Episode 20: Permission to Befriend the Text (with Daphna Rosenberg)
11:31PM Apr 11, 2022
Shalom, my friends, welcome to the Light Lab podcast. My name is Eliana Light and it is a thrill to welcome you to our 20th episode! Can't believe we are on number 20, I want to give you a huge thank you for listening to the show, we have over 4200 plays so far, really blowing our minds, we're so so grateful that you get to be part of this exploration of T'fillah, holding our liturgy up to the light, exploring personal prayer practice, we're so glad that you get to be a part of it with us. And we couldn't do it without you. And we would love for your support in a few ways. First, and most importantly, I think by sharing the show with others. Do you have friends, colleagues, family members who are interested in Jewish learning, maybe who want to learn more about Jewish prayer practice, or lead Jewish prayer practice themselves? Please share this with them, please rate and review us on iTunes and Stitcher. And if you have the capacity, we would really appreciate your monetary support as well. If you go to ko-fi.com/thelightlab, that's ko-fi.com/thelightlab, you can sign up for one of our membership tiers. And there's also a link there to give a tax deductible donation to the light lab. All of this stuff is linked in the show notes, which again are very extensive, and you should read them. And all of those links are wherever you found this podcast. Just look at the description and it's right there. Now friends, I am so excited. I know that I say that I'm excited about the interviews all the time. But this was such a treat and an honor to interview, my friend Daphna Rosenberg. Daphna is one of the founders of Nava Tehila, the Jewish renewal community in Jerusalem, and she has been composing, playing music and leading with them for 17 years. Now when I say that Nava Tehila has transformed what prayer looks like here in the United States. That might sound like an overstatement, but it is not. She is an incredible composer, leader and teacher and has toured extensively in the United States, not just sharing the music of Nava Tehila. But their vision of what prayer is and can be, and their leadership style, which is something that we're going to talk about a lot in this interview. We met at a Union for Reform Judaism biennial convention many years ago, where I got to daven, pray with Nava Tehila. I've actually never been in Jerusalem when they are reading which is so sad. But gosh, their influence, again, as we'll talk about, has been so, so powerful, and you might even know some melodies that have come out of Nava Tehila. Daphna herself serves in the area of spiritual care for the ill and dying and in creating heart to heart connections between people from different cultures and traditions. We talk a lot about her background and her travels and how they inform her work and her spiritual life. She's currently involved in musically and spiritually leading Jewish meditation retreats as part of the Or Halev Center for Jewish Spirituality faculty in Israel. And she's also part of this year's Hadar Rising Song Institute fellowship cohort, which I am also a part of, and we have gotten to be hevruta, study and connection partners over the past few months, which has really enhanced and impacted my life in his how this interview itself came to be. So I hope you enjoy my interview with Daphna Rosenberg.
Shalom Daphna, it's so great to be with you today!
Hi Eliana, I'm also very excited to be with you.
Amazing. Afternoon for me, evening for you. The fact that we get to talk across such distances is really a blessing, I think.
Totally not to be taken for granted.
Exactly. So I want to start by having us go way, way back. What was tefillah for you when you were a child? Tell us a little about that.
I grew up in a liberal orthodox North American home in Israel. My parents made Aliyah from Canada when I was three months old. My mom is Canadian. My father is originally Austrian but grew up in Canada and in Israel as a little child and then in Canada. And when we moved to Israel in the 1960s, the end of the 1960s, our home was very different than anybody else that I knew. Like we didn't drive on Shabbat, but we did speak on the phone. We didn't, we didn't like fire I on Shabbat, but we did turn on the television. There was nothing like that in Israel, there was certainly not in the Ashkenazi world, in Sephardi of the world, maybe more. They were like more traditional, like there was but it wasn't something that we belong to. We're an Ashkenazi Canadian family. And it was a combination that wasn't known here at the time. You were either religious, ultra liberal, religious or secular. And T'fillah, was just, wasn't even something wasn't about T'fillah, it was about going to shul. You know, I didn't, what I knew was like you got to shul, you got to shul on chagim, you go to shul, on Shabbat morning, I think Friday nights, my father didn't used to go to to beit knesset. But he used to do his Kabbalat Shabbat T'fillah at home. And he always used to call me at the end for singing yigdal elohim chai together. That was like the last few of the Kabbalat Shabbat and we used to sing it together at home. But it wasn't something that wasn't like, I was I never felt like I was praying. When I went to a show I remember on Yom Kippur, I sat in the back there like behind the curtain. And my brothers were sitting like on the other side of the curtain and my, my brother would show me his machzor, and he would stay, he would show me Okay, we have another 100 pages, we have another 50 pages, we have another 20 - We have another five and a half hours to the fast, we have another two hours of the fast, it was it was something like that you had to do and we just did it. And I remember also when when my brothers and my thought that is to say like the Birkat Hamazon at the end of the end of the meal, which is we also did because I was only on on the weekend. We didn't do birkat hamazon after the meals during the week. And they would say it's so fast. Like I was like - And I was like, I couldn't understand anything. And within two and a half minutes it was finished. It was like the goal many times was just like to get it over with. And the chazan was, I remember my when my father used to come from shows it was a great laugh, what made it a great to be nice until these days isf he's short, if you don't spend like six or seven hours at shul, then it's like that. So I I really didn't grow up in something that was there was just something that you did. You went to shul. You went to shul, you came back. But it wasn't something that I certainly didn't have anything personal like praying to G?d or like having any conference by personal conversation with G?d was not nothing that I knew. I didn't even know who He was, I just knew that he told us that we're not allowed to drive on Shabbat and then that we're not allowed to turn the fire and on on Shabbat so very, was I would say that tefillah was really absent from my life when I grew up as I know it today.
And are there experiences that you had or people that you met as you grew older that changed that for you that brought a little more of that actual T'fillah in and changed your idea of what t'fillah could be?
Definitely, I think one of the moments that were really life changing moments were when I was 27 year old, I went traveling in the far east like many Israelis, even though I did it in a bit of an older age, most Israelis do it right after the army in the age of 20 or 21. I did my, I went to university I did my BA, and only after that when I was 27 I went to I went traveling to the Far East and I went to India. And remember Friday evening that some friends said there's a Kabbalat Shabbat taking place in some guesthouse. And I said oh, I want to come and there were people of all traditions, all religions. There were people there that were Israelis, Jews, Americans, Indians, people Europeans, Christian, like all kinds of people. And I remember we sang mi ha'ish, one of the very famous like, Israeli songs sung many times like even in secular Kabbalat Shabbat, and then there were all kinds of songs and in addition also having Krishna singing about Hari Krishna and singing all kinds of devotional songs and singing them like repeating them and singing them and like really and from different traditions and that was for me, mind blowing. I said wow. It's like it's Kabalat Shabbat, there people for many different kinds of traditions, and we're all like singing in devotion. You know, the Indians are known for their devotional singing and the style, the devotional singing style, was the chanting was part of this Kabbalat Shabbat. And it didn't really matter what the name of the Divine was, could be Elohim. And it could be, it could be Hari Krishna and it could be Jesus. And it was just, it was really amazing. I will never forget that Kabbalat Shabbat because I really thought that was the first time that I sort of felt this kind of connection with the Divine and that something's happening inside of me, as I'm singing, like a sense of like, you know, prayer or connection or connection, I think is what I felt at the time. And I remember that I, when I spoke to my father on the phone back home, that said I was at this amazing Kabbalat Shabbat. Yeah, like we we sang in Hebrew, and in Hindu and in English. And we're all like, we're all praying, and it was something really different. For me, that was very powerful. That was one event that I remember very specifically,
That's so beautiful. I think it's so interesting, because I've heard lots of stories, even Jews in America who go to India for the first time, and they've maybe not had a spiritual experience within Judaism. And then they're able to find a spiritual experience or feel one there. Did it kick start some sort of search for you? Did you feel like you were you started looking and seeking out those experiences? And where did that journey take you?
Yeah, definitely. The answer to your question is definitely yes, I went on a search that took me to any and every kind of community. I found myself and Franciscan Catholic communities, Hindu communities, Buddhist communities, organic communities, Rainbow communities, I found myself in every possible spiritual community searching, and I also remember, very powerful when I was living about a year afterwards, I ended up traveling for seven years around the world looking for these spiritual experiences. And part of the travels, I spent a year and a half in Italy. And I lived on a Franciscan Catholic community in a cese, which is a very spiritual, beautiful place, in the center of the center of Italy in Cumbaya, where Francis of Assisi comes from. And that's actually the place where I started to learn to play on the guitar I'd never played on my guitar before. And, and I sang my first song playing and singing on my guitar was in Italian. And it was to the words of Saint Francis of Assisi that wrote, he wrote a Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and about like the world, and the animals and everything provided like the divine providing us with all the all the love that's around. And that was the first song that I ever sang and played on a guitar at the age of 30. And, and then I found myself in this Franciscan community, and there was a beautiful, I really became very friendly with the monk there, there was a Mario and he, he was very excited to have a Jew come and be in their community. And he asked me to join their masses, and to read the text in the holy language. I was the only person in the community there that could read Hebrew. And I read the text from it. I read the text from from Psalms, and then we sang, yemin yemin yemin hashem oseh chai. And we danced to it. they had like it was a community like lots of young people, pilgrims, there was like pezei in France. It's like a very, like, young, spiritual, sort of teenagers and people in their 20s, that come and they spend time together, then they sing and they pray. And I joined them. And I sang in Hebrew, and I sang and I danced, and I, and I read the text of Hebrew. And that was also like a spiritual, it was a very spiritual community, there were people pilgrims coming from all over Europe to come and stay there. They were from all the countries in Europe, and I joined them and I was also the only Jew there, they never had a Jew come and spend time with them in their, in their community. So that was also a very meaningful, it was being Jewish and very accepted as being Jewish. Within a very spiritual environment. It was Christian, but it was also very spiritual. And it was very clear to the people there, and to me, that the divine and G?d is the same G?d. We have, we might have like a different practice, for, but it's the same G?d and I was very touched by that. I think that one of the things that as I grew up, that was hard for m, the concept until today, the concept of am sgula, it's like that we're better or that than others, or maybe we're different I can accept, but that being better was something that was very hard for me. And I really wanted to connect to all the different traditions and to feel the gifts that they have to give us from from that and many years later when I connected with Rabbi Ruth Gan Kagan who was ordained by Rav Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Rav Zalman was a person who really invited the different religions and traditions to his, the Dalai Lama was his friend and Sufi sheikhs, sheikhs were his friends. And he, he really opened up to receiving all the, to like a dialogue between the Jewish religion and tradition and the other traditions. And that was something that was, I really opened up to in my years of travel, by opening up to all these different spiritual traditions before I could come back home to being Jewish and spiritual.
That's such a beautiful sentiment that you had to kind of collect and feel into, and connect with all of these different spiritual paths. And that theme that's coming up for you, of it's all different names for the same thing. It's all different names for the same Holy One and holiness. Let's talk about that coming home then. When did that coming home happened? What called you back?
What actually called me back with a broken heart. I broke it like I had, I was traveling seven years, I was in a relationship that ended and my heart really was really broken. And I needed to come home to be carried in my broken heartedness. And not long after I came home, a friend of mine invited me to community there was in the desert, in the Judean Desert, the spiritual community and I came there, it was called the they established this community, and they call it the yeshiva ashlam, was like yeshiva ashlam, they had a combination of like things from the Far East and Judaism. And I came there for Yom Kippur. And I remember at the end of Yom Kippur, we stood out on Yom Kippur, I'm feeling with chills in my body right now, just remembering an experience, which was 20 years ago, standing out on the hills of the Judean Desert, looking at the Dead Sea, and the rabbi standing out there, like we're, I don't know, 2, 300 people around him, he has a shofar in his hand. And he's saying, Adonai hu haelohim. Adonai hu haelohim, like the end of Yom Kippur and then blowing the shofar. And I'm, this is it, this is it. This is like standing out there in nature and feeling that both the community around after 25 hours of very deep chanting and singing and praying and meditating and, and learning, and being out there in nature, that was really, really powerful. And I think that what made it so powerful for me was taking all these years of collecting spiritual, like the spiritual connection, like feeling the Divine in my, in my body, embodying it, and finding the connection to my home, to my personal language, and my personal spiritual language is Judaism. And suddenly to feel that, it was like, boom, you know, it's like putting the shteker, putting the how do you say the shteker, you know, the the electricity, putting it in there in melek the -
In the socket.
C7able into the right cable into the socket. That was like that was that was the feeling that it was like, This is it. Now, after so many years of searching and searching, and I'm looking how, how do I how can I connect to all this, it's like, I'm not a Buddhist, I'm not a Hindu, I'm not a Catholic. I'm Jewish, but I want to feel something that's like it's mine. And it's that I can, that I can have a personal connection to it that it's not people are telling me what you need to do or not to do. Not aseh v'lo ta'aseh. It's like that, you know, like that, that, that's the practice. So that was really that was a very strong turning point in my in my spiritual path. And there was a lot of what also was very special there was that all the chanting there, I mean, I'd learned already how to chant and I'd been in different places. And I was chanting like Buddhist and Hindu and Christian, you know, different kinds of chants that there the music and the chanting all came together with the Hebrew language with the language that was so familiar to me. And I remember there was a one of the women that was singing that that was leading there, one of the prayer leaders there. I remember saying at the end of the Yom Kippur, I said, That's what I want. And then I went to learn how to play the guitar with her to learn how to and then I started also later composing music and but there was something there that I noticed and that I pinpointed. And I said, That's what I want.
I got chills also just hearing you speak of it, how incredibly powerful it must have been coming home to that and realizing that the heritage that has brought you to this point, can also be a place of great spirit and depth. I think a lot of Jews to I don't know, because it's not something that they've experienced. And I'm wondering if you can kind of name or pinpoint a few things that make it more likely that a spiritual experience will occur, like in all of the travels, and all of the things you did, are there, you know, common, I guess you can say it's like common phenotypes, I think like things that are in common amongst all of those different things that make it more likely for a spiritual prayer to occur within you, or within any person.
The first thing that comes into my mind, is the music, Like, it doesn't have to be for everybody, but I'm saying like, from my experience, it was really, the music really, really made a change for me to really embody the words and the prayers, like totally different to say the words with no music. I mean, music can be just also singing, it doesn't have to be instrumental. In my personal case, it was also using the instrument and, and I noticed that also, not only myself, but I'm many people how, like, the music is such a deep language, and that it's such a deep language that, you know, word words can't compare to it, it's like the music touches a different place in your, in your mind and in your body than words do. So I thought that that was very much something very meaningful. And another thing that made it like for the spiritual experience very meaningful was that it's, I can do it, it's not somebody else. It's not the rabbi, it's not the, the, it's like, it's something that's, that's in me, and, you know, it's like, ein od milvado, in the sense of like, that G?d is every, like, G?d is everywhere, you know, and I mean, milvado kol haolam, you know, like kvodo maleh olam. You know, it's like every, like, His, the divine, His Holiness is everywhere, it's in me, it's in you. It's in, it's in the dog that's with me, like it's sitting in a circle, it's in the moon, into the sun, it's in the water, it's in the people that are around. And I feel that that like the feeling of the connection, that there's no, it's not separate from me, it's not something that's outside of me. It's often that there's G?d there somewhere, somewhere in some heavenly place. And, and I have to try and reach there. No, what it is about is actually, G?d is here. That's about me, listening inside and connecting inside and connecting to everything that's around me to feel that. So I felt that that for me, and also think for other people is very meaningful, to have a spiritual experience to understand that it's not something somewhere that outside that I have to reach for it, that I have to go and reach for it. Another thing that also made it meaningful, and in some places was also the communal experience of being in community. So I have to say that I also had a lot of just as many spiritual, meaningful experiences when I was on my own, wasn't only communal, but something in the communal. And I guess for me, also, because I became a leader within the community. So you can't be a leader without the community. You can sit, you can sit at home and do your do whatever you do, but you can't be a leader that way. You need you need the community to be the, so that was also something of being together with the community and feeling that the power. You can't do on your own, you have to have the whole heder, the whole, like you have like the you have to have the flock to so it's very powerful to have it and to have a spiritual experience being inside the being within the community. And feeling it very powerful. And for me, another thing that was that's also very meaningful to have a spiritual experience was being a woman, like growing up growing up in a Jewish Orthodox environment like 50 years ago, 40 years ago, the women were not like, you're not part of the spiritual experience. Like you're just you're just the observer from from the back, or from the side or from upstairs. But everything everything's happening in, you know, everything's happening in the front there. And a few years ago, I learned for the first time I learned how to read how to trope, read with teamim in the Torah, and I, on Shavuot I read the part of the Aseret Hadibrot, I just did this three years ago for the first time. And that was such a powerful experience that I wrote something about it afterwards, about moving in from moving from the back behind the behind the curtain up front, and feeling and feeling that there's space for me there, I'm worthy. Okay, that I'm also worthy of having this powerful spiritual experience with the Sefer Torah. with everything that's inside of it with the connection, or holding the Torah, with going around with it with dancing with it, which we also did at Nava Tehila, you know, celebrating like Simchat Torah, and really having, like, women and, but I feel that also, that's something that's very, because like this way, as a woman, I can own it like, I am a woman, and I want to own it. So by owning the experience also helps to have a very powerful spiritual experience.
All of those elements are reminding me of the concept from Torah, Lo bashamayim hi, right, and it's talking about Torah in that way that the law is not in heaven, but also that spiritual experience and the divine, the Divine Self, right. It's not in the heavens, and it's not over the sea. It's on your heart and on your lips and in your place. And through music, and through solo moments and community moments and this feeling of worthiness and openness, we're able to access that because it's already in us. That's really beautiful. So after having all of these powerful experiences, and connecting spiritually in community, you're back in Israel, you've had this Yom Kippur, you're inspired to write music, you have the experience at Yom Kippur. And then what happened?
So after this experience with young people. I was back in Jerusalem and, and at one point, I was going through another crisis in my life, and a friend of mine said, You need to meet this couple. And that was Rabbi Ruth Gan Kagan and her husband, Michael Kagan, and I came to Ruth, actually for spiritual direction. And Ruth had just returned from Boulder Colorado after two years of learning and being ordained by Rav Shechter Shalomi. And she started Kabbalat Shabbat in her Kabbalat Shabbat in her living room, Kabbalat Shabbat for all nations. There were Christians and Muslims and Jews in this first Kabbalat Shabbat, I wasn't there yet. I was in a spiritual direction with her. And I was learning from Ruth about Kabbalah and Chasidut, and like the inner Torah, not just the outer Torah, but the inner life of Torah and she was teaching me. And it was it started to really connect inside, to connect to be part of me. And and after just a bit a few months later, she said, Would you like to lead Kabbalat Shabbat with me? And I said, Sure, why not? And then on our first Kabbalat Shabbat she invited into the living room, and I took my guitar, and she opened up the liturgy of Kabbalat Shabbat, and she said from every tehililm choose one pasuk, one verse, and I took a verse I picked up my guitar and I wrote six, seven tunes I think that evening, which some of them we still sing until today, and -
Like, which ones? Like now I want to hear which ones.
Okay, ahser lo hayam was written there. Also from Psalm 97 shama v'tismach I'm not sure, but as the Zamru ladonai bechinor, that was written there. Ba'amud anan was written there, y'cholel ayalot was written there. And I even think that my first lecha dodi was written there, the wall lecha dodi. So there was a lot of music that came up, came up that night. And prayer became part of the spiritual direction with Rabbi Ruth, was really learning for me how to pray was learning how to pray. And one of the main things that I learned from Rabbi Ruth was, was praise, tehilla, which is something very like praise in as part of prayer. And the book, in the book that Rabbi Ruth that wrote together with Rav Zalman in Hebrew called Girvat Elohim. She writes, they write there about T'fillah, T'fillah has many different parts of it and has the praise and it has the gratitude and has the, the request many different parts to it. And the praise was something that I really added into my into my personal life very strongly since I met Rabbi Ruth.
I think that's so interesting, looking at T'fillah in those different facets. I think gratitude is often the easiest one. And so I'm wondering where praise came in. I can think for myself how it might be challenging for someone but how has had been challenging to you? And how did Rabbi Ruth's understanding of Tehila of praise, make it possible for you to adopt that into your own prayer life and have an impact on you?
I think that one of the things, I learned very powerfully is that which is also something that that I think Rav Zalman and Ruth received also from the Christian world, the power of praise to transform. To really make a change. And sometimes I would come to the spiritual direction with with Rabbi Ruth and I'd be in a, in a difficult place and be in a place that was, you know, like there was dark and I couldn't see things clearly. And she said, Okay, take the guitar, let's praise. And we'd sing, you know, kol haneshama tehalel ya, anything from kol haneshama all the way to all the way to I release and I let go and let spirit when my life you know, taking from all whatever was felt that I could, that I would embody, that I felt very close with. And I really felt the power of transformation that could happen from praise. And it really isn't easy to do. And it's very easy to go up on a mountain and see the the sea and you know, the beautiful sea and the beautiful lakes and waterfalls and be in praise and you know, beautiful praise for G?d's, for G?d's making in the world. It's much harder to be in praise when you're in a -And that's and that's when that transformation can really happen. And that was something that I really took into, into my life that was like a very, very important part of my prayer life. And starting every, we would start every meeting together every later on every rehearsal before every Kabbalat Shabbat before every performance before every Sedna with prayer of praise, like you know, I praise you for for this moment, I praise you for my breath I praise for I praise for the beautiful sunshine that that came out today I praise for the birds, it's not only the gratitude for the personal things, that's not the gratitude, the praises, just for the praise that was here, I praise for breath, and praise for the air that comes in. So that was a real new and different learning for me when I, though, through the teachings of Rabbi Ruth.
That's beautiful. I'm definitely gonna take that with me. I'm thinking now about this kind of almost heimish, this, you know, small and intimate, living room gathering. How did that grow into Nava Tehila? When did that formalize and also, what do you think kept drawing people into the experience of it as it was forming?
I think that the first year, like at some point after a few months, Ruth had Yoel come to her for spiritual direction. And there was a time where we were leading it alternately with Rabbi Ruth, one time was me and Rabbi Ruth and one time was Yoel and Rabbi Ruth. And after a little while, it became the three of us and and Yohel also composed a lot of, composed a lot of music as well for Kabbalat Shabbat and we were, we were really composing a lot of music. We did rehearsals of hours together that Ruth used to record everything, you know, all our experiments and many different things. And I think after I would say probably two and a half years, I think, maybe two years that we were doing this, because people started coming more and more. And at the beginning people would come also for the potluck dinner that we would do after the Kabbalat Shabbat and then we'd have like this long oneg till the middle of the night of teaching and music and, and as we wrote more music and more musicians came, it became like the center of evening was the actual Kabbalat Shabbat. And more and more people came to the house, the house became too small. And we had to move into into into a different place. And I remember the first time we moved into that different place, which is just under three years from when we started the first Kabbalat Shabbat, it was just your Yoel Ruth and I and suddenly 150 people came, and that was a real surprise for us. And was a really big surprise, and of coruse we understood, okay, it's not enough just three of us do, we need more musicians and then we just send out like, a message to G?d, you know, if this is what you want us to do, like, bring us more we need more musicians to lead and help and be with us on this journey. And then slowly, slowly, just lots, many more musicians just came along, came along came to the Kabbalat Shabbat and joined us and and slowly slowly we created what we call the Levites circle at the beginning it used to be just people would jam, you know they would come and we would decide where we're gonna you know, just before Yohan Ruth and I like that we say we're doing these and these tunes and people would sing together, and slowly slowly became more formalized. Like we had like the Levite circle and and we had people come in and join us and do rehearsals with us and we we made pages with chords and with words it was like it was a process and learning for us as well. It's not as if we had something in mind. And we said oh this is what we want to do. It just things just happened. We looked at what was happening around us, and we just said yes. And it was constantly asking for guidance from the Divine of what the Divine wants us to do. And, you know, many times people said to us, how can you manage to hold out so many years together? Like, you know, they have these bet, you know, they separate bands, you know, after after years, they fall apart. And I said, because we're not a band, we're, we're prayer leaders. And because we always kept G?d in the scene, it's like G?d never, like we never put G?d outside of this team. And it's not as if we didn't go through hardships and difficulties and things, you know, things in between us and but it was always calling G?d into to guide us. And I feel that that's what really allowed us to play together for so many years and to also be able to have such a big influence on many people and communities and the Jewish music world. Jewish prayer musical prayer world.
Yeah, let's stay on that thread for a minute. Because we've talked about this, sometimes I'll gush to you or Yoel, well, I'll say - Do you realize, I hope you realize how big of an influence you've had. What do you see has been so inspiring? And I have my own theories, but I'd love to hear yours. Why has Nava Tehila - Why do you think Nava Tehila has been so influential, instrumental and transformative in the way that liberal Jewish communities do T'fillah?
It's a great question. I'm actually not positive that I have the answer to it. I think that there's two sides to it. I think we, we brought in our sort of model of prayer, prayer leading. First of all, we bought lots of new music. And I think that something that was the works in our music, especially like in the North American world, I think we brought an Israeli Middle Eastern taste to it. Until today, like I can hear the difference between the things that we brought to the wonderful, a lot of wonderful, amazing North American Jewish music. And still, there's something for me Israeli, for me Israeli taste, and I think it has to do also that Israeli, like as Israelis who grew up with such so many influences of what we call like world music, from all over that really that sort of the taps into many different, you know, many different tunes. And also, because we are, we are Hebrew speakers. And I remember there's a many times there's a very strong connection between the words and the music. It's because we really feel, we really feel the words we understand them and feel them and we live upon them. It's like, it's our it's our language. So I think about the compositions like, can feel that as well. But first of all, I think it's really the music, the music within the model of prayer that's very, became very communal, participatory, egalitarian, and I think the ecstatic like them, then now we call it like, the Neo-Hasidic style of prayer. So it's like, it's neo because, you know, it's like, we're women, we're instruments or, you know, it's not like the Hasidim in that, you know, in the 18th century in Europe, but that sense of like the sense of, of devotion, ecstatic personal prayer, you know, that it's not just the reform, it's not the reformed Cantor, the standing on the bima, many times, I felt that when we came into into reformed synagogues, sometimes it felt like prayers will be a little bit like a concert, like, you come and you watch and like the, and the idea that people can be part of it. But they're just as, they're just as important, they're just as meaningful. And I think that's something that's that was that was really accepted. And, and, you know, when you sit in a circle, there isn't, everybody's in the same distance to the center, there isn't somebody that's closer or farther, that's what it is, sitting in a circle. Everybody, like the Divine is in the center, and everybody, everybody can connect. There's nobody that needs to be further than anybody else. And I think something about about the real the power of the personal and participatory experience is very meaningful that I think, caught on to a lot of to a lot of communities.
I agree, and I'm so grateful for it. I know that your music and even just way of looking at prayer has had a huge impact on me and my life. And I agree that I think Nava Tehila melodies are simple but they're not simplistic, right? They're easy to catch on, they're easy to learn how to sing. But within them there's depth, and word painting, and complexity without feeling distant. And you're right, that the being in the circle is powerful. And also, I think permission to just take a line and sing that line over and over, and dig into the words and be with them. It forces us to slow down in the liturgy. And I think that's another great gift of the canon and of the model, that Nava Tehila teach to, to at least North American communities.
I agree, the slowing down, I totally agree. And it's also an addition to the slowing down, it's also moving your mind away from it. So when you repeat something again, and again, and again, at one point, it's like your mind stops, okay, I think trying to understand it, try to interpret it trying to, and the Jewish mind is so busy trying to understand, I have to understand, I have to understand, I have to learn, have to read, and there's something about the chanting, again, and again, that really starts to calm down the mind and to, and to let go into the experience of chanting. And it's true what you said that I really think that it's Hebrew, because we say, a short verse with a few words. And I think it really caught on to a lot of people in North America, because it's much easier to just think, you know, a chant a few words, than the whole psalm. You know, trying to understand all the words and you give a- also in addition, the part of the model was the idea of giving kavanot, which means you you give, how do you say lekavech, to mediate, you mediate the words to the people and give it like also a personal meaning it can be connected to something that's happening in the world today, something that's happening, and, you know, like, in the outer world, or in the inner world, and it's not only, it's not just the pshat of the pasuk, it's not just the simple, the simple meaning of the pasuk, you know, you say hod v'hadar lefanav, seems like you're talking about the temple of g?d, you know, g?d's temple, but it can be also the temple of the heart, you can connect to the temple of the heart into what's happening inside. And I think that also brings a- people feel closer to it, that it's there's a permission to, a permission to be to befriend the text, to become friends with the text.
I love that idea - permission to befriend of the text. I think it also gives us permission, as you said, to be devotional, to lean into the ecstatic in a community that is incredibly intellectual, wonderfully so, often, like it's an amazing quality. And I think there's something about the inherently spiritual, that scares a lot of people, you know. T'fillah, in the way that we're talking about it now is incredibly vulnerable, specially when you're in a circle, everybody can see you, you can see everyone, I'm wondering if you can speak a little bit to vulnerability as it relates to T'fillah and how you and Nava Tehila in planning a structure for the service, what do you think you do to give people permission and the courage to be vulnerable?
That's a beautiful question, Eliana. I feel that you even in the question, you gave also the answer to it, which is, so I'll elaborate a little bit more, but it's really beautiful. Because T'fillah is something very, that can be very, very personal and vulnerable. It's really, you're exposing yourself to the most inner, gentle and vulnerable place. And you really have to create a very, very safe space in order for people to feel comfortable enough. And there still there were I'm sure there will be plenty of people that would say, we came to Nava Tehilah, and we didn't feel comfortable enough, you know, to safe enough to do it, which is which is fine. But also people who need like, you know, very, that can only do it when they're on their own or can only do it with you know, a few people, we had in our Kabbalat Shabbat between 200 to 300 people. We've done we led Kabbalat Shabbat at, you know, the Jewish renewal at the Kallah, which had 5, 600 people, so it's not so easy to create, you know, a space for the people will feel comfortable. But at the same time, we did do many things to to in order for it to feel very safe and special. So first of all, I think the kavanah the leadership to be in a place of service, you know, it's like the the leadership many times it's been people who are either intellectual or very talented, you know, rabbis or cantor's or prayer leaders or musicians, and it's constant work on the ego, because we always, you know, we want to give plays for the ego and contemplative being reminded that we're doing this in service of G?d, and the community. And it's, you know, I've been doing this for 17 years, there's always more work to do. It's not, it's a never ending, it's a never ending work to, to find that place of humility, which really helps people to feel safe, when you feel that, that the people that are leading you are, are in the same, they're the same level, we're all we're, maybe we're facilitating and leading, but we're still all in a mode of prayer. So I think that's one of one of the things. Another thing that really helps to feel safe is the is the actual creating of the physical space and the physical space, making sure that it's, you know, that we would come before Kabbalat Shabbat, like a whole hour before and set the space and set the circles, and make sure that the holes basically clean and clear from any kind of spiritual or physical clutter, it's creating a space that and was very clear, and also, knowing what the rules are, which means we're starting at this in this hour, we're ending at this in this hour, it's not like you start at Kabbalat Shabbat, and we will have no idea when you're going to finish. You know, it's like you can start at six and then maybe ending I've gone to like Kabbalat Shabbat that you can and six and then you know, like they enter 10 and 11 o'clock, and you have no idea what's happening. So I think when people have a sense of safety, knowing we're coming like for an hour and a half, or we're coming for two hours, and there's a Kabbalat Shabbat and knowing that we have permission to, we have permission to, we can either sing the chat for like 10 minutes or, or also be in meditation and silence, you know, it's giving people the giving people the rules and the permission, you can come as you are, you're not allowed to talk, it's not about having, you know, chat, chit chatting during, it's giving all these little rules of so people know what they're coming for. They know what they're coming for, they know what they're, they're permitted to do, they know that we are here to hold them together that's like in a sense in the physical space in the leadership space. And then also musically, one of the things that are very meaningful to keep people in a place where they can be very vulnerable, is, you know, the chants, the chants can be very, very long. And they can take maybe, you know, like eight minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes sometimes, and people don't know when it's finishing. But if you have a style that does give them some kind of a sign, you know, because you're singing, you're chanting, you're all ecstatic. And suddenly that guitar, just, you know, if it stops suddenly, and you're still continuing singing, that's very embarrassing. It's very, very embarrassing, like you're still. So you slow down quietly from one round to another round to another round, and people get the idea. And then they feel very safe that they can, they can go together with you. That's also a way to keep things more safe for people. Another way to keep it very safe. And for people to feel comfortable is giving an example, which means you want people to get up and dance as a leader, you get up and dance, you get up and dance, you show that it's possible. And people can then you know, get you to give permission to get permission to dance to sing to clap your hands, you know, people, not very many people, especially not in North America, where people are more inhibited than they are in Israel. Well, we would do sometimes in Kabbalat Shabbat, you know, that we lead in places in the states, I would literally go down to the pews and take out people, you know, take their take their hands, and you know, take more people and data and many times they would say to me, I didn't have the courage to do it myself. Thank you for coming. Thank you. So that also gives a sense of state of safety. And also to allow, you know, there were times when I would come in I wanted to pull people out of the pews. And they would say no. And I said, you know, I use my Israeli chutzpa sometimes. And sometimes, you know, to respect the people, you know, people have their own, you know, have their limit and what's good for them and what's not good for them. And it's also very important to respect those limits and not to push them not to push them, you know, over the over the bow. And at the same time, I totally understand that there are also people that this could be, that this kind of ecstatic prayer is too much for them. And that's fine too. That's thank G?d we have so many different ways and places and forms to pray. And people need to choose the place that suitable for them. So it's suitable for people that are, you know, that want to have this kind of an ecstatic prayer and but we've had so many people that have just sat and meditate like that while we're dancing around. They've just sat in silent meditation. And that's perfectly fine.
I want to take everything you just said and create a handbook like this is it! This is it! It's not just the melodies are incredible, the music is incredible, but also the way that you all have you create a container that makes it more possible for someone to have a spiritual experience. I think that is an incredible lesson that has made it over here to North America more and more. I mean, I saw y'all on tour in concert in a variety of different settings. I remember it everyone Oseh shalom at the end of the concert, you get the tambourine, you pull everybody out, we all dance around, right? That's how it ends. It's very powerful. That's the that's the climax of it. But even like at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial, doing a service with all of those people in that room, and still be being able to create that moment. I'm wondering if there's anything that you learned in your years touring around North America that influenced your understanding of Jewish life or your own prayer life? What did you learn from that?
I learned a lot. I learned a lot from and I said many times that, you know, like, I actually, I learned a lot from from North Americans. And I would even say until today that the kind of prayer the kind of Jewish, Jewish spiritual prayer that is most meaningful for me, the people who I can do it with, are in North America, they're not in Israel. And that's sad for me, because I'm not American, and I don't want to live in North America, I want to live here. And there's something about open, liberal way of treating Judaism, which Israel has a lot to learn from, a lot. Israel as it's, it's advancing in very, very small steps. But the openness to experience a Jewish spiritual life, a very open and not demanding not is something that Israelis don't know. And unfortunately, the combination between Judaism and spirituality in Israel is not very strong. There's like Judaism, there's a lot of like, new like reformed communities, and but I call them the reformed communities in Israel or the Litvaks, they're not the Hasidic. They're not. They're like, you know, it's very, it's very cultural. It's very, like social justice. It's not about a spiritual, ecstatic prayer. And I don't have a lot of partners for that in Israel. And I have many more partners for that in the States. And I loved it. Every time I came in, especially when we came to the, to the different different conferences like the biennials and the kallah, like, like minded people who are very deeply connected to the Jewish tradition, but in a very spiritual, liberal, and open way, you know, women leading musical leading through yoga, through dance through through through art. And that's, that's something very special that I feel very deeply connected. And I feel a little bit sad that I don't have that I don't have enough that I don't have enough partners here in Israel for that.
Me too. It makes me sad, too. But I hope I don't know if it's some sort of consolation to know that the ripple effect. I think maybe it happened quicker here. But I hope there's a ripple effect that's happening there as well. I actually, in all of my travels to Israel, was never there on a Friday night where you were doing Kabbalat Shabbat, so I've never actually got to do and with Nava Tehila, in Jerusalem, but I have I have still felt the ripples of that. So given you know, the pandemic, and all of those things, and just where you are in your life now, how is T'fillah, where's T'fillah, sitting with you these days? How have you been thinking about it and experiencing it in your own life?
That's a great question. These last two years have not been easy. I actually started to even before the pandemic started started to reduce the amount of touring to come back the States, and the pandemic really hurt our you know, doing our Nava Tehila experience because I mean, it hurt everybody. I'm not you know, we're not special, but doing things, ecstatic music and prayer through the screen, it's just not possible. What ecstatic prayer is about many times I would give this metaphor, it's about lighting the fire. Now you can't light the fire when you have two logs that are sitting like 50, 50 or 100 or 1000 kilometers away, they have to be touching each other to make fire. And we tried at the beginning of the pandemic, we did a Kabbalat Shabbat, every week on the Zoom and we did our best - It was very challenging for me, we move, then we could start meeting like outdoors and we did it but we it hasn't yet come back to what it was before the pandemic, I'm not sure it will, I don't know things you know, that had a very very big influence. I haven't been traveling to the States at all I was even supposed to be now in a travel to be together with you within this conference and also leading some Kabbalat Shabbat and it was cancelled because of the pandemic. Prayer at the moment and reduced mostly to being in my own really personal life, my personal life together with my, with my husband that I married two years ago, like that was the pandemic brought me brought me my husband, and home together, and the prayer is really something here and there I did you know, we do a once a month Kabbalat Shabbat they tried to do some capability we tried to do in our own home here. But it was also hard to do don't feel I have enough partners to really pick it up and the energies are not as they're not as like, the pandemic I feel has put me down a bit and but I'm also, I feel like some kind of change is is coming and I don't know what it is yet. And I feel that G?d is asking me to let go of like what I know, in order to open up so I'm not always, I try to let go, I'm not always so good at that sometimes I fight but the letting go and opening up with something newm without knowing what it's going to be that's the hardest, but those that's where we receive the biggest gift. So the T'fillah in my personal life is where you know, I wake up in the morning with my Modah ani lefanecha, and go to bed, you know, that's what saying the Shema before I go to bed and singing and singing from time to time. But I feel that it's it's there's something new coming my way. And I don't know yet what it is, and I try to remember and to keep the trust in the Divine that I feel that I know so well to know that the right thing is going to come at the right time.
Oh man, I feel that prayer. I repeat it back to you. The right thing is going to come at the right time.
Thank you so so much Daphna for taking the time to speak with me today. I hope against hope that we get to be in the same room singing together very soon.
Amen amen. Amen to that. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you inviting me and it's a pleasure talking to you.
Always always. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you are able to take away some wisdom and goodies from this interview. Thank you to our editor Christi Dodge, thank you to Yaffa Englander who puts together our show notes. Please check out those show notes wherever you got this podcast or at Elianalight.com/podcast. The theme song is A New Light by me. But we are going to end the show with Shiviti by Daphna Rosenberg. Thank you so much everyone we'll see you soon!