Contemporary music and the Yom Kippur service might sound as though they go together like french fries and ice cream. But after enough hours on an empty stomach, unusual combinations start to grow on us. And after some time with “TekiYah,” the new CD of High Holy Days music from New York City’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, you just might get into the more popular vibe for what is traditionally the most solemn of ceremonies.
Produced by the temple’s cantor, Ari Priven, the CD (released earlier this year and available at www.bj.org for $18) features music that stretches across cultures and centuries to invite participation here and now. Ashkenazic prayers soar with Sephardic melodies; Middle Eastern percussion, guitar, accordion and a hopping electric bass accompany ancient chants, and songs whirl with the joy and energy of a dervish.
“Music is one of the main doors to prayer,” Priven said in an interview with the Forward. “You don’t necessarily need to use that door to pray, but it is a way to pray — a driver, a common language that can create a mood.”
It’s a mood, even in the first Ashkenazic congregation founded in the United States, in 1825, that remains relevant with a new generation. Priven’s synagogue, commonly referred to in the city as B.J., draws overflowing crowds to its dual Friday services that function as something of a scene for young Jewish singles, many drawn in by the inventive and ingratiating musical interpretations of Priven and of rabbis J. Rolando Matalon, Marcelo Bronstein and Felicia Sol.
“It’s the kind of music that you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy,” said Jana Kraus, a human resources consultant in New York. “It just pulls you in. The music is much more mystical when it picks up the beat — almost more primitive. I don’t feel like I’m in the pews in a synagogue in New York City.”
So for those of you who don’t mind boundaries blurred or just feel a spiritual hunger rumbling, B.J.’s “TekiYah” might work just fine as a warm-up to the holidays. Hold the ketchup.