New York Jewish Week — When Gady Levy, the executive director of the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center, approached Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza about composing new music for a Friday Shabbat service evening, the musician was skeptical.
“My first reaction was, ‘I don’t think I’m the right person for this – someone else who knows prayer better will be fine,’” Broza told New York Jewish Week. For a secular Israeli like him, Friday evening was for family meals, not the hour-long meditative service at the synagogue known as Kabbalat Shabbat.
But like many artists locked down during the pandemic, Broza realized that being stuck inside his house meant thinking outside the box.
“Once I opened the email [from Levy] and I started reading the prayers, it was so inspiring as poetry,” Broza, 66, said. “I took my guitar and sat down to the poetry and let the muse take me. It took me 14 days to compose the 14 prayers.
The result is “Tefila,” a new music album for the Kabbalat Shabbat service, as well as the centerpiece of a new Friday night experience at Emanu-El aimed at attracting young professionals starting May 6. The Streicker Center, the educational and outreach arm of New York City’s first Reform congregation and its largest synagogue, tasked Broza with what Levy calls a chance to “revisit” Shabbat for a cohort that doesn’t could not come to the synagogue otherwise.
“I like that David doesn’t come from a religious background,” Levy said. “We thought it would give him a fresh start to watch, and we let him run with it.”
“Tepilah,” which means “prayer” in Hebrew, offers new settings for some of the most familiar prayers and hymns in the Jewish liturgy — and, for synagogue regulars, some of the most sacrosanct. Melodies heard at a typical Friday night service can range from nutty European or cantorial music to folk tunes by late 20th-century composers Debbie Friedman and Shlomo Carlebach.
When asked if he had studied any part of this canon, Broza replied that he was concentrating on the text of the prayers themselves.
“From the beginning, I immersed myself in poetry, prayers, and I intended to write new melodies for these traditional prayers, some of which have very old melodies,” he said. “Hebrew writing literally enlightened me and led me to new musical places.”
For audiences outside of Israel, Broza might best be compared to the American artists he performed and collaborated with: Jackson Brown, Steve Earle, the late cult country songwriter Townes Van Zandt. But in more than 40 albums, he also ventures outside singer/songwriter territory to explore world music. “Tefila” is a catalog of these influences, starting with a “Shalom Aleichem” with a bossanova vibe. “Barchu” begins with a bullfighting trumpet (Broza has released several albums in Spanish) and quickly veers towards free jazz. And his “Lecha Dodi” — a “Sabbath Bride” greeting that is perhaps the emotional highlight of the Friday night service — sounds like a journey from flamenco to Bertolt Brecht to the Broadway stage.
“In taking on the project, I envisioned an hour-long series of prayers that would captivate audiences,” Broza said. In addition to Broza on guitar and vocals, the recording features Israel’s 25-voice Moran Choir, gospel singers from New York, and Israeli-American Omer Avital, who also performed on bass. the orchestrations.
“I wanted it to be inspiring for me and therefore for the audience,” Broza said.
“Tefila” and the Friday Night Hub project are part of a major new initiative by Emanu-El to reach new audiences: Shortly before his death in March, outgoing synagogue president John Harrison Streicker made donating an additional $10 million to what had already been a $15 million fund for efforts to reach young Jewish professionals, unaffiliated families, and others Levy calls “researchers.”
The clergy is on board with the project, and Rabbi Joshua Davidson of Temple Emanu-El will participate in the Hub.
“I hope people call me and say, ‘I can’t believe it’s Friday night,’” said Levy, who said that for some “researchers,” the traditional synagogue may seem like a place “frightening”. “What we really want to do is what every organization has been looking for for a long time, which is to bring people who otherwise wouldn’t come to a Jewish event, a social event that’s also services.”
And while Broza — who splits his time between New York and Tel Aviv — will run many Friday Night Hubs, Levy hopes the project will be bigger than any artist or synagogue.
“My goal is to have other synagogues around the country use this music as well,” and for free, Levy said. “I hope David will travel and teach other synagogues to use his melodies. If we succeed, it will certainly not be only for us.
The first Friday Night Hub, for young professionals ages 21-39, will take place May 6 at 8:00 p.m., at Temple Emanu-El, 1 E 65th Street in Manhattan. It will feature music by David Broza, an oneg Shabbat served by Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov, and a guest appearance by songwriter Emily Bear, whose “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” won the Grammy Award for Best Music Album. musical theatre. Registration and proof of full vaccination required. Go here for more details.