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Invitation To Piyut

We found ourselves back at our “home away from home” this fourth day of our BJ November trip to Israel, the stunning Hebrew Union College campus. The particular program this day, however, was not directly related to HUC. Rather, it related to the power of music and its ability to create a connection for us to G-d and our heritage. It was a theme we had visited over and over again with the emerging spiritual communities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and, of course, something we experience powerfully at home through BJ.

And, in fact, as Yair Harel welcomed us into the room and began to acquaint us with piyutim and his organization, Invitation to Piyut, we realized that a good portion of the prayer music at BJ is already enriched with the melodies of piyut, Jewish devotional music from around the world, as Roly has been working with Yair for the past few years and teaching this material at BJ. Yair and his two fellow musicians played Shahar Avakeshcha for us as we closed our eyes and imagined the community from where this tune might have originated. He then described Invitaition to Piyut, which seeks to track down melodies of piyutim from Jewish communities far and wide. He demonstrated the collection of such tunes on his organization’s website and showed us the diversity of contributors who submit: from Portugal to Morocco, from India to Syria. Individuals send piyutim no longer sung which they learned from the grandparents, and those used in living communities to celebrate festive days and lifecycle events. The website serves as a living library of the melodies and histories of the Jewish people. Yair then led us in a challenging and beautiful melody and after several repetitions, we were singing along.

We left Yair with the promise that the revival of piyutim, the musical memory of the Jewish people, which is very active in Israel, has promise to contribute to the revitalization of our North American prayer. And, indeed, we found ourselves humming throughout the rest of our trip, walking the streets of Yerushalyim, riding on the bus, waiting in the airport, with the recognition that the piyut we had learned had permeated our souls.

Roly and Yair are partnering in an Invitation to Piyut Conference for North America this November.

The author, Sofia Hubscher is an attorney, a BJ Board member, and Co-Chair of BJ’s Membership Committee.