Ever since I was a kid, I was indoctrinated into praying three times every day. I never challenged or asked questions about what I was saying, nor did I understand it either. I did not particularly enjoy prayer or find meaning in it. I found it monotonous, uninspiring, and boring. It wasn't until I was in Israel for my gap year that I went to my first Carlebach minyan on a Friday night. According to Wikipedia, a Carlebach Minyan is a Jewish prayer service that follows the style of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and uses the melodies he composed for many prayers. These minyanim are distinctive for their emphasis on singing the liturgy, often using Carlebach's original nigunim. According to Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, Carlebach "changed the expectations of the prayer experience from decorous and somber to uplifting and ecstatic as he captivated generations with elemental melodies and stories of miraculous human saintliness, modesty and unselfishness. "
This experience opened my eyes to the idea that music and melodies can be used to not only enhance one's involvement in their tefillah but to give people a new understating as to the reason we pray. Music stirs the soul and helps individuals reach places within themselves that they never thought possible. That evening, I found myself being enveloped by the music and the words naturally flowing from my lips; similar to hearing a favorite song of mine to which I begin to automatically sing to.
I recently received an email from a parent / teacher that said:
This is wonderful! I enjoy listening to the 3rd graders singing! As a mom, I'm so happy that they are learning this and as a teacher, I think it's sooo important since I can tell you that when I davened with the 4th graders Hallel in years past, many were not familiar with all the tunes and subsequently the words were unfamiliar as well. Hopefully, this will alleviate these weaknesses!
Every year, I look forward to a special musical concert given by Neshama Carlebach and the Green Pastures Church Gospel Choir on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day. This concert is comprised of Shlomo Carlebach's music sung by his daughter and the Gospel Choir. Never have I heard the words of the Tefillah and the Tanach come to life in song and dance like it does at that concert. The energy, excitement, and unity is a beautiful reminder of the unique Jewish community in which we come from and the respecting non Jewish communities in which they come from. I leave every time thinking, "if we prayed like that everyone would be one step closer to God". I guess we have to start somewhere!