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Contemporary services to engage Jewish community

NASHUA – Broadening the spectrum of those they can reach and engage with during their Holy Day Services, officials Temple Beth Abraham are launching the Re:NewYEAR High Holy Day services.

This comes after the success of last year’s successful experimentation with the new format.

As Rosh Hashanah begins on Sunday evening and runs through Tuesday evening, the congregation will be offering a new family-friendly, fun and engaging service. This will feature music and contemporary stylings to follow weeks of self-reflection and preparations made by members of the religious community.

Running parallel with the temple’s traditional Jewish services, the Re:NewYEAR services will be shorter and and aim to integrate more contemporary takes on the traditional sermons.

“The traditional service is built on hundreds of years of prayers and poetry, composed in the certain styles of Hebrew,” temple Rabbi Jon Spira-Savett said. “What we’re doing in the other service is to use the same overall structure, but to play with the elements to use some contemporary styles and tempo.”

“(Traditional services) are all a capella – we sing a lot in the traditional service,” Spira-Savett said. “In the Re:NewYEAR Service, we have a guitar, and some of the musical styles are different and contemporary.”

The temple is expanding on what was experimentally implemented last year. The temple will be bringing back Eliana Light, a guitarist, singer and educator who Spira-Savett said has brought fresh new engagement with the community.

“Eliana is both a creator of music herself and also really plugged into some of the new creative ways that Jewish musicians are kind of remixing the words and the content of the past with new styles,” Spira-Savett said. “She is engaging; she has a beautiful voice and is musically talented; and she is just so steeped in music and Jewish text. She just so genuine.”

While helping to engage those who may find traditional services intimidating, Light said she is planning to create a much more comfortable environment for the community by making the Hebrew scriptures more accessible through translations in songs.

“My goal is to have a place where people can really feel comfortable in opening their hearts. A lot of times, the synagogue services can feel uncomfortable,” Light said. “With melodies that are beautiful and that are simple enough to jump into the first time, the hope is I can help open their hearts.”

“If you knew nothing about Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish faith, you could still come in and have a meaningful experience,” she added.

Light said through the translations of the prayers, she hopes people will be engaged with what Judaism is about and what is being taught during the services.

“Even if the music is really beautiful, the hope is that you can look down at your prayer book and say, ‘Do I really believe in that?’ I think that our prayers have so much to teach us. They are supposed to be tools for gratitude, wonder and hope, but sometimes, the tool gets lost o the layers of the traditional translations,” Light said.

Spira-Savett said there is a degree of experimentation in which the temple can engage in a city the size of Nashua, at least in comparison to places such as New York City.

“It’s particularly true in a smaller Jewish community, but it’s even true in places like New York City and even in Israel, that Jewish people – because we are part of the wider world and exposed to so many different kind spiritual ideas and spiritual sources – there isn’t just one way that people can pray or have a spiritual experience and learn.”

“So, we’re trying out different kinds of ways. It doesn’t have to be the same for everybody. It”s all rooted in some basic sources,” Spira-Savett continued. “Judaism, actually throughout the ages, has experimented with different kinds of spirituality.”

Traditional services for the Rosh Hashanah will take place on Sunday evening, Monday and Tuesday morning, as well as Tuesday evening in the main sanctuary at 5 Raymond St., with the Re:NewYEAR services running parallel all days aside from Sunday in the temple’s Religious School’s Great Space.

Yom Kippur’s traditional services will also take place in the main sanctuary on Oct. 8-9 with parallel Re:NewYear Services also ongoing in the Great Space.

During the High Holy Services, Spira-Savett said the community will be taking part in traditions, while reading from the scriptures that teach of the challenges faced thousands of years ago in Jewish history. There are also ancient rituals.

“We open up the Torah scroll, which we have been copying by hand for more than 2,000 years,” Spira-Savett said. “We read these stories that are really challenging about our ancestors and then we blow this shofar, which is the horn of a ram and we’re echoing these ancient rituals and blowing a horn to wake ourselves up, which is just so primal.”

With the coming of the Jewish New Year, Spira-Savett said the holiday caps off weeks of reflecting on the past year, while reflecting on each one’s life, which he said is a powerful experience.

“It’s really a time when people are supposed to take the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah and just reflect on their lives,” he said. “We think about our individual lives and our lives in relationship to other people and certainly our actions in the wider world.”

“There’s really nothing like seeing several hundred people together and knowing that everybody is saying, ‘How can I be a more ethical person in the next year, and how can being around these other people who I might not even know help me and inspire me to that?'” he added.

Mathew Plamondon may be reached at 594-1244, or at mplamondon@nashuatelegraph.com, @telegraph_MatP.