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.

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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Everyone is buzzing

Congregational Singing

It’s the “it phrase” for Hazzanim looking to get a good job out of school and the trend that veteran Cantors have needed to embrace in order to stay relevant.

It’s the title of a book by Joey Weisenberg, the musical director of Kehilat Hadar, a vibrant spiritual community in Manhattan. It’s also a movement that’s been around since the 1960’s, when the first Chavurah was established in Whittier, CA.

The whole idea of the Chavurah was to reject the large scale synagogue and its formalized worship with Cantor and Choir, which came to be seen as a performance and not engaging enough to the congregation. A staple of these groups was increased congregational singing.

Nearly 60 years into this paradigmatic shift, the synagogue service has become, in many places, a formalized version of the Chavurah.

Congregational melodies are central to the experience, and the Cantor usually davens without a choir, with few moments of Hazzanut, or ornamental and artistic renderings of the text.

But something in this great swing of the pendulum has been lost. What of the congregations whose musical life flourished under the traditional Cantor and Choir?

How did they “participate” before the days of commonplace congregational tunes?

It turns out they often participated without “singing” at all.  A tradition of accompanying the Hazzan with a drone of humming underneath has been practiced in shul for centuries. Dating to medieval Germany.

We did this on Rosh HaShanah. And at times, it was very very powerful. I sang long held notes, and you hummed the chords beneath me. You were the choir. A choir of 800!!

Change is good, change helps us grow. People love singing the tunes they know, I love hearing the whole sanctuary sing B’Rosh HaShanah together.

But we need all of ourselves in the communal davening. When we hum along, filling in the nusach, it’s magical and it keeps us all constantly present and engaged. Not simply waiting for the next familiar tune.

We have started something really amazing, or perhaps revived? I heard we used to do it at Beth El in the 50’s.

So as Yom Kippur approaches let us continue to buzz and to hum and tell each other, Hineni, here I am. I’m ALL IN, ready to give myself to prayer.

Shabbat Shalom

Hazzan Fradkin

Sent from my iPhone

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And now for something completely different.

And now for something completely different….

A reflection on the High Holidays and a new RH 2nd night Mindfulness Service.

The High Holidays. The pinnacle of our yearly davening experience. It is the moment when thousands of us gather to offer our prayers to God with a communal magnitude that only happens 2 or 3 days each year.

It’s a tremendously powerful experience filled with memory, longing, fragility and loss.

On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we are to remember all that has transpired in our year while hoping that God remembers us for another year of life ( Zochreinu L’Hayyim).

We experience so much in a year, and the Yamim Noraim- the days of awe- are the only time our liturgy overtly asks us to remember and to learn from the totality of this year.

Yes, the liturgy instructs us to do tshuvah for our sins, but the holidays are more than just a plea for clemency, they are an accounting- a Heshbon Nefesh- to see how our souls are faring.

And we come before God broken, knowing that we have failed and cannot even approach the perfection of the divine.  This is reflected in the liturgy as well. ( Ki Hineh KaChomer)

But it’s also in the the fragility of our bodies, our minds and the losses we endure. We are human and we must continually strive to be holy and pursue God’s likeness.

These struggles are all contained within the enormity of our HH experience. Between the meals, the family, the kids and the long hours of davening, when do we have time to reflect on the sacred nature of the Days themselves?

I offer you the opportunity to join me this year on the 2nd evening of RH to do just that. For an hour, we will put away all that clutters our lives and spend time reflecting on the year, ourselves and finding a way to seek renewal during these days of awe.

They should indeed be that; days when we can look at ourselves, at the heavens and be in awe of it all, experiencing every emotion we are blessed to call human and knowing that in these days we have uplifted ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom

Hazzan Fradkin 


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Davening in Sicily

Naso, Italy

You know those postcards with impossibly beautiful scenery, meant to inspire awe and jealousy in your friends and family?

Well, living in Sicily for two weeks is like waking up every morning inside that mail sized marketing campaign. No picture, video, spoken or written word can prepare you for the beauty that awaits you each morning, the sweeping views of the mountainside, valleys, and blue-green Mediterranean sea.

By the way, did you know there’s a Bracha for seeing the mediterranean? It’s Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam SheAsah Et HaYam HaGadol.

Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the great sea.

There’s actually a debate over whether the blessing should end with “the great sea” because that is normally reserved for oceans. Some say it should be “Oseh Maaseh Breishit” Creator of the works/wonders of creation.

As you might have guessed, there isn’t a terrifically large Jewish population in Sicily any longer, although before the expulsion in 1492 there was a community in Palermo dating to the beginning of the modern era.

In our tiny town of Naso, there was even a small synagogue before WW II, as some of the residents recounted to me. But in 2018, there isn’t even a minyan left, so I took up davening next to my bed, looking over the mountains of Sicily. We were only 20 miles from Mt Aetna. Continue reading →

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When does it matter?

There are so many pictures and now there’s even audio to go with it, thanks to Pro Publica’s recent release this week.

Kids in cages, kids screaming for their parents, and sad to say, it’s nothing new. What’s new, is the vicious policy of ripping small children from their parents.

That’s because the Trump administration decided to prosecute every family coming over and therefore the children had to be held separately from their parents while the parents are processed through our legal system, which can mean spending some time in prison.

But there are pictures of kids in cages from 2014 and earlier when Bush and Obama occupied the White House.  They just detained kids for different reasons. They also said they would tackle immigration. Continue reading →

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This is also Judaism

Do you think you know what prayer is?

It’s a tough question, and one we try to answer during our Jewish meditation sessions.

Maybe it’s time spent in quiet thought, sitting alone in your room, an office maybe or of course, a sanctuary.

I’ve found recently, that people of all ages have a really hard time defining prayer and even more so, connecting with it and with God. Continue reading →

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Thoughts and Prayers?

The Prayer for the State of Israel was instituted right from the beginning of it’s formation. Credit is given to Rabbis Ben Zion Meir Hai Uziel and Yitzchak HaLevi Herzog for it’s institution.

According to the Times of Israel, it was only recently confirmed that Rabbi Herzog is the true author, while Shaya Agnon is credited as the editor of this sacred text.

We could certainly use this prayer more than ever, as long simmering tensions between Israel and Iran have bubbled over in the wake of President Trump’s declaration that we plan to void the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Those on the right think it’s long overdue, the withdrawal that is. Those on the left think it’s a broken promise and a slap in the face to our allies.

Either way, Iran is state sponsor of terror and conflict with them seems inevitable.

I’m wondering about our relationship to this prayer for Israel, or any prayer for peace really. I don’t think praying for peace is going to end a war. Continue reading →

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Reflections on Yom HaShoa at the Capitol

It’s a mix of awe and awesome. The setting of the US Capitol emancipation hall; and eclectic range of statues from Frederick Douglas to the gold draped Hawaiian King Kamehameha, who is credited with uniting the islands in the late 18th century.

The centerpiece, the statue of freedom, rises 30 feet above the floor and in front of it has been placed a six branched Menorah. The violinist begins to play the theme from “Schindler’s List” as survivors and liberators enter the hall single file. It is like living through the end of Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece.

All around me, people are weeping and as I peer at the faces of these resolute souls, I can’t help but meditate on the terrible events that have led to this moment. Continue reading →

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We Need Healing

Thoughts and Prayers aren’t enough, but we do need healing and we do need hope. We are extraordinarily proud to support the March For Our Lives that will come to D.C. on March 24th. These teenage leaders emerging from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL are an inspiration to us all and have clearly caught the attention of their peers around this nation. Last Wednesday, hundreds of students at BCC and other High Schools in our area, walked out of class and down to the Capitol.

I’d call that belief in action! Continue reading →

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