Back to Stories & Articles

Living Our New Song

What if no one shows up?

It’s Friday evening a few weeks ago, and we’re about to kick off our very first brand new Aviv Kabbalat Shabbat and dinner for folks in their 20s and 30s. All the pieces are in place: the chairs are set; our music director, Michael Harlow, has rehearsed with our musicians; our davening team of community singers are warmed up and seated. We begin singing the opening niggun, and we open the doors to the Reception Room wide. No one enters.

As we keep singing for a few more minutes, I see a small group standing at the door, perhaps a little reluctant to come in. So we keep on singing, and a few more trickle in. As we finish Yedid Nefesh, there are 10 people in the room.

After six months at BJ, I had hoped that this was my chance to make a splash, but I was worried.

We know from various studies and reporting that young people are interested in spirituality, but maybe this endeavor for us would take longer to build than I thought.

The service was progressing, and we arrived at Psalm 96:

Sing to God a new song, Sing to God, all the earth.

שִׁירוּ לַיהֹוָה שִׁיר חָדָשׁ שִׁירוּ לַיהֹוָה כׇּל־הָאָרֶץ׃

What does it mean to sing a new song to God, particularly every Shabbat when we recite this ancient psalm as part of Kabbalat Shabbat? Why do we proclaim that we’re singing to God a new song, when in our liturgy, we’re actually just repeating the same text week to week? What does it mean to actually create a new song within the keva (fixed nature) of our Jewish prayer?

Rabbi Richard Levy z’l, in his translation of psalms called Songs Ascending, wrote that the line means that we sing the song as if it were new. The novelty, Levy writes, resides in the singer and how they compose and present it. In creating this Aviv service, we asked ourselves: How can we take the time-tested ritual of Kabbalat Shabbat and make it as if it’s a new song that speaks directly to Jewish 20s and 30s today, as we look to bring them into our community more fully?

We’re still experimenting with the answer, but we gave it our best shot.

For this group, we’re working to speak the Torah of our moment: What does it mean to be a young adult in New York—trying to figure out what your life should look like career-, family-, and community-wise—and how do we get there? We use these questions to drive how to make the song as if it were new, building upon the BJ davening and spirit we already know and love—grounded in traditional liturgy and in our Shabbat rituals. This is our new song.

But perhaps I was premature in worrying. We should have known better than to expect anyone to turn up on time.

As we continued to sing and pray, the trickle turned into constant flow and a full house by Lekha Dodi. 100 Jewish young adults packed into the room: Couples and singles. Queer Jews and Jews of Color. Jews from different cultural backgrounds, alongside Jews of choice and Jewish-adjacent partners. What moved me was the way people sang: full-voiced, creating a transcendent experience.

After the service, we went upstairs for a sold-out, energetic, and fun dinner together. Someone came up to me and said that our service was the most spiritual experience she ever had. She then joined our davening team as a singer for the next Shabbat. As we broke bread together, I realized: We are living our new song. 


Shabbat Shalom,