Jordan McClean

Original Article Published on The JNS

Relix magazine and the Brooklyn Bowl are well-known to music lovers worldwide. This year, they will become even better known as they host “High Holidays –A Suite of Spiritually Driven Holiday Services,” an innovative musical worship experience for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Relix Magazine, the print and online publication, was launched in 1974 to focus on the live music scene. The Brooklyn Bowl is a music venue, bowling alley and restaurant in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., with branches in both Nashville and Las Vegas. Both are owned by music-world mover, shaker and mensch Peter Shapiro.

These musical Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur evening and daytime services are celebrating their 10th consecutive year. Services on both days of Rosh Hashanah will take place in person at the Brooklyn Bowl for a limited number of worshippers.

Erev Rosh Hashanah will be livestreamed Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m. EST on fans.live with Rosh Hashanah morning livestreamed Sept. 7 at 10 a.m. Kol Nidre will be livestreamed on Sept 15. at 7 p.m. from the Relix Studio. Yom Kippur morning will be livestreamed on Sept. 16 at 10 a.m.

The High Holiday services, often to referred to as “Bowl Hashanah,” are hosted by Friday Night Jams/Because Jewish and will be led by Rabbi Daniel Brenner; Jeremiah Lockwood (musical coordinator); vocalist and bass player Yula Beeri; and trumpeter and Antibalas charter member Jordan McLean.

Services include a variety of musical guests from the Jewish and secular world who will appear both live and through pre-recorded performances. The “who’s who” of musicians include Armo, Eric Slick (Dr. Dog), Ross James (Terrapin Family Band), Alex Bleeker (Real Estate), Stuart Bogie (Antibalas/Arcade Fire), Eric Krasno, Dan Lebowitz (ALO), Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group), Dave Harrington (Darkside), Adam Roberts, Spencer Zahn, Anthony Russell, Brian Chase (Yeah Yeahs) and more.

Rosh Hashanah morning services will include traditional prayers, Torah reading and a shofar service, as well as guided meditation by Yael Shy, CEO of Mindfulness Consulting.

The marquee for the “High Holidays–A Suite of Spiritually Driven Holiday Services” at the Brooklyn Bowl. Credit: Courtesy.

Shapiro proudly notes that “Bowl Hashanah has become a meaningful tradition for Brooklyn Bowl. To have a holiday that means so much, marking the beginning of the New Year, is a life highlight for me personally. I look forward to continuing this tradition forever.”

‘They tell the stories of our people’

Relix editor-in-chief Mike Greenhaus feels that the Brooklyn Bowl, which has historically hosted Bowl Hashanah in person in non-COVID times, is ideal for the High Holidays experience. “We have said for years that Brooklyn Bowl is our sanctuary, clubhouse, church and synagogue, so it only makes sense that it has grown into the spiritual home for our musically inclined Rosh Hashanah services over the years. Especially at a time when so many of us have been apart from our friends and family due to the pandemic, we hope that our suite of traditional but-open-minded and inclusive services will allow us to connect with each other as we ‘begin again’ at the start of this new year.”

While many online and in-person (indoor and outdoor) options exist for worshippers worldwide this High Holiday season, Greenhaus senses that Bowl Hashanah fills a unique place in the Jewish world. He hopes “the services will help make those watching from home or in-person feel a deep connection between their Jewish spiritual world and the live-music community that originally brought so many of us together.”

The service facilitators offer important contributions to the worship experience. Jeremiah Lockwood—the frontman of Sway Machinery, who has also toured extensively with Balkan Beat Box—returns to New York after being absent for a few years while completing his Ph.D. at Stanford University. Lockwood is the son of composer Larry Lockwood and the grandson of the legendary Cantor Jacob Konigsberg. His dissertation, “Golden Ages: Chassidic cantorial revivalists in the digital age,” focused on young cantors in the Chassidic community.

Jeremiah Lockwood. Credit: BecauseJewish.com.

While Bowl Hashanah has a very modern flavor, Lockwood, perhaps unsurprisingly, very much values the cantorial tradition and nusach (liturgy/tunes). “I look to the old-school cantors as great. They speak the music to tell the stories of our people. And they bring the people with them. This is rare in the contemporary world.”

He acknowledges that people “want to have an activating, enjoyable experience.” He and his partners intend to help them on that journey.

Lockwood is looking forward to working more directly with Yula Beeri and appreciates that she “stepped in,” learning the service in his absence. “We are working on vocal arrangements, and what she is bringing will add a great deal,” he says.

And Beeri is similarly honored to work with Lockwood. “Jordan called three years ago from the West Coast to see if I would come on board and sing a few songs. I said, ‘Of course. When I found out the scope, I was amazed, frightened and intrigued!”

The secular-born Israeli lives in Brooklyn and is the founder of the music and arts collective Yula & The Extended Family (YXFM). She often performs with her husband, drummer Isaac Gardner. Beeri points out that the service fills an important need in the community: “These experiences fill a gap for people like me! People with a secular background who are searching for Jewish identify while also being an artist and musician.”

‘Channeling the crowd experience’

Rabbi Daniel Brenner is excited about the upcoming services but acknowledges that he is still thinking back to last Rosh Hashanah when it was unclear if the service would happen due to the pandemic. “For me, on an emotional level, having a group of musicians on stage making music was like coming out of hibernation and interacting with the world for the first time.”

Blowing the shofar. Credit: BecauseJewish.com.

He was delighted to learn that 20,000 people were watching online.

Brenner captures what is so special about the Bowl Hashanah High Holiday experience. As he explains, “it is putting the experience of live music first and designing a High Holidays celebration around an experience of live music for people for whom live music is their thing.”

And he understands what fans of the jam band scene are looking for, saying “these are people not afraid of a song lasting longer than 10 minutes.” Participants often bring both their young children and their older parents, who also find the experience enjoyable.

And Brenner is there to serve as everyone’s guide. “My role,” he says, “is to be channeling the crowd experience rather than being the rabbi MC.”

He adds, “I have to be immersing myself in the music for it to be authentic. I have to throw myself into it.”

Brenner will also offer short kavannot—prayer explanations and spiritual guidance—as well as parables that he will prepare.

Brenner strives to offer an inclusive, welcoming user experience. “It is similar to a live show—you can sit, stand, wiggle, dance—and you won’t be judged because you can do your own thing and be free of inhibition.”

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