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.

Ziv HaOlam – Radiance of the World

Trombones, Drums and Trumpets dancing up the street towards the cemetery, forming a 2nd line to the formal funeral procession. This custom of the Crescent city is one of the unique and most celebrated customs of New Orleans. 

Not everyone gets a second line. It’s normally reserved for the most celebrated citizens of the city, who’ve brought joy to its residents through music, good works and leadership.

Not such a Jewish custom, except on one day of the year, Lag B’Omer.  Lag B’Omer, whose letters “Lamed” and “Gimel” make the number 33 is the holiest day of the Omer.

On Lag B’Omer there are Bonfires, Parades, Bows and Arrows and Haircuts! ( Halevai)

Wait, what’s the Omer again? The Omer is a 7 week accounting of days from Pesach to Shavuot which marks a wheat harvest. According to tradition, it also follows the path of the Israelites from Egypt to the receiving of the Torah.

According to tradition, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the famous author of the Zohar, book of Jewish mysticism, died on this day. Continue reading →

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Total Reset

Total Reset
It’s remarkable. I cannot remember a time when 95% of the world’s news coverage centered on one topic. Sure, it’s hundreds of variations on the ramifications of the virus, but its essentially the same story.
How has Coronavirus effected the economy, health care system, politics, environment (positively), worker psychology, churches, synagogue and restaurants? The list is endless because there is no facet of everyday life that has not been affected by this nightmarish disease.
Since we have enough media covering the virus, I’m going to forgo that topic. Rather, I would like to look at how extreme change begets extreme change.
The home quarantine in which we find ourselves has no parallel in our lived experience. It’s sudden, jolting, and has shoved millions of families together who hitherto have only enjoyed small amounts of any meaningful time together, as life dictated a hectic schedule of travel from one activity to the next, work meetings and presentations clashing with kids games and concert schedules.
The great American juggling act, a seemingly inescapable hamster wheel that most of us had no idea how to exit, suddenly and miraculously comes to a halt, like Mork freezing time. Now we know what family time looks like. Every member nestled in their corner, playing on the computer, reading a book, doing a Zoom or streaming Netflix. Or perhaps all together playing an agreed upon board game.
The important point is that every face is there. Everybody is present, save for the families with doctors, nurses, and health care workers who are out in the field doing God’s work—we thank you so much.
“Every face” with family today is a gift many have never received before. We have scant family leave policies in this country and a national work ethic that pressures people to go back to work only weeks after a baby is born. When has “every face” really been an ethic?
Right now we have the most tremendous opportunity for change. We are getting time for rest, restoration, family and mindfulness that we may never get again. What are we going to do with this fantastic reprieve? What type of routine are we desperate to return to?
Right now I sit at my kitchen table gazing at my daughter, as my son runs to get our Passover plagues props from the basement. There are several robins taking a bath in the rain barrel outside and my wife sips her morning cup of coffee.
How are we going to keep this? How are we going to ensure that this wasn’t an accident; rather some kind of turning point where we all decided that the status quo of our lives needed a serious upgrade.
My suggestion? Take a few more unnecessary days off (if you can) so you can watch the birds bathing, take your children to a show and take a whole hour to have a cup of coffee.
We have a chance for transformational change; it will start by bringing the now forward.
Hag Pesach Kasher V’Sameach
Hazzan Fradkin
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Megillah Madness, COVID 19, and an opportunity for mindfulness.

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone”

—Joni Mitchell ( but you knew that)

I’m so glad Megillah Madness was this past Monday. It was raucous, loud, hilarious and so so so so much fun.

I literally think if Purim had fallen one week later, we may not have had it at all. That would have been such a enormous letdown for the incredible work that all our amazing volunteers put into this year’s Rock of Ages Megillah Madness spectacle.

Beth El is awesome. It’s ridiculously amazingly awesome to be a part of, belong to and I continuously marvel that I ended up working here. Continue reading →

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Rocky Mountain High

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I know it’s cliche, but really, you should have seen the view from up there on those snow capped mountains, 2 miles in the thin Colorado air.
I thought snow tubing would be a fun idea for the choir to do as a local activity while we were “on tour” in Denver.
As you may know, the Gesher chorale- our new middle school singing group at Beth El- traveled to Colorado to sing in a gala concert with the Colorado Hebrew Chorale this past January.
While there, we of course wanted to take advantage of some of the local tourist activities, including snow tubing in the Rocky Mountains.
I actually didn’t envision it as a team building activity, but that’s exactly how it turned out. At one point, one of the kids suggested we do a snow tube train of all eight choir members plus myself.
What ensued was a particularly ridiculous and crazy fun way to get down the chute, while screaming along with my eight singers.
I would be remiss, if I didn’t share the best moment of that experience – at least for me – when John Denver‘s famous song came on the loudspeaker and I couldn’t help singing along.
I wouldn’t even have to tell you about the rest of the trip to explain what a magnificent experience it was to travel with these amazing kids and parents, sing at local synagogues and perform in a major fundraising concert for over 200 people. Because it’s really all evident just in that snow tubing train.
These trips are always the highlight of the year for me and the kids as well, because we get to spend precious time together, develop numerous inside jokes, and make ourselves into a family.
In the coming weeks, we will make lots of the pictures and video available that have already been shared widely on Facebook. Just suffice it to say, that I am thrilled I could continue the tradition of my choir trips here in Bethesda that I started back in Greenwich Connecticut in 2015.
I hope the kids will keep fond memories of these trips, I know that I treasure each one and often think of the indelible impact it has on all of us.
Next year, LA! ( No but seriously)
Shabbat shalom
Hazzan Fradkin
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Israeli Stories

One of my greatest wishes  since I began taking conversational Hebrew in college has been to speak Hebrew fluently, well enough to converse with Israelis, read Hebrew newspapers and teach my children Hebrew.

As a singer, I have a particular affinity for languages, and the  classical repertoire in particular, demands we learn at least French, German and Italian ( not to mention Russian) in order to sing the most beloved works in the Western cannon.

When I moved to Israel for the first year of Cantorial School in 2003, I found myself in an introductory level Ulpan ( Hebrew Immersion) at the Yeshiva, but eventually I began skipping class to speak with the Shomer-The Yeshiva Guard- who I spoke with often and whose impromptu Hebrew lessons during our conversations, I found much more interesting and helpful than classroom study.

My Hebrew during that Yeshiva year progressed dramatically and I could have basic conversations with most Israelis on any number of subjects. Continue reading →

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Can you help save a life?

Can you help save a life?

There is a beloved member of our community in need of a kidney. 

This member has taught hundreds of our children to speak Hebrew, know the Jewish holidays, learn Jewish songs. 

This person creates beautiful works of art, sculptures, paintings, that belong in a major collection.

It was once considered taboo to be an organ donor in the Jewish community. A widely believed misnomer that it’s not kosher to donate your organs because of Jewish burial laws.

But this has never been the case, and major orthodox organizations now promote kidney donation as a great mitzvah. See here 

https://hods.org/

Living donors are more and more common and recovery from the surgery is relatively quick- 6 weeks. The after effects are slim to none.

Read more about it here: https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/living-donation

If you are interested you should contact me directly at afradkin@bethelmc.org

The Johns Hopkins Transplant line is 410-614-9345

Please share this with whomever you can, our beloved friend needs your help.

Shabbat Shalom

Hazzan Fradkin

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The Men Who Spoke To God

 

When I was a boy, my grandparents were my most significant Jewish influence. We always spent parts of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur with them, going to the great shul on Hooks Ln in Baltimore, Beth El.

The Rabbi then was Mark Loeb, an exceptional human being who had rare oratory skills and was a living legend until his untimely death almost ten years ago. The Hazzan was Saul Hammerman, one of four brothers, all Hazzanim.

I couldn’t stand it, sitting there listening to the Hazzan singing on and on the same words! It just seemed like a gigantic show and I couldn’t wait to go back to my grandparents’ comfy apartment, have lunch and be with my family.

If I only knew what I was missing; I’ve never regretted my ignorance in those years more than I have these past few weeks. Continue reading →

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What Are We Building?

In about 15 minutes my Dad is going to arrive to help me put up my Sukkah.

It takes me back to our home in Baltimore circa 1995 when we built our first Sukkah on the deck of the townhouse while I blasted Hootie and The Blowfish from my boombox .

My Dad actually worked as a carpenter for a short time before changing careers and he’s returned to it recently, building tables, shelves and other types of furniture for members of our family. So this is going to be the easiest most efficient Sukkah build in quite some time. Continue reading →

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What are we building?

In about 15 minutes my Dad is going to arrive to help me put up my Sukkah.

It takes me back to our home in Baltimore circa 1995 when we built our first Sukkah on the deck of the townhouse while I blasted Hootie and The Blowfish from my boombox .

My Dad actually worked as a carpenter for a short time before changing careers and he’s returned to it recently, building tables, shelves and other types of furniture for members of our family. So this is going to be the easiest most efficient Sukkah build in quite some time.

But I am really looking forward to the building process, because more than anything, that’s what i remember about past Sukkots.

It’s the construction that helps us start doing the Tshuva we promised to do on Yom Kippur.

What will we build this year? Will it be sturdy enough to hold us within and help us live as we have always imagined?

Who will we invite in? What holy discussions might take place?

The process of return, of renewal, can begin with the smallest and most fragile construction.

So as you build your sukkah this year, imagine yourself on the 9th of Tishrei 5780, what change did you begin building this day?

Shabbat Shalom

Hazzan Fradkin

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From Dayton to El Paso: Rediscovering the value of human life.

It’s hard to know what to say anymore. 253 mass shootings in 2019 alone in America and people are devastated. Just check out this Time Cover listing every city with a mass shooting this year.

America is sick, it is polarized, it is nasty, it is angry and it is deeply wounded. Some people blame angry white men. Some people blame the NRA and some blame President Trump’s race baiting rhetoric towards immigrants, although the Dayton shooter was apparently affiliated with the far Left.

One thing is certain, this self imposed mass destruction must end. And for us to achieve something real, we need to speak in words of unity, of the value for human life.

The Talmud teaches the following lesson on the precious nature of life. Continue reading →

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