Jamming With Joey


I think that I can speak for almost everyone who experienced last weekend’s Musical Scholar Shabbaton in saying it was truly exceptional! The quest to bring Joey Weisenberg to Montclair was five years in the making, and he surely did not disappoint. In fact, if it was possible, he may have exceeded my already lofty expectations.

Some people wondered, why do we need help singing? Shomrei always has been a “singing community” and we integrate music and song into almost all of our services. The way I explain it is that there is a difference between being led in song and teaching people to sing (and pray) together. Having talked to others and seen his videos, there was no doubt in my mind that Joey Weisenberg is a true visionary in this area. As Creative Director of Hadar’s Rising Song Institute, Joey has become a rock star, working to educate and train communities around the world to unlock their musical-spiritual potential and make music a lasting, joy­-filled force in synagogues and in Jewish life.

From the start, I knew this Shabbat would be different, beginning with our earlier than normal start time to “warm-up.” At 6:10 pm, with about 30 people in the sanctuary, we were ready to start. Sara Ann {Shomrei president] asked me to introduce Joey before we started the service.  He politely declined and I was a little surprised. Then Joey softly started a nigun [wordless melody] and I realized why no introduction was necessary. He just sang – no words, no directions or explanations – and we joined in. He spoke to us, taught us, prompted us, and throughout the service  increasingly guided us to spontaneously start singing, stomping our feet and clapping with the beat again and again. It was all so natural, powerful without being overpowering.  Everything he did felt organic and unforced. By the end of the 20 minute warm-up, he had us in sync and triggered organic singing simply by asking, “How did that tune go again?”

By the time we finished Mincha the next afternoon, there was about an hour left in Shabbat and the old adage that we always try to prolong our day of rest, delaying our return to the mundane work week couldn’t have been more true. The Se’udah, or third meal, began much like always. People sitting around the table, casually chatting over snacks. Then Joey just started chanting quietly. So quietly that some people kept on talking. Unperturbed, Joey just kept going, tapping lightly on the table. Eventually, one-by-one we all fell in line and felt his kavanah [intentionality] as he rolled into a most beautiful version of the traditional Shabbat song Yah Ribon Olam [God, Master of the Universe]. 

Shabbat was beautiful by virtue of its simplicity. Everyone had a voice and was using it, some for the first time. The sense of shared community was palpable. And it far surpassed my experiences at USY conventions and encampment many years ago.

So where do we go now? My hope is to use the experience of this Shabbat as a tool for the Shomrei community to learn to do this regularly, ourselves. One of the beauties of our congregation is the never ending participation of our members. Beginning this Shabbat we will be infusing our services with Joey’s nigunim [wordless melodies] and teachings. If you were fortunate enough to have been with us last Shabbat, I urge you to come Friday, Saturday or both, and keep the momentum going. If you were not able to be with us, come give it a try as we all take this journey together.


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Geoff Sadow

Geoff Sadow

Geoff Sadow is the Chair of Shomrei's Ritual Committee, ensuring that all of our services and ritual events run smoothly. He lives in Glen Ridge with his wife, Marianne Scheer, and daughter Shayna.
Geoff Sadow

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