Rockin’ shabbat

I’m a reed man (clarinet and sax).  Tonight I’m subbing in a “Rock My Soul” shabbat band.

I’m OK with that.  Cantors with guitars, without guitars.  Either way.

Some Jews don’t like choirs in temple. Some can’t stand guitars. Some can’t stand temple.

I have a friend who is down on “temple Jews,” meaning people who actively participate in synagogue life. They’re too conventional, possibly.

I’m a temple Jew — at least on occasion.

My family, when I was growing up, belonged to Silver’s Temple, named after Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver. The temple’s official name was The Temple.

“Which temple do you belong to?”


When my parents left Silver’s, they went to a supposedly more middle-class temple in the ‘burbs. My mom taught macramé at the new place. Volunteered in the sisterhood gift shop. Collected “donor points,” to reduce her ticket price to the annual temple dance.

Yiddishe Cup, my klezmer band, has played some of these parties. Not so many lately, because few people want to dance at temples. They’d rather stay home and watch people dance.

My parents joined this heymish suburban synagogue after I was confirmed, so I didn’t much care what they did.

(Heymish, the word, should be banned, starting now. Too heymish.)

On the High Holidays, I sometimes went with my parents to the heymish temple, or I’d go to Hillel at Case Western Reserve University. After Rosh Hashanah services, I’d eat at Tommy’s restaurant with my 20-something friends.

Years ago a woman told me, “I joined Fairmount Temple because I like the music there.” She liked Fairmount Temple’s bent toward classic Reform music. That stuck with me: joining a temple for the music.

I go to my synagogue — a Conservative shul — because, among other reasons, I like the music and the rabbi — who likes my band. Yiddishe Cup is scheduled to play my shul’s  holiday celebrations until roughly 5800.

My synagogue uses a choir once in a while. I like the choir. Took me a while. Some Jews think a choir is super-goyish. Not true. In Europe there were synagogue choirs as far back as the 1500s.

Some temples have rock bands, like the one I’m playing in tonight. The congregants really enjoy that groove.

I can see picking a shul for the music. Why not.

About the Author
Bert Stratton is a musician and landlord in Cleveland, Ohio. He is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. Byliner chose his essay "The Landlord's Tale" as one of the best magazine articles of 2012. He blogs at "Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate."