What is a liturgist-in-residence? Alden Solovy sheds light before UH visit

Cantor Ronald Eichaker, Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg and Alden Solovy at United Hebrew Congregation. Solovy will once again serve as liturgist-in-residence at UH.

BILL MOTCHAN, Special to the Jewish Light

Alden Solovy is an author, poet and liturgist. Beginning Feb. 18, he will join United Hebrew Congregation for a six-week stint as liturgist-in-residence. The Light caught up with Solovy in advance of his visit to St. Louis. See below for more information on programs with Solovy at UH. 

What is a liturgist-in-residence?

I’ll teach, I’ll give d’vrei Torah. The twist is I’ll do it with an emphasis on liturgy and prayer from a poetic perspective I’ll add my poetry to our learning, and our worship together. My core mission is to inspire people to prayer, to pray in their own voice and to find a connection with prayer.

How did you become a liturgist?

I’m a widower. My wife passed away 12 years ago. After my wife died, I began a daily practice of writing prayers to save my own life, essentially to reconnect with joy and hope and to deal with grief and pain. I never considered myself poetic. I believe the liturgical poetry I write is a gift from G-d.

This is your second United Hebrew liturgist-in-residency. What generated a repeat visit?

Since my first residency Rabbi Rosenberg has invited me back to teach on Zoom upwards of 10 times. I now have an affinity for the congregants. There’s a deep yearning for connection to the inner voice of prayer. Rabbi Rosenberg and Cantor Eichaker and their team recognized that need and I’m honored to be part of helping them address it.

Part of your agenda here will include working on a musical piece with Cantor Eichaker for the congregation. Is the process similar to a lyricist and composer creating a song for the stage?

Exactly. And I’m new to writing lyrics. What I’ve learned is that each composer has a unique creative process and part of my job as lyricist is to enter their world with words that touch the heart of music within each of them.

Can you provide a preview of your upcoming book?

My next book will be released by CCAR Press in the fall. It’s called “These Words: Poetic Midrash on the Language of Torah.” It will be 70 poetic interpretations of individual words of Torah. The book will be laid out in spreads, with the left hand page being a d’var Torah on the word, and the right hand page being my poem.

You’re a hiker. Does the solitude of hiking and communing with nature inspire any of your writings?

Yes, some of my writing absolutely springs up from being outdoors, hiking, exploring. Other writing gets the spiritual boost from my time outdoors. I hike with a great set of friends. I love seeing the land. When we hike on Rosh Chodesh, the new month, a couple of us sing Hallel as we walk.

Opening weekend events with Alden Solovy

Friday, February 18

6:30 p.m. Shabbat Service

Saturday, February 19

9 a.m. Torah Study

12:30 p.m. What is a Prayer to Us?

What do we mean when we use the word ‘prayer’? Together with our Liturgist in Residence, we’ll explore our own ideas of the essential qualities of prayer, looking into our own hearts, as well as texts. Those texts will span Jewish history from the days of our Biblical ancestors to the early Sages to modern poets and philosophers. We’ll strive for a deeper understanding of prayer and a greater appreciation for its impact and purpose. This class will be held both in person and on Zoom.

Sunday, February 20

9 a.m. Build Your Jewish Toolbox: Israel

Join the UH Clergy as we go back to the Jewish basics and sharpen the tools in our Jewish toolbox so we can “Do Jewish” together.” Liturgist-in-Residence Alden Solovy will join us for this program on Israel.

Class Schedule

Writing Gratitude: Mondays, Feb. 21-March 28 6:30-8 p.m.

Using both Mishkan T’fillah and This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day as sources of inspiration, the class will talk and write about gratitude. Among the explorations: gratitude as a spiritual practice; the impact of prayer on gratitude and the impact of gratitude on prayer; gratitude as a spiritual practice; and ways to use writing to deepen awareness of how gratitude can impact one’s attitudes about both the blessings and the challenges of our lives. This class will be held both in person and on Zoom.

Words of Torah: Wednesdays, Feb. 23-March 30 10:30 a.m. – noon

Join Liturgist in Residence Alden Solovy for a six-week adventure in exploring Torah through deep examination of individual words of Torah drawn from the weekly Torah portion. Building on his work for his forthcoming book from CCAR Press – “These Words: Poetic Midrash on the Language of Torah,” the group will explore how one’s understanding of one word can impact both the simple meaning of the text, as well as the implications for Midrashic interpretation. This class will be held both in person and on Zoom.

For more information on Solovy, visit tobendlight.com. To connect with United Hebrew, visit www.unitedhebrew.org or the congregation’s Facebook page. www.facebook.com/unitedhebrew. Worship services are live-streamed at http://www.unitedhebrew.org/praying/livestream. Solovy’s residency is made possible through funds from the Ruzena and Fred Levy Speaker Fund and the Helen C. Millstone Music Fund.