Yom Kippur Groupies

by Brian on October 7, 2005

in Only in Israel

(This article first appeared on the This Normal Life website in
2003 and has been a reader favorite. I’m re-posting it now as we head
towards Yom Kippur 2005. May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.)

When we moved to Israel eleven years ago, we were met with all kinds of
changes – schools, work, food. And as October approached, there was an
additional question: where we would pray for High Holyday services?

When we lived in North America, this wasn’t such a big deal: there were
only a few options in our community and, in any case, we were already
members of lovely congregation.

In Israel, however – and in Jerusalem in particular – there are
literally thousands of options, from the tiny to the toney. So on the
High Holydays, we found ourselves shul-hopping for a few years before
discovering a place so unique it has developed its own fan club.

Amiqa D’Bira
– dubbed the “Leader Minyan” for brothers Avraham and
Zelig Leader who founded it (it has nothing to do with the congregation
being “leaders,” so now you know) – the service is heavily inspired by
the music and teachings of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

The minyan meets only for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and then once a
month during the year on the Shabbat prior to Rosh Hodesh – the
beginning of the new month.

But that’s more than enough to keep our spiritual batteries fully charged.

Amiqa D’Bira is the kind of place you either love or hate. The growing
number of “Carlebach” minyans around the world are famous for their
spirited singing and dancing, but this one takes things to an extreme.
Shabbat services start at 8:00 AM and rarely end before 2:30 or 3:00
PM. An extended Kiddush with more than a little schnapps doesn’t hurt,

(On Yom Kippur, the service starts at 6:30 AM and doesn’t end until a good 12 hours later…without a break…oy!)

Those who who’ve never experienced the intimate, sweaty joy that this
kind of over-the-top davening (praying) 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.

While the minyan is always a blast, it especially rocks on the High
Holidays when Ebn Leader, son of founder Zelig, returns home to lead the services.

Ebn, who now lives in Boston where he directs the Bet Midrash program at Hebrew College,  has developed a style that is all his own. A Rabbi, musician and Talmud
scholar, 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 1970s Peter Gabriel

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 of course, and urban rap (his hip hop
adaptation of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” during a previous year’s Rosh
Hashana services is missing only the scratching on an old ‘45).

There’s no need for a choir or organ; Ebn is a one man rhythm section,
banging on the table, slamming two plastic chairs together, and
generally leading the congregation in a vigorous workout of
hand-clapping (think “boot camp”-style aerobics for the soul).

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.

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
frenetic, arms-bonded dancing at the end of every Kaddish.

When I was growing up, I imagined that prayer must necessarily be
composed of somber wailing and shuckling, and that Yom Kippur was the
saddest day of the year. At Jerusalem’s “Leader Minyan,” I discovered
how wrong I was.

Yom Kippur is the happiest, rockin-est, dancin-est holiday on the
Jewish calendar. And I know a shul-full of pre, post, and wanna-be
hippies who’ll gladly testify to that!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Anonymous February 14, 2006 at 8:21 pm

What do you mean? Please tell me more.

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