By Jacqueline Chase
Students gathered for an hour of song and discussion at Hillel Tuesday night to explore music in the context of prayer.
Ruach, the Reform student group at Maryland Hillel, invited students to a program, titled “Songful Tefillah: Lecha Dodi,” to discuss the connection between the music and text of Lecha Dodi. Lecha Dodi is sung on Friday nights to welcome Shabbat.
Senior electrical engineering and vocal performance major Dirk Holzman, who helps coordinate events for Ruach hosted the program. This event was the first in a Songful Tefillah series.
“I think that there is a lack of music going on at Hillel, especially considering how much music comes from the Jewish community and just how important it is to Jews,” Holzman said. “It’s really a disservice to leave the music out of our weekly study and like only really have music when we have the services.”
Holzman said he hoped the evening would give people the opportunity to think about what the music means to them beyond reciting verses.
“I thought it was something different from what I normally get to do,” said senior Jewish studies major Aliza Silverman. “I don’t usually think about the meaning of some of these prayers. It was cool to think about that and how different denominations think about that since I usually go to conservative services so it was really cool to see how the reform movement handles one prayer and why they do that.”
Attendees recited the nine verses of Lecha Dodi, stopping after each verse to discuss the text. Freshman computer science major Adam Rozen said he enjoyed discussing the verses individually as well as connecting the verses to one another.
“I didn’t really come in with any expectations,” Rozen said. “I really wanted to keep an open mind so I did try to not think about what would happen so I could come in open and welcoming and be ready for anything.”
In addition to discussing the meaning of the verses, students discussed why versus three, four, six, seven, and eight of the nine are often kept out of services. Holzman said the lack of context needed to understand verses one, two, five, and nine may be why they are included, while the others are not. Silverman said the verses that are kept may be kept due to their more optimistic text.
Following the verses, the group sang songs together. They sang and discussed “Lecha Dodi (Corning)” by Josh Warshawsky and “Lincoln’s Nigun – Yamin U’s’mol” by Joey Weisenberg. The group discussed the difference in the emotional responses elicited by the songs and the effect of a smaller group singing the songs.
Holzman has experience with Weisenberg through Hadar’s Singing Communities Intensive, which provided the opportunity to discuss and experiment with music. This intensive took place December 2018.
Sophomore Letters and Sciences student Uri Farber attended the event as a guest, but he is also a part of Ruach. In the past year he said the group has been working to be more available to students.
“I’m really proud of Dirk for sort of stepping in and taking on this role,” Farber said. “Seeing him lead something with text studies I think is really cool.”