Tuning Out, Tuning In
I is not about the music, uplifting as it is. Nor is it about
the melodies, beautiful as they are.
Rather, it's about feeling, intensity and connection.
It's about being at one with God and with each other as
Jews. It's also about fun and informality
That's the aim of Shabbat Unplugged, the new, informal
Shabbat service open to young adults throughout metro
Detroit. Still experimental, the monthly service hopes to
inspire our 20-, 30- and early 40-somethings to embrace
Shabbat, whatever their Jewish background.
Clearly, the need is urgent.
More than 800 young adults gathered on
Oct. 10 for the first Shabbat Unplugged at
the host synagogue, Temple Israel in West
Bloomfield. The Reform temple's Roseanne
and Bennett Fienman Family Young Adult
Fund is S.U. underwriter. The Detroit Jewish
News is cosponsor.
Some had come to sing with their heart
and pray with their soul. Others were there
ROBERT A. just because friends or family had asked them"
to go. If all they did was follow along in
hopes of catching a few spiritual sparks, so be
"It was a rockin', jivin, joyful, prayerful, songful time — a
celebration," said Temple Israel Student Rabbi
Jennifer Tisdale Kroll, 26. "I think we're off to
an amazing start. All I can say is, 'God will-
To which I say, Amen.
"Just sing at the top of your lungs," a gui-
tar-strumming Rabbi Paul Yedwab urged as
the 9 p.m. service began. He asked each per-
son to choose one care, worry or chore and
unplug it — then another and another.
"Remember," he said, "we're not severing
these cords. You can plug them back in on
Sunday. It's just for Shabbos."
"Imagine," he said, "that for this one Shabbat; you are
unplugged from it all."
I sensed a momentary hush as the crowd responded to his
call to relax, recalibrate and unplug.
We Are One
Shabbat Unplugged attendees were as eclectic as the larger
Jewish community. Some are active in Federation, Hillel, the
communal world or their synagogue. Others hadn't been to a
service since their Hebrew school days.
All were looking for a reason to be there. Most found it in
the music, or the emotion cascading from it. For others, the
sushi, cheese, fruit and cappuchino oneghooked them.
It didn't matter. They were one.
"I liked it," said Steve Lonn, 25, a third-year graduate stu-
dent in education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
"It's a combination of a not-so-formal service an41 being able to
feel the community getting together around song."
There were no prayer books — just one of the conventions
of everyday life the group unplugged from. Lyrics and prayeis
were shown on two large screens. The idea was to pray out-
ward, not down.
That distinction wasn't lost on Lonn. "Everyone is watching
the same screen, the same words," he said. "That was a kind'
of binding force and uniting influence."
Lonn sensed what confronts us all, whether we know it or
not: Reaching our young adults now, before we lose them to
the lures of a fully assimilated lifestyle.
A poignant moment was when Rabbi Harold Loss blessed
the fighting forces of both Israel and America; many of the
soldiers are the same age as S.U.-goers.
The newly released National Jewish Population Survey,
commissioned by the federated network United Jewish
Communities and largely funded by Franklin philanthropist
Mandell Berman, shows that 26 percent of all U.S. Jews are in
their 20s and 30s. Many no doubt are part of the 60 percent
of households unaffiliated with a synagogue.
Only 45 percent of U.S. Jews ages 35 111.1 feel being Jewish
is "very important." Just 20 percent belong to a Jewish com-
munity center. Unaffiliated Jews are substantially less engaged
in Jewish life and have weaker ties to Israel, the survey shows.
Notably, the intermarriage rate hovers at 47 percent. It has
risen steadily since 1970, though at a slower pace . since 1985.
Shabbat Unplugged isn't unique. Congregation B'nai
Jeshurun in Upper Manhattan draws thousands of young peo-
ple every Friday night. S.U. co-chair Binay Wayburn, 27, of
West Bloomfield first sipped the joy of praying with peers at
Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Hillels everywhere are regroup-
ing. In Ann Arbor, Machon L'Torah's Jewish Resource Center
resonates for Orthodox and less observant students alike.
Up With Music
Shabbat Unplugged is specifically for young adults, but musi-
cal Shabbats dot the Detroit Jewish community. They beckon
with cantors, instruments or simply the voices of congregants.
Congregation Shaarey Zedek, a Conservative synagogue in
Southfield, unfurled Friday Night Fever! in 2002. About 40
percent of the up to 300 worshippers are ages 20-45. .In sum-
mer, a piano or guitar enhances the welcoming of Shabbat.
Conservative synagogues don't use instruments once the
Shabbat candles are lit, but SZ Rabbi
Jonathan Berkun knows the power they hold.
"We feel that even if we do not know all
the words perfectly, the stability of the musi-
cally accompanied prayer welcomes and
envelops our voices," he said.
Making Shabbat speak to young adults
gives Jewish meaning to their lives and helps
keep them here against the pull of hip cities
like Chicago, New York and Boston.
Rabbi Berkun put it this way: "Young adults
aggressively pursuing careers certainly find that
which they value most becoming obscured and ignored through-
out the week. They are often the ones who work late. They need
the joy and celebration of Shabbat as much as anyone."
He added, "It is our responsibility to teach them about
Shabbat in an engaging fashion as well as provide for them
communal opportunities in which they can experience
At Adat Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Farmington
Hills, ShabbarRocks and Havdalah Rocks are homeruns.
"Rocks does attempt to be many things to many people and
that is a challenge," said Cantor Howard Glantz. "That said,
our attendance when we 'rock' is rarely less than 200 and has
often been over 400. That is 5-10 times our usual numbers."
The undercurrent running through these experiences is that
we unplug from worries on Shabbat and plug into something
far greater: God's love, each other and Israel.
"What it all comes down to, on Shabbat Unplugged or any
other Shabbat," Rabbi Yedwab said, "is that we are all one." Cl
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