The Multicultural Resource Center and UNC Charlotte’s Hillel (Jewish Student Association) have teamed up over the summer to plan, organize and launch the Love Song Shabbat, a nontraditional Jewish service that aims to make the traditional Jewish Shabbat service more inclusive.
On Friday, Sept. 5, at 7 p.m. in the Student Union, Room 340 C-F, UNC Charlotte students regardless of religion, denomination or belief system are invited to learn more about their fellow Niners at this free event.
Rabbi Dr. Barbara Thiede, professor of Jewish Studies for the Department of Religious Studies, has been behind this event from the start, even modeling it after an event she led on campus years ago.
“Together with the Multicultural Resource Center, the idea has been to make certain that we are speaking to the larger group. We’re hoping to have a little dance group in the back that will be fun, and there is a student here who will be doing some of the singing,” said Thiede. “But we really hope people will have a good time. And afterward, you know, we’ll schmooze, we’ll eat, we’ll talk.”
Throughout the service, popular songs will connect with each of the traditional Shabbat prayers, ideally to help attendees understand the meaning behind the prayer. Thiede expects to project the words of the songs onto a screen during the event, and hopes to engage those who come out to participate.
“We’ll ask people to sing along, I don’t know if we’re going to have any kind of bema [raised area or stage], but I will encourage people to dance. Getting your body moving is also part of prayer. I also don’t have any problems with people asking me questions during the service, so that we can feel that we are in prayerful exploration,” said Thiede. “And I also want to make sure that this feels comfortable to people who are Atheist, or Agnostic, and they could still have a good time, and not feel in any way that they are separated because of the literature that might otherwise feel intimidating.”
The Beatles Service, as it was called when Thiede first led the service on campus years ago, used a mix of Beatles songs to help attendees connect to the traditional Shabbat prayers and understand why the prayer was important in ways they may not have previously understood. This year’s Love Song Service will be similar in conception, though it will use a wider selection of songs.
“People frequently will use melodies from popular culture, and then they’ll put Hebrew language prayers into those melodies. You will find that happening with Adon Olam [the final prayer of the service] all the time … that’s just a way to make it flirty and fun and all the rest,” said Thiede. “The kavannah [intention] behind this service was based on my awareness that the vast majority of people who are Jewish and walk into a synagogue have really no idea why the Shema precedes the Amidah … why we stand for the Amidah, but they don’t mostly stand for the Shema. The why of the prayer, the why of the service, has been, as it is in a lot of religious contexts, supplemented with the how.”
Thiede explains that the why behind a service may be the most important part because it is the part that gives the service meaning to the individual.
“So much of my work has been about unpacking what is the service about. What is the transcendent journey that you are supposed to take from the beginning to the end,” she said.
When Hillel first did the Beatles Service, there were two members of the association. At the time, 70 people came to attend the Beatles Service, which leaves Thiede hopeful that the turnout this year will be even greater now that Hillel has had time to grow at the university. Of those who attended, she says, some were Jewish, but many were not. This, she says, marked the event as a successful outreach attempt.
This year, while the songs are no longer all by The Beatles, the message remains the same. While on the service the songs are meant to help attendees connect with what happens at a Shabbat service, Thiede says she hopes to also address what happens at most religious services.
“What are the various ways in which people connect with the spiritual or the divine, and how do you open that door and make that easier for people to do? What is the importance of praying with a group, or even just being with a group, in a kind of soulful space?” Thiede says.
By using love songs with the traditional Shabbat prayers, Thiede hopes to connect with students on micro and macro levels; teaching them about Judaism, but also about love and unity.
“Given that all of these students have just been through a summer in which the terrible inability of human beings to inhabit the same places and the same spaces, I think in a way I’m wondering if there are certain people who really need a kind of healing from a summer of such devastation,” said Thiede. “One of the things about this service is that is consistently emphasizes the experience and the expression of love … Yes, we need a service around unity and love.”