Gospel music sung in Hebrew. In a synagogue. During a Shabbat service.
It may seem unusual, but the blending of gospel and Hebrew texts works, as evidenced by Temple Israel’s first gospel-styled Shabbat service held Friday at the Minneapolis synagogue.
The Grammy Award-winning Sounds of Blackness gospel ensemble — composed of eight vocalists and about the same number of musicians — performed alongside Jewish clergy and the synagogue’s musical associate and pianist Mark Bloom.
“The long history of the black and Jewish communities really sets the stage for things like this,” said Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman. “What we wanted to do was to have the incredible gospel music infuse our normal service, both the Hebrew singing and also the thematics of our prayers.”
“The Twin Cities-based ensemble did a few pieces in Hebrew. So that’s really a lovely addition.”
Zimmerman notes the Jewish and black communities have long felt connected, due in part to their experiences with slavery.
“In so many ways, the communities have such a long history in the 1950s and ’60s of being very close. ... The Jewish community always felt like our story about the Exodus from Egypt, coming from slavery to liberation, was such a parallel story to the African-American experience.
“I think what we missed in some ways is that we are out of our Egypt. And the African-American community is still living in the same country where they were enslaved. And so that nuance is one that we have to talk about openly. And to celebrate our different experiences, not only the parallel, the things that are the same. But also the things that are different.”
Zimmerman says she has wanted to hold a service like this for some time because of the Jewish and black communities’ connections.
“Mark [Bloom] came to me with this idea and I said, ‘You know, this is perfect. Let’s try it ... it’ll be wonderful.’ It’ll bring this level of emotional music and again that black-Jewish history into play at Shabbat.”