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Spice It up with Shabbat La Vida Loca

Spice It up with Shabbat La Vida Loca

various small percussion instruments

In 2010, I watched two dynamic Argentine cantors, Gaston Bogomolni and Ari Litvak, create an incredible Shabbat evening service called “Davenin’ La Vida Loca,” which translates loosely as “Praying the Crazy Life.” Filled with music in the Argentinean style of Friday night worship, together with compositions from Latin American composers, the worship was so well received that Bogomolni and Litvak were commissioned to create a series of Latin American anthologies. The first one, Ruach Hadarom, Anthology of Congregational Melodies from Latin America, Volume I: Shabbat, will be available soon, with anthologies for the High Holidays, festivals, and weddings to follow.

Since then, I’ve dreamed of creating a similar, outside-the-box Shabbat service in my own congregation, a community that has not experienced such programming in the past. Recently, I was able to do so!

With no budget to speak of, I had to get creative, and so I devised a “Cooking Moroccan” dinner event. The proceeds funded a small ensemble of La Vida Loca Shabbat musicians.

With more than 40 people in attendance, our Thursday evening event began in the temple’s kitchen, where chef extraordinaire Georgette Dadoun created an incredible meal of Moroccan delicacies. The entree was a tagine of slow-cooked meatballs, peas, artichoke hearts, basmati rice, and savory spices; dinner was followed by an incredible array of desserts, including coffee cakes, homemade cookies, and Moroccan “sweet cigars,” a treat similar to baklava.

The next night, the sanctuary was nearly full for our Shabbat La Vida Loca service, an evening that overflowed with special moments.

Two Latino congregants spoke to the group. One, Phil Sefchovich, told of being born in Mexico and living there until he was 10. His grandparents were eastern European immigrants who found a welcoming and tolerant society when they arrived there in 1925. He described the country’s close knit Jewish community of 67,000, the majority of whom live in and around Mexico City and talked about his day-to-day life as a young boy – attending the Yavne Jewish Day School, playing after school at the Jewish sports center, Centro Deportivo Israelita, and spending Shabbat afternoons at the B’nei Akiva youth group, where he and others played games, sang Jewish songs, and studied Torah.

Musical highlights included Noah Aronson’s Shalom Aleichem and Aaron Bensoussan L’cha Dodi, and our religious school children sang several Latino selections they’d learned in preparation for the evening.

All of these compositions were played by my colleagues Cantor Ilan Mamber of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, N.J., and Cantor Emeritus Mark Biddelman of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, who had created his own version of La Vida Loca by mixing songs from the original 2010 presentation together with his own upbeat musical choices. They invited me to join with them and the other musicians – an outstanding Latin percussionist and a keyboardist, well-versed in the art of Latin American music, who doubled as a trumpet player – in harmonizing the compositions. Before long, congregants were singing, clapping, and, quite literally, dancing in the aisles, energized by the music, the ambiance, and the effervescent mood!

The wonderful feeling continued during the Oneg Shabbat, where a reprise of Chef Georgette Dadoun’s delectable desserts capped off our incredibly successful Shabbat La Vida Loca.

Cantor Sharon Brown-Levy serves Congregation B’nai Israel of the Somerset Hills in Basking Ridge, N.J. A member of both the American Conference of Cantors and the Cantors Assembly, she is the co-conductor of a regional interfaith choir, Voices in Harmony. .She serves as both the vice president and the education coordinator for the New Jersey Cantors Concert Ensemble, which supports students at three New York City cantorial schools. To learn more about bringing a Shabbat La Vida Loca experience to your congregation, contact her.

Cantor Sharon Brown-Levy
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