I pray with them; I drink beers with them… because I am one of them.
And so, from an insider’s point of view, here’s what I’ve learned…
The Auto-Tune era has passed. There is renewed interest in music that feels honest, even if the execution is less than perfect. We don’t want sequenced, computerized arrangements. We want musicians to play and sing with emotion, and to communicate the message of the music in a way that is unencumbered by pretense and egoism.
Millenials absorb music, art, and media at an unimaginable pace. We know what feels good, what feels real… and we are turned off by inauthenticity. We want music that speaks to us; music that resonates with who we are.
Today, we continually associate musical moments with most social, private and public moments of our lives. Our daily activities are accompanied by a soundtrack that is largely of our own choosing. So, why then must the soundtrack of our lives and the soundtrack of our worship be mutually exclusive? Worship music, for much of history, has been a reflection of the popular music of the time.
If we find spirituality in a song we hear on the radio and tie its message to a piece of liturgical text, we create a point of entry for someone who is trying to come in. If we compose modern musical settings for liturgy, we create space for our generation to be prayerful in an environment that meets our aesthetic sensibilities.
Now, apply that question to the issue at hand. Will the organized, denominational establishment enforce its spiritual methodology on the 20s/30s generation? In actuality, I don’t believe so. Organizations such as S3K have taken up the cause, and have done so with an understanding that outreach and programmatic efforts must begin with an understanding of the spiritual, social and cultural motivations that drive this demographic. They must, to put it plainly, meet us where we are.
And where are we? In a place that values tradition, but also appreciates modernity and expressive creativity; in a place that is warm and welcoming; in a place that chooses to take the most beautiful parts of the communal human experience and amplify them so they might resonate more clearly.
Sound familiar? It’s the tale of generations past, and will be the story of generations to come.
At the root of this issue is a fear of change… a resistance to alternative views that continues to surface in a consistent and cyclical pattern. Ironically, our ability to adapt and to change ultimately reflects our collective humanity. Change is the end-result of a divine spark that enables us to learn with perspective, to feel with depth, and to see with vision.
We are searching for that spark.
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