On Friday, Jan. 15, to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Beth Ahabah Clergy – Rabbi Scott Nagel and Cantor Sarah Beck-Berman – and Music Director Natan Berenshteyn celebrated Shabbat services with the help of an acclaimed jazz ensemble, The Afro-Semitic Experience.
The Afro-Semitic Experience
Co-founded by Jewish-American jazz bassist David Chevan, and African-American jazz pianist Warren Byrd in 1998, The Afro-Semitic Experience combines an array of styles, sophisticated musicianship, good song writing, deep grooves, and years of friendship with a simple message: Unity in the Community.
The group was able to join the Cantor in song and prayer during Friday night services on YouTube via greenscreen recordings and other audio/visual magic. The Shabbat service moved back and forth between the Beth Ahabah Sanctuary and the location where The Afro-Semitic Experience recorded, the Sanctuary of Congregation Mishkan Israel, in Hamden, Conn., where Dr. King spoke to help dedicate the Reform Synagogue on Oct. 20, 1961.
Though planned months in advance, many congregants remarked that the service could not have come at a better time. Just two days after the troubling events at the U.S. Capitol, comments in the YouTube chat read, “So proud of this beautiful presentation-what a gift after a world weary week” and “it is besherit [sic], who knew when this was planned how much we would need the healing…” and “what a balm to our souls at the end of a tough week.” When the ensemble and Cantor sang “We Shall Overcome” many reported weeping.
During the sermon-in-song, Warren Byrd said, while introducing “Go Down Moses,” “I prefer to call it Let My People Go … It is an old Negro spiritual … it speaks to something in all of us … we are always trying to find a way of liberating ourselves, and freeing up what is inside… so we can reach a higher potential, but it speaks directly to our respective heritages, in that we’ve experienced slavery, and persecution, and suppression, in one way or another, and we have had to battle in order to be able to reach a point of self-determination … these times have shown us that we can never let those memories … and those efforts go.” David Chevan added that jazz is the perfect metaphor for the type of communication needed now, not rhetoric, but careful listening and real dialogue.
Beth Ahabah YouTube
This beautiful and moving service is still available to the public for viewing at Beth Ahabah’s YouTube Channel at www.bethahabah.org/youtube.html.
The video is called “Friday Shabbat Service featuring The Afro-Semitic Experience” and is also available at this direct link https://youtu.be/5ksq2y0oFao. As always, everyone is invited to join us on Fridays at 6:15 p.m. for Shabbat Services streamed to our YouTube Channel.