Hazzan Asa Fradkin

Hazzan Asa Fradkin is the hazzan at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, MD. He is a native of Baltimore.
Hazzan Asa Fradkin is the hazzan at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, MD. He is a native of Baltimore.

Expanding Our Jewish World Through Music

At the WUST Jewish Community Radio on May 17 to preview the Bima to Broadway to Beltway Concert

At the studios of WUST Jewish Community Radio on May 17 to preview the Bima to Broadway to Beltway Concert

As I sat in on the final rehearsal for the Bima To Broadway To Beltway concert listening to a rendition of “Gesher” by Judith Silver, I couldn’t help thinking how cool this concert was going to be.

Yes “cool” is absolutely the word for it.  Hazzanim Arianne Brown, Elisheva Dienstfry and Hinda Labovitz created this show for the DC Jewish Music Festival last spring and clearly spent a lot of time considering music that was parts modern, playful, soulful and funny as well. Continue reading →

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Nusach- It’s not just for Cantors anymore

Tomorrow night  I will be teaching a class for Tikkun Leil Shavuot on the beauty of Nusach ( The Soul of Jewish Music) as I call it.

Before we continue, some definitions are in order.

Like many concepts in Jewish practice, Nusach can have a few different meanings.

It can refer literally to the text of the siddur you use, be it Askenazic, Sephardic, Chabad Hasidic, or to the melodic setting in which you chant the prayers of the Siddur.

Naturally, the chanting will be my point of focus here. Continue reading →

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Why Do(n’t) You Go To Shul?

I once had a colleague that said- tongue and cheek- the reason he became a Rabbi was to make the service seem faster- since it always seems to progress more quickly when one is on the Bima.

True, it does. But I quite like it in the pews as well, where I don’t have to do anything but relax, reflect and pray.

What do you like? Do you like to come into the synagogue on a Monday, Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday? Do you prefer the shorter weekday service or longer more lyrical Shabbat experience?

What kind of meaning do these experiences bring you and if you don’t find yourself in the synagogue to pray often, what is your connection here? Continue reading →

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Faith Expectations- “Jews want their Rabbi to be the kind of Jew they don’t have the time to be”

Rabbis and Cantors are known for reusing material for sermons, songs, teachings, concerts, what have you.  I usually try to avoid that if I can absolutely help it; sometimes, though, if I get in a bind, I will bring something from one presentation and use it with another group.

That being said, this throwaway line from “Keeping the Faith” ,a turn of the millennia comedy starring Ben Stiller and Edward Norton ( guess who played the Rabbi?) , sparked quite the discussion in my final Scolnic class this past Wednesday night, and I felt it warranted a bit more exploration.

Continue reading →

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Guess what, you ARE Religious

When I was growing up in Baltimore, I had a lot of family most of whom were somewhat observant and one side of my dad‘s family that were ultra orthodox. In Jewish Baltimore, it is not uncommon to see black hatters walking down the street on Shabbat and see women with their heads covered, wearing long black skirts even on the hottest days of the summer.

In fact one section of Baltimore is so religious, that you can find orthodox men and women wearing full religious garb at the JCC gym. I’ve seen women wearing a long skirt while doing the elliptical and men running the treadmill wearing tallit Katan and a kippah.

To me, that was what religious people looked like. Sure, I went to synagogue once or twice a month, and most Fridays we had Shabbat dinner, but in no way did I consider myself religious.

Continue reading →

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What’s in a Parsha?

If you are a regular shul goer, you may not have been surprised to hear the recent Pew Study.

Essentially, it says that shul goers are 11% more likely than their non going counterparts to be happy.
Read more here.

I could spend some solid time here breaking down the reasons that this may be the case. We know that creating community, connecting with our friends and family, and enjoying a delicious Kiddush lunch are activities that can bring us meaning and fulfillment.

The fact remains that going to shul is a deeply ritualistic experience. We practice doing the same things over and over again, which some people find comforting, but many more people find monotonous.

That is why even the shul going crowd tends to arrive later, since one can still get their fill of davening and also enjoy the communal aspects of kibbutzing, kiddushing and schmoozing in general, after the service.

So what can we do to invigorate our experience in synagogue so that, comforting as it is, we raise it to a higher level; So that we go from the comfort of our practice, to devotional prayer? Continue reading →

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Meditating with Teens

Meditating with Teens

A couple of teens rushed up to me at the last second and asked if I still had space in the class. Pleasantly surprised, I scribbled their names down on the same day registration form in my hand.

They wanted to sign up for the Yoga and Meditation as part of the inter session classes the Religious School is offering in January.

It’s the second year we are offering the class, this time I’m teaching with a talented yoga teacher in the area.

Meditation can be challenging with teens. It requires vulnerability and self awareness; concepts that are right at the epicenter of teenage development.

We meditated on Jewish identity and responsibility, the things that make us Jews, and what we can undertake during this month to embrace our Jewish practice in a tangible way.

We also took time to journal some of these thoughts and some shared aspects of their Jewish identity with the group.

We talked about the Parsha and how Moses finds the courage to overcome both his Egyptian upbringing and his speech impediment and practiced Yoga poses that provided a vehicle for our own calm and strength, practiced in deep stretching and breathing.

In the coming weeks we will delve into each Parsha, concluding with the Ten Commandments, and how we hear God’s voice.

I just wanted to give you a glimpse of 12 teenagers in a circle, breathing together, meditating on their Jewish selves and practicing their Judaism.

For the parents who sent them, Thank You, for the rest of us, they should serve as an inspiration to us to keep practicing, breathing, stretching into our Jewish selves.

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Coming this Purim: A Tribute to Aretha Franklin

You know, I heard that Aretha Franklin’s funeral was eight hours long. EIGHT!!!!!

To be fair, the program was scheduled for 6 hours, so they were only over by 25% or so.
I guess they needed time for:  Faith Hill, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Stevie Wonder Ron Isley, Chaka Khan, Yolanda Adams, Marvin Sapp, the Clark Sisters, Jennifer Holliday and Franklin’s son.

In addition, there were speeches from President Bill Clinton, Smokey Robinson, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Clive Davis, among others.

It was certainly a funeral and tribute befitting a queen.
And so will our Megillah Madness this year, which is entitled. “A Tribute to Aretha Franklin and Motown.” Continue reading →

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A New Chorus!

The other day, Rabbi Harris came into my office during a rehearsal and said, “please quiet down, I think people are having way too much fun in here!”

Some of you may know that back in Connecticut I ran a teen choir for 9 years that performed locally at Shabbat services and traveled nationally as well.

It was featured, at one point, in a promotional video for the Cantors assembly.  https://www.asafradkin.com/watch ( look for “Singing Is Just The Beginning”

It was the highlight of my time in Greenwich and the bonds I formed with those kids remain incredibly special to me.

When I came to Beth El I was amazed that we already had our own a capella teen choir, Marak HaYom, a stellar self run group of High School kids that meet for a few hours each Sunday. Continue reading →

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Two Songs, One Message and the power of children singing

So I was sitting in my office one day with a teen who is involved in our High School A Capella group, Marak Hayom ( Soup of the Day).

We were discussing their upcoming repertoire for the year and I asked if she’d heard this version of Hashem Melech by the Y-Studs A Capella group.

I start to  play the video and she says “This sounds familiar”. I say “Yeah, it came out a few years ago as an Israeli pop song by Gad Elbaz.” She says “ No, I’m pretty sure I had to learn this song for a 7thgrade Spanish class.”   After I rearranged my puzzled expression , she said she was pretty sure it’s a Mark Anthony song. Continue reading →

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