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There are many achievements of the Reconstructionist movement of North America pointing to the undeniable reality that this stream of modern Jewish thought and practice has become a major component of the American Jewish community. At its first music retreat, "Harmoniyah -- Let Us Make Harmony to God," it brought together professional and lay synagogue musicians for a gathering at Or Hadash: A Reconstructionist Congregation in Fort Washington.
Several of the participants were eager to share their motivations for coming to the conference. Lauren Resnick, member and organist of Congregation Dor Hadash in Pittsburgh, was attracted to it for the rich and innovative musical experiences she had found at the Reconstructionist Federation conventions: "I have found a live musical tradition being created day to day, week to week, month to month, by the leaders of the movement."
At the gathering, Resnick found that contemporary Jewish music reflects the philosophy and culture of Reconstructionists. "The Friday evening service seemed to be traditional, and the Shabbat morning service featured a lot of drumming," she said.
Marjan Helms, a Jew by choice, is a member of a small Reconstructionist congregation in Michigan, and a classically trained pianist and composer. Her 90-minute work for the Michigan State University Children's Choir, "Voices of a Vanished World," is based on Holocaust music.
Elaine Moise of Mountain View, Calif., grew up in a large Reform congregation in Riverdale, N.Y., singing in the choir. "Music is how I do Jewish; it was the entrance for me."
Taught Torah reading by Conservative Cantor Hans Cohen in Palo Alto, Calif., she identifies ideologically with Reconstructionism.
I arrived at the Saturday evening/Motza-ei Shabbat "Kumsitz" program in the middle of Havdalah. Right away, I heard and saw many new sounds, compositions and musical instruments that I never before experienced in Jewish surroundings.
The Havdalah prayer was chanted by Rabbi Shefa Gold, director, Center for Devotional Energy and Ecstatic Practice in New Mexico. Participants played stringed and percussion instruments in distinctly Indian style, with a hint of Middle Eastern drum riffs.