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Last Week in Zimbabwe 

Zimbabwe Monday and Tuesday 

After a long trek to the Great Zimbabwe and meeting with Dr Rabson Wuriga, I spent most of Monday relaxing and catching up on sleep and much needed rest.  On Monday evening I was picked up by a man named Pastor Gary Cross who grew up with my dear friend and congregant Amir Harnoy.  It is a small world!  I went to dinner at the pastor’s home and had a wonderful home cooked meal with great conversation. We talked about our spiritual paths and how we both work in our own communities to achieve the same thing.  It was fascinating to hear about his work—placing orphans in homes rather than institutions, ministering to people in need and supporting causes that help the under-served. He has a wonderful wife and four daughters, one of whom is at Calvin University in Michigan.  It used to be Calvin College, but now with the name change I told Gary that it just means that they can charge more—we had a good laugh.  A beautiful family living in a city that is stricken with poverty, lack of electricity and in places running water and very high unemployment. But each one of Gary’s family is committed to the work of the church and that is a machaya. 

On Tuesday we had lessons at 11:00 am.  We reviewed the Ma’ariv service for Shabbat, and then went on to the Birchot Hashachar, Psukei D’zimra and the Shaharit services for Shabbat morning.  Hamlet wrote a fantastic melody for the Birchot HaShachar, the morning blessings—we talked about the blessings and how they relate to starting our day. We got to one of my favorite parts of the service which is a metrically compelling wording that through repetition of the word Mah (what) asks the questions: What are we? What are our lives? What is our loving-kindness? What is our righteousness? What is our salvation? What is our strength? What is our might? What shall we say before You Lord our God and God of our ancestors? In the words of my teacher Hazzan Abe Golinkin this is like a mini tachanun— a cry out to God for answers and a wake up call on how we should live our lives. 

We looked at the sections for study and particularly at the principles for understanding and interpreting the Torah and the Talmud. And then, of course the Kaddish d’Rabbanan. Oh and I taught them the Sheyebane Beit HaMikdash.  Then we got to psalm 30, mizmor shir hanukkat habayit—the song of the dedication of the Temple—and it’s relation to the holiday of Hanukkah.  Baruch She’amar we learned Craig Taubman’s melody and I pointed out that this among other prayers were written by the Men of the Great Assembly.  The rest of psukei d’zimra we talked about the different prayers and how we deviate from the weekday on Shabbat and Holidays.  Hoshea et amecha has ten words which we use to count a minyan instead of counting people as numbers—which is dehumanizing.  I talked about how particularly evil and calculated Hitler was to brand numbers on Jews in concentration camps.  We learned a few melodies, my Y’hiu l’ratzon and mi ha’ish among others.  We talked about the halleluyah psalms 145-150 and that the word halleluyah means praise God.  Most wonderfully, the sound of the hey with the dot (dagesh) in it creates a breathy sound so that Yah, one of God’s names has in it the source of life—-our breath which was breathed in to us when we were born. It is so that we can sing kol haneshama t’hallel-ya. All of our soul (breath) praises God. 

We talked once again about the ayin and dalet being large in the shema, particularly to remind us that the word eid means witness— when we say the shema we should all feel that we were there receiving Torah—all Jews even those not yet born were there including Lemba, Abayudaya, Jews of Choice, Jews by birth—everyone.  I also pointed out that the aleinu prayer has the same formula—the beginning of each paragraph starts with ayin and the ending is a dalet. 

Oh and BTW we talked about the Shema appearing early in the siddur, so that those listening for the shema, a forbidden part of the service in some periods of history, soldiers would not be expecting it so early in the service and miss the recitation—also the same reason is used for the shema in kedusah in the music service. 

Kol haneshama t’hallel-Yah is repeated at the end of ps 150 to indicate in ancient times to a public without siddurim that the section of psalms was over. We also talked about ps 145 is in alphabetical order, without the nun—taken out because of its negative implications. 

The next section includes paragraphs from Tanach and so we stand in honor of those sections.  The first is from Divrei Yamim which is Chronicles. I pointed out the section of the Torah service which is from that paragraph—it is fun to realize where specific prayers come from—Tanach and piyutim, religious poems. 

We came to the Shirat Hayam, song of the sea and I pointed out that the melody that the shul sings is from the Portuguese tradition. It also contains the mi chamocha and we talked about Nachshon’ mouth being filled with water and only able to say CHamocha instead of Kamocha. And the Macabees name taken from the men, chaf, bet and mud first letters of the phrase.  Once again Adonai Yimloch L’Olam Va’ed is repeated to indicate the end of that section. 

Barechu we reviewed the meaning of the word and its many forms and we also talked about yotzer or uvorei choshech, Blessed are you God who created light and darkness. However the words from Isaiah read “created light and evil.” This did not sit well with the sages and thus here is another example of changing the wording to suit intent of the prayer. 

There are many beautiful melodies that Hamlet has written for this section of the siddur, the blessings before the shema.  especially the Eil Adon—I thought that it was from somewhere else, it sounded so beautiful.  That surely brought a smile to his face. I pointed out that Eil Adon is in alphabetical order, and yes, the nun is there as Moderick pointed out.  Once again we have the prayer for creation, and the prayer for revelation leading to the shema and the prayer of redemption before the Amidah.  Also I talked about the Kadosh kadosh kadosh section before the shema, that section being called the “kiddushah d’yeshiva.”  This is literally the “sitting kedushah.” Comprised of many of the same verses that we read in the Kedushah of the Amidah, it is a recreation of the angels appearing before Hashem in Isaiah and Ezekiel in the Prophets.  There is also the kedusha d’sidra found at the end of the morning service on weekdays, the mincha for Shabbat and other places. All have in common this dramatic scene from the Prophets. 

The word Amida I pointed out is like the word yeshiva. It is the noun form of the verb to stand as yeshiva is the noun form of the word to stand yoshev.  Hence the Amidah can be called the Standing Prayer, Ha’tefillah THE prayer or the shemoneh esrei (the 18 blessings—really 19).  The Amidah for shabbat has 7 blessings representing the seventh day, Shabbat.  There are a standard three in the beginning and three at the end, with the middle being the “holiness of the day,” and ends with Mikadesh HaShabbat. 

We learned where to bow and how to do it and going back three steps at “Adonai S’fati Tiftach,” and three forward at “ufi yagid t’hilatecha.”  The idea is to approach the space of prayer and also to remember that we carefully approach the King. 

We sang some melodies for the repetition including Hamlet’s v’shamru and my L’dor Vador. We also recorded vshamru this week. We went on to the Torah service—Hamlet, once again has written some beautiful melodies for that section as well. You have to get a copy of the Lemba Jews of Africa—Ancient roots—new traditions. Let me know if you want to buy one—all monies go back to the Lemba. 

Side note—we recorded five new songs with my little MacBook Air and Studio One.  Hamlet is an amazing musician and composer and it was a delight.  The only drawback was some tech difficulties, but we managed to record mbira, lead voice (Hamlet) and harmony voices (George, Sharon and Nomsa).  Can’t wait to mix and see what we have.  I left Hamlet with my audio interface in the hopes that he will be able to create his own studio in Harare. 

I let Moderick know the standard form of the Torah service—calling up aliyot, misheberach, hatzi kaddish, maftir, etc.  Also to be aware of when we do the Birchat HaChodesh, the blessing for the new month, the community needs some Hebrew calendars!  I sent out printable calendars to Moderick when I returned.  I loved reading in Dr. Rabson’s book about a bowl of water’s reflection of the moon indicating the new moon in Lemba history.  The new moon was a festival and a very important part of Lemba life. 

We went through the musaf service and learned melodies for the kedushah and others.  We talked about ein keloheinu being an acronym (first letters of each verse) for AMeN and Baruch Atah Adonai.  We are at the end of the service and say amen but always we continue on with our worship, represented but the Barach Atah… 

Next blog will be about the trip home and the continuing work going on her in the USA.

Zimbabwe Day 2  

I woke up at 09:30 this morning after getting at least 10 hours of sleep which I badly needed. Went to the Lemba Synagogue to teach around 11:00 am. George picked me up—he had waited for gas from 3-6 am.  I had 8 students, three women and five men.  We discussed the idea that as community prayer leaders it was vital to know about the meaning and context of prayers. They learned that the siddur literally means “order,” and is written in the order of our daily prayers.  They are using the Koren siddur which is very nice.  I taught that the siddur contains sections of Tanach (acronym for Torah, Nach-Prophets, and Ketuvim, the Writings—includes tehillim which are the psalms of David).  But also there are piyutim which are poems written and added to the prayer book in addition to biblical quotations. 

We talked about what Kabbalat Shabbat means literally and in the spiritual sense.  The basic piece was learning that Kabbalat Shabbat in Hebrew means receiving Shabbat and that is what we are doing--it started with the Kabbalists dressed in white in Tsfat Israel in the 16th century standing on the mountain receiving Shabbat.  So the first prayer in their siddur is “y’did nefesh” pretty much a love poem to God.  They know the “traditional melody” which includes the niggun at the end. At that moment I discussed the word niggun (melody without words) and taught about the Baal Shem Tov (BESHT) who founded Hassidism.  The poor were not able to study because of time and monetary obligations, so the BESHT taught that we did not necessarily need to be a scholar and if we didn’t the words we could use our hearts to sing God in a melody.  I challenged Hamlet Zhou, the composer laureate of the Lemba to write their own niggun!   I pointed out that y’did nefesh was a piyyut written in the 16th century in Tsfat.  The first letter of each of the verses spells “yud-hey-vav-hey” God’s holiest name. It also is a love poem, and so I talked about our relationship with God. I spoke about the verse from Hoshea that says “I will betroth you to me forever, in justice, in kindness, in mercy and faithfulness..and then I will know God.” When we are able to emulate those above mentioned qualities then we become “btzelem Elohim” in the image of God.  God in Her love gave us the Shabbat the greatest gift of all. 

We continued by noting that the beginning of Kabbalat Shabbat is six psalms, representing the six days of the week, follow by Lcha Dodi and then the psalm for Shabbat and the psalm for Friday. 

For L’chu Neranana (psalm 95) I taught them the Abayuday version—they LOVED it and were singing it pretty instantly. I taught about the chatima the final “signature” of the prayer, which in their siddur has an arrow.  The role of the sheliach tzibbur (literally messenger of the community—to God) is to start of the prayer and end with the last few lines—although there are exceptions to this rule.  Also in the Koren siddur the number of the psalm is written at the end of the first line.  It is in Hebrew so we discussed the concept that each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is assigned a number—we talked about 18, which consists of chet (8) and yud (10)—the word chai is life —just like when we say l’chaim! 

For Psalm 96 everyone Carlebach’s melody to Ki Va Moed and so we sung it—but utilized the niggun — so we started at the beginning and skipped down to the hatima. In between we sang the niggun and at the end.  I asked everyone “how did it feel singing the niggun—did it have more meaning and spirit than the words?” and all answered a resounding “yes!”. 

Pslam 97 we sang my reggae version of Or Zarua—the group picked it up very quickly and we had a blast!!!! 

Psalm 98 we learned Craig Taubman’s Romemu—note here—when I asked do they have a melody for Romemu the response was the melody from the Torah service. it was a perfect opportunity to say that the source for the romemu words in the Torah service are from Psalm 98—we learned Craig’s version and it was, once again, a blast!!  Everyone sings so beautifully and intuitively! 

You will note that there is a pattern with the psalms—95-98.  The next psalm in 29. Why is that? The very mystical and numerically minded Kabbalists liked the idea that Psalm 29 has God’s name mentioned 18 times —representing chai the word for life (see above).  Also the word “kol” voice is mentioned seven times in honor of the seventh day, Shabbat. I taught that the poetic nature of psalms means that all of nature “sings” to God, and that God’s voice speaks to nature.  This occurs many times especially in the psalms that begin “sing a new song  unto God, sing a new song all the earth.” 

We went to Lcha Dodi and people knew several melodies.  I taught the Abayudaya version. I also pointed out that this piyyut was written by Shlomo Ha’Levi, spelled out in the first letters of the verses.  We also talked about Shamor v’Zachor—two different ways the fourth commandment was written in Shemot and Dvarim.  How can this be? The Kabbalists say the these two words were spoken “b’dibor echad” as one word—something that only Hashem can do. 

We sang Carlebach’s mizmor mizmor shir for the 92nd psalm and for the hatima we sang the Israeli melody for Tzadik Katamar. 

Pslam 93 for Friday we sang Nava Tehilla’s Mikolot Mayim Rabim. 

Then we discussed the sections of Mishna that are studied at this point.  The rabbis knew that since we had everyone in shul, we could get in some Torah learning. Also the sages said that even five minutes of Torah learning is better than not studying at all. Hence in several places in the siddur a section is there for study.  I pointed out that also on Saturday’s musaf has such a place.  At the conclusion of the study there is the Kaddish d’Rabanan.  We talked about the five different kaddishim—Kaddish d’Rabanan; Hatzi Kaddish (between sections of the service); Kaddish Shalem (between sections were there is ha-tefilla, the Amida); Kaddish Yatom, the mourner’s kaddish and Kaddish D’etchadatah (at a funeral and the conclusion of study of a tractate of Talmud).  Musaf for Shabbat is a perfect example.  We looked at the Hatzi Kaddish before the Amidah. The Kaddish Shalem after the Amdah. The Kaddish D’Rabanana after studying Mishna and Talmud and the Mourner’s kaddish after aleinu.  Four out of five of the kaddishim in one short span. 

We took a break, and agreed that we did a lot of learning and we would continue tomorrow Friday.  However the women would have to be home preparing for Shabbat—so we would meet at 11:00 am, just the men.  After that Hamlet and I will lay down some tracks for new recording. 

The learning session was fantastic—I told them that they would have to be sponges, and that them teaching others what I taught them would be my greatest joy—just as I have learned from others and was teaching them. 

But more fantastic was having a jam session with Hamlet on guitar and Moderick and his wife Brenda on mbira.  It was truly a global blend!! 

Tomorrow night I spend Shabbat at Moderick’s home.  Erev Shabbat is spent at the home celebrating with family—it is too hard and expensive to come to synagogue two days (just like in Ol Kalou). Saturday morning I will get to hear how the Lemba do their services. 

I probably will not write again until at least Sunday.  Shabbat Shalom.

Zimbabwe Harare Lemba Synagogue  

Wednesday 10 July 2019 

In one evening I am in heavenly shock.  To learn from Moderick about the Lemba.  They have circumsicion at 8 years old.  They do as many other tribes—many young boys together. Then they learn the Lemba ways—-including how to shecht (slaughter) in the ancient ways which are the actual laws of kosher slaughter.  They are given three knives, for chickens, small animals like goats and larger animals like cows which they keep for their entire lives. Being brought in to the Lemba tribe means learning how to be a shochet.  This blows my mind.  This is an ancient practice that goes back to beyond anyone’s memory.  The Lemba combine Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in to one holiday.  They choose two goats.  They pour a liquid on their back and the first one to shake it all off (you know goats hate water) has expiated the tribe for their sins.  The second goat is sent away. The first goat is slaughtered and there is a feast to celebrate the new agricultural season. 

The elders of the tribe are living in the countryside where it is possible to be tribal and stay together as a group—oh and by the way—there are 12 tribes!  Moderick and the Harare Congregation are there to be a hub and to be a place of learning.  He wants to train leaders so that they can go out in to the countryside and lead congregations.  Will they accept the rabbinic changes in their practice?  Moderick feels that they need to be in contact with the world-wide Jewish population so that they can ensure that their ancient traditions and new traditions are recognized as valid. He was thinking about whether to align with the orthodox, conservative or reform and said that all you need to be is Lemba. We laughed and he whole-heartedly agreed. That is why the Nusach Project begun by Kulanu is so important—the Lemba have their own unique music.  I gave Moderick a box of CD’s and he is blown away as is his nephew George. George has been driving me around town.  He is a great young man and is being groomed to be one of the leaders. 

Conditions in Zimbabwe are difficult. There is no electricity all day except from 10 pm until 5 am.  The home that I am staying in, an Air BnB has solar and a well so I have water and electricity.—and internet.  But there is huge unemployment and the prices in the market are very high. More on that later. 

Anyway, I am going to teach tomorrow and I am thinking about how to make it work—I will just see where everybody is—I know that Hamlet (who composed all of the Lemba melodies) and Moderick are very high level, but they are happy to review and learn some new angles on prayer.  This is fantastic!