Outdoor Synagogue Service Aims to Reach New Audience


(Wednesday, May 30, 2007 7:50 AM EDT)

Take a traditional Sabbath service outdoors, throw in live music and top it off with some dancing, and what do you get?

Congregation Etz Hayim's “Sabbath Under the Stars” service, set to take place on Friday, June 8 at 6:15 p.m. at Lubber Run Amphitheater.

Traditionally, Jewish mystics have often welcomed the Sabbath on Fridays at sunset by going to the fields and singing psalms of praise. Etz Hayim's rabbi, Lia Bass, said she wanted to bring the service to her congregation with some modern flavor.

One of Bass's missions during her six years at Etz Hayim - a Conservative Jewish synagogue - has been to revitalize the congregation. Although younger members are joining, Bass said she wants to continue attracting more youthful audiences.

In keeping with that goal, she is trying to make the service as contemporary as possible, while still maintaining the integrity of the traditional Sabbath celebration.

“This is one more step in changing the congregation,” Bass said in a recent interview. “It has become clear to me that our congregation is known for being older. I think it is time to show the new face of Etz Hayim.”

“Sabbath Under the Stars” will be about an hour long, and will feature live music provided by the congregation's band.

The music will use traditional psalms and prayers, but the words will be set to tunes ranging in style from reggae to jazz to rock and roll.

Dancing also is on the agenda, and Bass expects everyone to join in (and the Brazilian-born rabbi might come down into the audience to get everyone moving).

The service is not intended solely for congregation members. The entire community is invited to learn about Jewish culture and to see what a Jewish service is like.

“I hope [the community] can have the experience of what a traditional service is all about,” Bass said. “And I hope they have a spiritual experience of their own. I don't expect them to embrace Judaism, but I hope that people can find something they can connect to spiritually.”

Bass is hoping for at least 100 to 200 people to attend, and said she always welcomes more. If the service is a hit, which Bass said she believes it will be, she would like to offer it again in the future.

“If I'm going to judge by rehearsals and the energy that's been involved, it's going to be a fantastic experience and everyone will have a great time,” she said.

For more information, call Congregation Etz Hayim at (703) 979-4468.

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