By Max Cohen, NFTY-SW Religious and Cultural Vice-President
Leading services has always been a passion of mine. It’ actually the reason why I learned to play guitar. Last month I had an incredible and unique experience. I had the honor of helping to lead the Youth Group Service Friday night at my temple for Shabbat, and then on Sunday, I played guitar at the Justa Center for their Easter service.
The youth group led Shabbat service was a fantastic experience. One of my favorite aspects of the service was integrating NFTY traditions and music within the congregation. “Yasher Koach, may you have strength,” was heard bouncing around the courtyard (the service was held outside) after teens spoke. Another one of my favorite parts of the service was overcoming a difficult situation. For those of us on the bimah, both our microphones and our guitars went in and out of amplification throughout the service. This was difficult because our voices did not travel far in the space that we utilized, especially when we were simply speaking. However, the congregants remained patient and expressed their support for us. This was an incredibly uplifting experience and displayed some of my favorite values taught by Judaism: Love, respect, and showing support for people when they need it most.
Easter at Justa Center could not be more different. I was comfortable with the music at the Kabbalat Shabbat service, but I had never heard the songs I was asked to lead the congregation in for Easter. Additionally, while Temple Chai is comprised of amazing people, some of which I call family, the Justa Center is a day resource center for homeless seniors. All of the participants in the service were either currently or formerly homeless. This displayed to me one the most important things about religion; this showed that religion is a beacon of hope for people, no matter what religion. NFTY songleader Derby Reeves led the music at the service with me, and it was a great experience for both of us. It was hard to learn the songs, as most of them were written in the 1700’s and in unfamiliar time signatures. We also struggled with a dilemma. The lyrics of the songs spoke directly to another faith, and we did not know if we should sing the songs or not. As it turned out, all we needed to sing was the first word, and then the congregation took the lead. It was an incredible experience to see faith so thick you could taste it among a group of people that have had very tough lives.
Songleading is empowering. Whether it be familiar or not, whether it be your religion or not, leading people in prayer, in something they truly believe in, is something special. I have been incredibly lucky to have had amazing experiences, both Jewish and otherwise, and I hope to continue to lead people in prayer for a long time.