The Guitar Never Bothered Me Anyway

The Reform movement loves their guitars. The rabbi at our shul is quick to pull out his acoustic guitar that has doubtless seen a number of Birthright and camp trips to break out into Jewish-inspired singalongs with a congregation that mumbles their way through the Hebrew. As a group, we’re more enthusiastic about the clapping and English – the kids are all about the “bim bom” hand movements.

These aren’t songs that would be familiar to your run of the mill frum audience. They typically come from albums with the name “Ruach 5—” and are laden with kol isha (Nechama Carlebach, who I adore, even has a gospel choir in “Y’hi Shalom”). They’re inspirational, to a Reform audience, and promote a touchy-feely-shalomy ideal of Yiddishkeit that doesn’t sync with my experience. I smiled as the rabbi explained what a niggun was, suppressing a smirk when he got details wrong and asked me if I’d ever heard one before.

Still, there’s a place for the guitar, in the stillness and anticipation of a Shabbat that encourages peace without restriction. Reform might not be authentic to most streams of Judaism – the shul’s president asked me why I was using a dull meat knife to cut watermelon during the Hebrew school barbecue instead of the much sharper dairy knife – but it fills somewhat of a cultural void for my children, guitar and all.

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