New year brings new services


Some Temple Israel congregants may have been a little nervous when they saw the guitars and drums on the bimah for Rosh Hashanah services. It was not the pipe organ or choir they were used to seeing for the High Holy Days. However, once the service was underway they were singing and clapping and enjoying celebrating the new year in a new way.

“It was exactly the response we were looking for,” Rabbi Amy Feder said.

The congregation had struggled with a good problem and a bad problem. Seven years ago they faced a dilemma at their services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The family service, which took place at the same time as the morning service in the main sanctuary, had grown quite large and needed a bigger space. The temple rented a tent to accommodate the families whose numbers grew year after year. More and more people were choosing to pray in the non-air-conditioned tent because they wanted to worship together as a family.

“Our families wanted to be together on the holidays,” Rabbi Shook said. “We felt it was important for us to be part of helping them make that connection.”

One of the main parts of the temple’s strategic plan called for the re-envisioning of these services. They were looking at way to bring the congregation together rather than continually subdividing them into specialized worship services. Today, with the addition of Rabbi Feder, the congregation is at full rabbinic strength.

“Now we can carry off the changes in an appropriate way,” Rabbi Mark Shook said.

The new intergenerational service is held in the Gall Family Sanctuary and is appropriate for all congregants ages eight and up. The purpose is to allow families to pray together and to create a congregation of active participants instead of passive observers. There is a heavy emphasis on music, singing and bringing the congregants into the service. Instead of the routine use of the pipe organ they are using an electronic piano, guitar and percussion instruments.

“We want to transform the congregants from being an audience to being active participants in the worship service,” Rabbi Shook said.

Rabbi Shook is quick to point out the “service has not been dumbed down.” The rabbis and educational staff created a machzor (high holiday prayer book) specifically designed for the new intergenerational service. It is filled with familiar prayers and includes new prayer experiences. The Hebrew sections have been transliterated to make it possible for everyone to participate in all aspects of the service.

“I am so thrilled to be part of Temple Israel as we embrace this new model from our strategic plan,” Rabbi Feder said. “Music has a lot to do with this new service. There are guitars and a lot more singing…not necessarily classic Reform tunes but the wonderful new melodies by Debbie Friedman, Rick Recht and other popular artists our congregants have heard in other synagogues.”

The rabbis and educational staff created a CD to help congregants become familiar with the new tunes and prayers being used in the services. It was given to each member family. Rabbi Feder said even if families just listened to it during carpool it helped them learn the new tunes.

Families with younger children participated in a special children’s service with Rabbi Shook in the May Chapel which ran at the same time as the intergenerational service. Originally, the children’s service took place at 1:30 p.m. which was nap time, not an ideal time for many families.

“We realize some people have to make a choice between the intergenerational service and the children’s service,” Rabbi Shook said. “But it is better than having to run home, feed everyone and then turn around to come back for a service for the younger children.”

Rabbi Feder said congregants were very pleased with the new format and people of all ages were enjoying it equally. She incorporated the message of the new format into her sermon for Rosh Hashanah.

“Understanding our traditions is the way we pass them down from generation to generation,” Rabbi Feder said in her sermon. “Today we learned we can create new traditions and they can be just as powerful as traditions we have had over the years.”