"American-Israeli cantor Idan Irelander is trying to bring together different cultures through the power of music."
"Temple hosts Sephardic music to encourage unity" - The Eagle Tribune
"In some settings, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians and Americans may not even speak to each other, let alone sit side by side to play music. "
"Peace and unity, post-Marathon bombings" - Andover Townsman
"Sabbath performance aims to continue healing, calming anger."
"Sephardic Shabbat Unplugged CD Release" - The Eagle Tribune
"iPad Gives Boy A Voice At His Bar Mitzvah" - The Boston Globe
"The 12-year-old boy sat in the synagogue, looked out at the congregation, and waved. On a day when Jewish tradition marks the transition from boy to man, Matthew Emmi smiled often and moved his hands to the music of the Hebrew songs. During prayers, he alternately slouched and sat erect."
"Music, not politics"- The Andover Townsman
"Middle East musicians perform at Temple Emanuel ..."
"Sabbbath features Sephardic tradition in food, music" - The Eagle Tribune
"Music is the real language of peace. There is no war in music," said Idan Irelander..."
'Shabbat Unplugged' rides trend of hipper music at services - The Jerusalem Post
"How Music Influences Worship and Jewish Identity"
Jewish Journal North of Boston
By Hazzan Idan Irelander
Music plays a vital part of any identity, tradition and culture, and has the power to affect people, especially children. This is why the music at Jewish summer camps for example, is so powerful among campers. It helps to develop and teach them about their Jewish and cultural identity.
Many of the melodies which we sing today for prayers at synagogue services are either what are referred to as “Mt. Sinai Tunes” (melodies with unknown origin which are very important to Jewish identity, and which we believe were received, along with the Torah, on Mount Sinai) or traditional melodies that were written in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe (e.g. Solomon Sulzer’s setting of the “Sh’ma,” Louis Lewandowski’s composition for “Kiddush,” etc.).
The word “tradition,” especially in the context of Jewish music, is an amusing word. Every generation, every denomination, every region of the country has their own “traditional” songs. Some people think that it represents something old and ancient, something in its purest form. I think what is “traditional” is in the ear of the beholder. When people sing the “traditional” version of “Oseh Shalom,” they will likely sing the melody composed by Nurit Hirsh for the 1971 Israel Song Festival.
Certainly, nusach (a system of musical styles/modes or tradition of a community) and tropes (cantillation symbols to guide the chanting of the Torah), represent earlier forms of Jewish music and link us to the melodies of our ancestors. But whenever I introduce a new tune, it has the potential to become a “tradition” as soon as the group learns and embraces it. Hazzanim and other song leaders are responsible for adding to and perpetuating our musical tradition.
In the nineteenth century, Jewish worship split into two directions, one in Eastern Europe and the other in Western Europe. Western European Jewry entered into modern European society. This freedom to integrate with European culture had a significant effect on the music that was performed in the synagogue. The musical style for worship among Eastern European Jews did not change much and was mainly written in solo cantorial mode. The artistry, ability and knowledge of nusach on the part of the cantor were crucial. The style of “davening” (praying) in the Eastern European Jewry style represented a dialogue between the cantor and the congregation. The cantor would chant and the congregation would respond (or vice versa). It was the exact opposite of the choral singing predominant in Western Europe.
On the other hand, Sephardic Jews (Jews who found refuge in the Muslim Mediterranean when they were expelled from Spain in 1492) never adopted the Eastern European cantorial solo performance style. Instead, most of their singing was communal.
In the United States in the 1960s, with the influence of Israel and the pride generated by the Six Day War, there became a demand for more Hebrew and especially Sephardic Hebrew for worship. Jewish summer camps were first to adopt the Sephardic style of community singing, probably without recognizing it came from that worship tradition.
The use of musical instruments in worship connects the older Eastern musical style where the cantor is the soloist and the community sings along. Instruments invite the community to join in singing the melodies. The use of a guitar is preferred because it allows the hazzan or song leader to interact and engage the community, spiritually as well as physically.
As a hazzan, I believe chanting the nusach and the traditional melodies of the synagogue connects us back through time to our ancestors. At the same time, it is also important to embrace new music, new compositions, and new interpretations of that tradition, because they bind the generations together. Nusach is not only the Hazzan’s language, it is the Jewish people’s language in the synagogue. It is a unique language just like languages that we inherited from our forefathers. Ashkenazic Jews for example, speak Yiddish while Sephardic Jews speak Ladino. In the synagogue we pray in Hebrew, and the melody is the nusach.
I don’t want my congregation to only be familiar with music that was written in the last decade. It is important to blend this with the voices of generations past to find an appropriate balance. Each generation produces its own music, just as it produces its own literature and other cultural art forms. It is a continuum, and we should be within that stream as opposed to outside of it.
Music is what keeps a tradition going and supports the development of a religious and community identity. Music also helps people attain a higher level of spirituality. Music is what makes us feel comfortable when we visit the synagogues of different communities and denominations. You will almost always hear in these services familiar tunes such as Hirsch’s “Oseh Shalom,” Klepper’s “Shalom Rav” or a Carlebach niggun, and we automatically feel a part of that Jewish community.
The power of good music, in combination with accomplished Hazzanim and song leaders, is essential to a child’s Jewish education.
Our natural love of music and how it touches us through songs and melodies can be used to communicate Jewish values. Songs that have interesting chord patterns, rhythms or even interesting textual concepts, will endure for a long time, just like our religion.
After a year, temple finds new leader
The Salem News
By Tom Dalton
Temple Shalom is gaining a lot in Idan Irelander. The temple's new spiritual leader, it turns out, is both a cantor educator and a talented musician."Actually, I came to this country as a musician," said Irelander, 37, a native of Israel.
Irelander, who plays guitar and other instruments, enrolled in a music conservatory at age 6, once played with Yehoram Gaon, whom he described as the "Frank Sinatra of Israel," and came to this country to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He has been music director and song leader at several North Shore temples, and currently holds that title at a reform synagogue in Andover.
Last month, Temple Shalom, a small, conservative congregation, named Irelander its "spiritual leader," a relatively new concept for temples in this area. He is a recent graduate of Hebrew College in Newton and, as a cantor educator, performs the same role as a rabbi or cantor.
"I just did a baby-naming," he said.
At present, it is a part-time position, although the temple hopes to make him full time.
Irelander replaces Rabbi Lee Levin, who stepped down in August due to health reasons. He began leading services at the Salem temple last fall as a cantorial student.
For the temple, which has been without a rabbi for almost a year, this is a large step forward.
"I think it is a turning point for renewing the temple," said Thomas Cheatham, the board president. "It is a significant event for us."
Irelander has already made his presence felt. He has been an enthusiastic leader of a torah discussion group, a versatile musician who led "Shabbat Unplugged" music nights, and is a married father with two young children — just the demographic the temple hopes to attract.
He also plans to launch several new programs for young adults.
"Our strategy is really to grow the membership, and we think we have the opportunity here with Idan to attract a lot of the unaffiliated Salem Jews, who are much more numerous than any of us realize," Cheatham said. "Lots of young families find Salem affordable and have moved in and don't belong anywhere."
For Irelander, Temple Shalom is an exciting opportunity.
"I love this place," he said. "We call ourselves 'the little shul with the big heart.' We want to reach out to the whole Salem community."
Temple Revival Begins with New, Musical Spiritual Leader
By Bette Keva
Jewish Journal Staff
Temple Shalom of Salem is counting on Israeli-born Idan Irelander to lead them into the future.
The new leaders of the oldest synagogue on the North Shore are performing a makeover they say will resuscitate their venerable Salem house of worship. The new slate of officers elected in June is aiming to double Temple Shalom’s membership over the next two years, from 120 to 240, with a mix of families and singles.
The temple’s ambitious strategy — besides targeting the unaffiliated and developing relationships with the city and Salem State — is given momentum by its recent hiring of musician and Jewish educator Idan Irelander as its spiritual leader. Temple President
Tom Cheatham believes this is the coup de grace that will end the “growing old small temple” perception that has enveloped the Lafayette Street temple for far too long.
Having officially assumed his position July 1, Irelander, his wife, Einat from Tel Aviv, and their two young children, have been anticipating his new job from across the continents.
“I’m celebrating it in Israel,” said the 37-year-old Netanya native, who returns to the Jewish state twice a year to be with family. Among the new crop of recent Hebrew College graduates, Irelander is a cantor who holds a master’s degree in Jewish education. He said he can officially perform all the duties of an ordained rabbi.
“There’s nothing a rabbi can do in his authority that I can’t. I’m member of cantor’s assembly – similar to the rabbinic assembly — of the Conservative movement,” said Irelander in a telephone interview from Israel. Since former Rabbi Lee Levin resigned, Irelander has been conducting services, doing the Torah and Haftorah readings, and engaging the congregation in discussions.
The temple’s bold step to break from tradition and hire, for the first time in its century-plus history, a cantor as spiritual leader, has caused some controversy among the membership. Several families who were firm about having a rabbi lead the congregation have left the temple.
Cheatham (who is also on the Board of Overseers of the Jewish Journal) acknowledged that bringing on Irelander is “a high risk hire” and a gamble, but the hope is that he will bring the temple to a new level. “He has a buzz cut, actually a shaved head, wears an earring, plays guitar, is an Israeli, is dynamic, and is dedicated to Conservative Judaism. It’s quite a package. We’re fortunate to have him."
For a decade, Irelander’s music — a blend of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Moroccan, Yemenite and Israeli cultures — rang out through Temple Emanuel in Andover. As music director, Irelander also worked with 400 Hebrew school children. Robert Goldstein, rabbi of the Reform temple, was lavish in his praise, saying Irelander lifted spirits of the young and old.
As for going from a Reform to a Conservative temple, Irelander is philosophical, “To me we’re all Jews,” he said.
His way of connecting the generations is through music, which “is what Jews used to do at the Holy Temple. We’re just bringing it back to the synagogue,” he said.
“With no past, there is no future, and we have a very rich past. Judaism is a portable religion, and we need to adjust it to the needs of our community. So by mixing the religion with music, it presents it in new clothing,” he added.
It was music that brought Irelander to America, specifically a scholarship to Berklee School of Music, based on a unique CD he recorded in Israel called “Schizophrenic Bass.” In Boston he studied composition, arrangement and film scoring, graduating summa cum laude in 2001.
When he plays guitar and sings during his highly anticipated Shabbat Unplugged during Friday night services on August 21 at the temple, his band will likely include three to five fellow musicians on cellos, flute and African drums. Irelander’s Shabbat Unplugged acoustic services include his arrangements of traditional prayers, with lyrics from the Siddur. The band will play upbeat versions of such classic tunes such as “Mi Cha-mo-cha” and “V’A-Hav-ta.”
Ben Weiss and his wife are new members of Temple Shalom. In his 30s and active on several fronts, he represents what many temple leaders are hoping will be the newest and hippest spiritual house on the North Shore.
Weiss, along with Cheatham and longtime member Larry Taitlebaum, hope to attract more of what they believe are some 1,000 unaffiliated Jews living in Salem to the temple. “We have a target list of 500 to 600 names in Salem,” Cheatham said.
The temple has begun renting space to the city of Salem for a public, bilingual Spanish/English preschool. As one of the most affordable on the North Shore, the temple believes young Jewish families, as well as others, will be moved to register their children for a multi-cultural experience.
“It’s part of our strategy to become a much stronger part of Salem,” Cheatham said.
Another is to create a relationship with Salem State College, which does not have a Jewish organization on campus, according to Cheatham.
“We think we can provide that,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could open a Hillel office in our temple for the college?”
Finally, the strong connection that the temple’s new spiritual leader has with Israel, and Irelander’s immersion in the Jewish state’s artistic and cultural life, is another component of the temple’s strategy to become vibrant. Already one Israeli native, Rachel Jacobson, has joined Temple Shalom and is participating in its revival. And the temple has its first bat mitzvah under the new leadership planned for November.
The leaders see this as just the beginning.
(Sylvia Rosen contributed to this story)
"The Sabbath with an MTV twist"
"Shabbat Unplugged" rides trend of hipper music at services"
Judy Wakefield - Andover Townsman
Wearing Yarmulkes at the front of this temple, the contemporary band sounded hip in Hebrew as they played for the crowd.
The band was part of Shabbat Unplugged" (mimicking the famed "Unplugged" MTV music series that spotlights well-known singers and bands), which is being well-received at Andover's Temple Emanuel on Haggetts Pond Road. The spiritual journey mixes music and prose on Friday nights, just as has been happening for years at several congregations in Andover.
"It's a new trend in liturgy, offering worshipers a chance to relax a bit as they prepare for prayers," said Rabbi Robert Goldstein of Temple Emanuel. "And people like it."
Held last Friday night starting at 6, between two religious holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), the focus was gratitude as the sun began to set and the Shabbat set in.
Even with its MTV-take on the name, there is nothing pop-culturish about "Shabbat Unplugged," as worshipers here gave thanks for all the good things in their lives.
The celebration kicked off with a short, simple wine-and-cheese reception before the guests entered their worship space. There, music, hand-clapping and head-popping awaited as a five-piece contemporary band sang Hebrew songs. Temple Emanuel's music director, Idan Irelander, was in charge of the music.
"It's a way to reach out to families. It's the time of day when families are together, spending time together," Goldstein said. "All congregations are looking for ways to bring families together these days, as families want that, whether it is a church or here."
The spiritual side of this service started immediately as the welcoming prayer called walking through the temple's doorway a walk toward "a richer and more meaningful life."
The Risman family of Andover attended their first "Shabbat Unplugged" for that reason. "I think it's a great way to reach out to families and a good way for families to pray together," Amy Risman said of the service. She was with her husband, Henry, and their son, Adam, 13.
Adam led a prayer in Hebrew as he is preparing for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. "It's a chance to begin your weekend on the right note," the temple's advertisement for holiday services proclaimed. Goldstein says it's going over quite well.