Jerusalem — The bar is doling out drinks as fast as it can manage. A man at the front recites Kaddish while the mixed-gender congregation slouches, sipping beer, eating snacks, talking on cell phones.
It sounds like anarchy to even rabbis with the rowdiest congregations. But here, there’s consensus that this represents a renaissance for the liturgy instead of a degeneration of religious standards.
The 400 people assembled include Jews from secular to Orthodox. All of this is taking place in Jerusalem, the city that has a reputation as dominated by Haredi zealotry — just a few minutes drive from the Western Wall where this year women holding communal prayers have been pelted with eggs.
As of this spring the city has a new trendy recreational venue called the First Train Station with cafes, restaurants and in the middle a stage and seating. During the summer every Friday a group of musicians takes to the stage and performs a funky version of the synagogue service to welcome the Sabbath, Kabbalat Shabbat. The performance varies depending on which group leads it, but there tends to be original tunes and catchy chants that help those unfamiliar with the service to get involved.
When Jerusalem’s Bridge of Strings opened in 2008 the city famously insisted that the girls in a performance troupe wore shapeless clothing on top of their outfits for the sake of modesty — and there have been numerous controversies in Israel about women being prevented from singing at public events.
But here, two energetic women dominate the stage, one in a sleeveless top and one with short sleeves, singing and jumping up and down.
“Maybe this is the beginning of a new development of non-religious people coming to see Jewish culture as something that doesn’t necessarily need to be done the Orthodox way,” said Adi Talmon, a middle-aged secular Jerusalemite as he looked at the scene approvingly.
Talmon has become a regular because “as a non-religious person I think it’s great to finish the week with Kabbalat Shabbat — every person has his own Shabbat and this is to separate between the sacred and the mundane.”