The gap year in Israel is a phenomenon that has sprung up in recent decades in most Modern Orthodox communities. The idea is simple: 18-year old boys and girls who have just graduated high school spend a year of intensive study in yeshiva or seminary in Israel before they return to attend college. It is intended to be a year of reflection and growth, and it is not uncommon for many participants to return more religiously connected and observant than when they left.
On a Monday night in late September, forty people gathered in a spacious, two-floor Chelsea Loft for the debut of the Maqam Project, a fusion of Judeao-Arabic music and reflective Jewish poetry. A maqam is an Arabic musical scale, similar to a jazz mode, which repeats a musical theme while allowing for and encouraging improvisation. Spearheading the project was its musical director, Epichorus founder, and oudist Rabbi Zach Fredman, who was selected as one of The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36” and serves as rabbi and music director of the New Shul in Greenwich Village. He was joined by a flutist, percussionist, and violin player. St. Louis-based writer and teacher Rabbi James Stone Goodman interspersed poetry pertaining to the parsha, or weekly Torah portion, across the Middle-Eastern melodies.
How does one get in the right frame of mind for the High Holy Days? For Shira Kline, bandleader and musical director for Lab/Shul’s High Holy Day service, the answer is obvious: music. “Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have such beautiful liturgy,” Kline said. “To not engage participants through music is to miss a huge opportunity.”