If there is anything that the URJ Biennial is known for (other than Obama, this year), it is the Shabbat services. Services at the Biennial tend to be big, musical, and highly orchestrated. The key word there is BIG - it’s hard to be anything but, when you have 5000 people in the room!
This year was no different. Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the Kabbalat Shabbat service. Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Memphis and Cantor Jen Frost of Deerfield, IL, injected beautiful music and thoughtful readings into their worship. But as anyone who has ever prayed by Jumbotron knows, it’s not easy to create a sense of community and spirituality in a group so large. Kol hakavod to the rabbi and cantor who took on this challenge.
So for all that I loved the music, the overwhelming size of the room and the crowd were not allowing me to connect spiritually. That is, until I took my eyes off the big screens, and looked down. There, a few rows ahead, was a two- or three-year-old child: rolling on the ground, skipping up the aisle, dancing to the music, generally enjoying himself.
I was mesmerized. This kid was having the best time – he might have been enjoying the service more than anyone else in the room! And every time his Dad called him over and asked him to settle down, I wanted to shout, “No, don’t make him stop!”
There is a famous Chassidic story of a child who plays his flute at Yom Kippur services, and whose sincerity is said to carry the entire congregation’s prayers to heaven. That was how I felt last Friday night: up until I saw this child, I was singing and reading and participating. But once I noticed his joy, I was praying.