Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Creating a Jewish Journey Group

One of the things my synagogue does occasionally is organize "Jewish Journey Groups." These groups are communal Jewish learning experiences, are often lay led, and can be on any Jewish topic. I've been thinking for a while that the next time we do them (probably next fall) I'd like to lead one. My experiences learning and writing about Jewish music have been deeply transformative for myself and my family in a very positive way. I'd like to share and encourage that with others in my community. I don't have all of it worked out, but I thought I'd share my current rough plan and get feedback. Does this sound like something you'd like to attend? What would improve it? There will be plenty of holes that could be filled in.

Name: Journeys in Jewish Music
Journey Group Description: Listen, share, and discuss the various forms of Jewish music as means to enrich our lives and guide us to trans-denominational, trans-national, and trans-generational engagement with Judaism.
Number of Meetings: 5 (?)
Meeting Format: 1 hour, with 20 to 30 minutes of introductory lecture and music, followed by music sharing and discussion.

Meeting 1. The music of prayer
Description: In this meeting we'll talk about and listen to examples of traditional nusach and cantorial, contemporary pop / songleader style, Reform organ and choral prayers, Chassidic niggunim, and Hindu-chant-style Hebrew Kirtan as well as contrast leader vs. participatory approaches, hard skills and easy skills, and emotional / spiritual vs intellectual engagement.
Discussion questions: What kind of prayer music speaks to you? How do you trade off the contrasts above? What prayer experiences have moved you? Do you have a favorite prayer melody or practice? Can you teach us it?

Meeting 2. The music of the home
Description: In this meeting we'll talk about and listen to examples of shabbat z'mirot (table songs), lullabies, holiday songs, and the evening sh'ma.
Discussion questions: What does your home sound like? What are your family traditions? Can you teach us? Have you added anything new to the mix lately?

Meeting 3. The music of the diaspora
Description: In this meeting we'll talk about and listen to examples of secular and religious music from around the Jewish world including Ashkenazi, Sepharidic, Morrano/Converso, Ethiopian, Israeli, Mountain Jews, and Mizrachi Jews.
Discussion questions: How much of our view of being of Jewish comes from our immediate surroundings and culture? Now that the internet has made unexpected corners the world immediately available, how might that change our sense of Jewish culture? How will that change our sense of being Jewish?

UPDATE: Wow I messed this one up. The hip-hop musician Y-Love just wrote about an email he received about the Jewish equivalent of "White Privilege", where American Ashkenazi Jews unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) marginalize non-Askenazi Jews. His comments and those of the email author are right on and very much what I want to challenge the group with in this meeting. But after reading his post, I think I can go much further than I did here.

Meeting 4. Radical Jewish Culture and Shiny Shoe Music, the music of the contemporary Jewish pop scenes
Description: A year a go I bought a Matisyahu album in a Target, not a Judaica store. What's going on here? In this meeting we'll talk about and listen to a wild array of music voices that are making right now a silver age in American Jewish music including jazz, rock, punk, hip hop, and pop artists from across the Jewish cultural and religious landscape including Matisyahu, Y-Love, SoCalled, The Shandes, Hassidic New Wave, Pharoah's Daughter, Blue Fringe, Avraham Fried, Lipa Schmetlzer, Eli Gerstner, Hip Hop Hoodios, Sway Machinery. If there's a teenager in the house, bring them to this one!
Discussion questions: What's driving the demand and inspiration for pop Jewish music? What experiences have group members had? Jewish immigrants to the US had a vibrant musical culture, but as we assimilated we (the assimilated Conservative and Reform Jew) gave that up in favor of the larger American culture. Is developing our own musical culture now a retraction of that assimilation? Is that a positive thing (adding our cultural voice to the mix) or a negative thing (elitism, loss of a communal sense of being American)? What about the traditional Jewish groups (Chassid, Orthodox) that have their own well defined music culture & industry? Is that a model to be emulated or feared?

I've got ideas for more, but need to give it more thought. Any feedback, folks?


Keith Kahn-Harris said...

Perhapsa session on Israeli music?

Jack said...

Absolutely. That definitely needs to be included. I'm really scared of it though. The journey group is about having a discussion that leads to personal growth. I'm not sure how to craft the session in a way that will lead to that. I don't want it degenerating into a debate about Israeli and/or American politics. Hmm. Maybe if I focus it on how Israeli music reflects the personal histories of Israeli's I can get folks talking about how they relate to the Israeli experience. Must think more.

Arkad said...

Hi, how about John Zorn. I think he is quite a Journey by himself?

P.S. Oh, by the way Psoy Korolenko, also quite a character in Jewish musical scene.

Jack said...

Hi Arkad. You're right on both counts. I was planning on mentioning Zorn in my pop music session but hadn't thought about Korolenko.

Arkad said...
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Arkad said...
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Arkad said...

By the way, Psoy's profile on myspace has a good selection of various Jewish music projects and interesting collaborations.