Hazzan Asa Fradkin

Hineni- Here Am I

You know, theology is a funny thing. It can  be the subject of high minded debate in the university classroom, of devout pursuit in the halls of a seminary and used as a weapon in politics as well.

But I wonder how often we take the opportunity to ponder our own theology as Jews.   There are lots of prayers in the siddur in which we ask God for sustenance, renewal, understanding, humility, joy. 

We also believe in following a baseline of Jewish observance, mitzvoth, after all, have to be commanded by something or someone.

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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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The Cantors Take Italy- And You’re Invited!

Question- and stay with me here- have you ever hung out with a group of Cantors?

You might be thinking “ Wow, I’m imagining a bunch of people talking over each other, singing over each other, comparing Tfilah and Trope styles and their favorite old time Hazzanim.”

And you’d be somewhat right! Or, well, kind of right; it depends heavily on which kind of Cantors you are hanging out with. Continue reading →

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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.

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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.

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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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