Red Hot Shabbat

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Until recently, dancing in the aisles was a phenomenon associated more with polka conventions than with a synagogue on Friday night. Maybe that was the problem.

"Shabbat services were normal -- you said the same prayers, stand when you're supposed to stand, sit when you're supposed to sit," recalls Steve Brodsky, a Jewish musician and cantor who moonlights playing "Jewish rock" with his band, Mah Tovu. "At Temple Emanuel, we'd been trying to bring in the twenty- and thirty-something singles, the disaffected Jews. Regular Shabbat just wasn't resonating with them."

In the High Holy Lands of American Jewry -- Los Angeles and New York -- it wasn't resonating either, which is how the Shabbat Unplugged movement happened to spring up simultaneously on both coasts. The music, an eclectic mix of traditional chants, contemporary spiritual ballads and up-tempo foot-stompers, was the whole point.


Shabbat Unplugged

Temple Emanuel, 51 Grape Street

8 p.m. March 23, 303-388-4013

Now Shabbat Unplugged has come to Denver -- and the Friday-night crowd at Temple Emanuel has burgeoned from the usual 150 people to more than a thousand.

"We don't use prayer books at all in this service," Brodsky says. "Ours is a four-piece band: acoustic guitar, keyboard player, bass player... We're all plugged, actually, but no screaming electric guitars. Our drummer plays congas, chimes, shakers, atmospheric things. It's nonstop -- one song rolls into the next -- and Rabbi Steven Foster does a kind of informal commentary right off the top of his head. He might riff about something someone e-mailed him."

Since the first of the year, when the once-a-month program began, Brodsky's been getting "young people who grew up Orthodox, going to the services, but drifted away once they went to college. Then they come to Shabbat Unplugged and find themselves singing, dancing, in the middle of a community of 800 people all swaying back and forth."

Temple Emanuel program director Sandy Eichberg cites an e-mail message from one 23-year-old woman. "I have never experienced such a lively, spiritual and uplifting Shabbat...an incredible sense of Jewish spirituality and happiness...," the woman wrote. "We were trying to get the young people," Eichberg says. "Instead, we got everybody."

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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