Yossi Chajes on Fertilizing Grassroots


Grassroots has found something of a rootless person to come in and help make this year’s Yamim Noraim days we will always remember, hopefully le-tovah!


These past few years, in addition to my day job as a professor of Jewish history at the University of Haifa, I’ve been able to spend the High Holidays in some very interesting places, in the most diverse religious contexts. After years of leading traditional services up in Klil, something of an artist colony in the Upper Galilee, I accepted an invitation three years ago to doven at Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland, Oregon (more or less “Reconstructionist”). Two years ago, I served as the cantor for Reform services at Stanford University. And last year, I led the Leader Minyan, Jerusalem’s original orthopractic Carlebach minyan that created the model later popularized by Shira Hadasha. It has been my project and challenge to distill what is most meaningful to me in the dovening within the very different preexisting frameworks of each of these institutions. 


What is particularly exciting (and daunting) about this year’s holidays is that there is no preexisting framework. It has already been “interesting” to observe—and, eventually, to join—the deliberations over just how this journey together through the days of awe will be. One thing is clear: we can and are doing a lot of planning, but we really have no idea how it’s all going to turn out. I do hope that at the very least all involved will appreciate the profound good-will, thought, care, and hard work that has gone in to making it happen, especially at the inevitable difficult moment along the way.


Thanks to Limmud & a few wonderful experiences with the various groups involved in Grassroots, I’m feeling increasingly connected to the local scene. Nevertheless, I’m obviously not exactly “grassroots” and will probably miss a melody you’ve all grown up with. If you’re worried, get on your computer, record the tune & email it to me fast. Or step up and sing it in my ear or in my place when the big days arrive. We’re all friends (or hoping to be soon) and I’m not Yosele Rosenblatt, just Yosele Chajes—so you can feel free to interact with me, even during the services. On that note, perhaps this is a good place to recall Shlomo’s own words: “It’s good not to sing so well that people don’t want to sing along, or so badly that they can’t bear it.” I’m not planning on “wowing” you with fancy hazzanut, but hoping (and praying?) to help create a space for real prayer, yours & mine. 


Dr. Yossi Chajes
Department of Jewish History
University of Haifa
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