Rabbi Yosef Goldman, a leader in the movement to bring Jewish spirituality and song together, has a simple goal: “My central concern today is bringing people together and fostering a sense of community through music.”
That goal brought Goldman — who learned to daven from Cantor Sherwood Goffin at Lincoln Square Synagogue but who is equally comfortable at the Carlebach Shul and the Renewal congregation Romemu — back to New York City last week for the ninth installment of Rising Song Intensive, held at B’nai Jeshurun. He was the featured performer and instructor at the four-day event.
Goldman, 41, is co-director, with Joey Weisenberg, of the Rising Song Institute, a project of the egalitarian Yeshivat Hadar that aims to “cultivate Jewish spiritual life through song,” according to its website. The institute is headquartered in Philadelphia, where Goldman is now based.
The two are offering a vision of a more user-friendly 21st-century synagogue, one built around singing and spontaneity, combining two millennia of Jewish liturgy with the modern energies of an actively participating congregation.
With the Institute, Goldman and Weisenberg are making that ideal a well-schooled reality.
“One of the things we did was to launch a residency program, a nine-month spiritual incubator,” Goldman explained. “The enrollees have their own course of study, four hours a day, four days a week, in which they study everything from the rudiments of music to nusach, how to lead song circles, how to daven together. We have Shabbat services that are open to the public. Our model is artist-in-residence programs. We want people to go out from the program and create new paradigms of musical, spiritual and communal leadership.”
That may sound ambitious, but the goal is ultimately even more utopian.
“We’re exploring the place where social justice and spiritually-rooted interfaith work meet,” Goldman said. “We want to draw on leaders and activists from different faiths to explore how we can bring people together through our shared values.”
Nearly 250 people attended the Rising Song Intensive at B’nai Jeshurun, and Goldman says the concert that in large part was a tribute to his music drew 800. The timing coincided with the first recording of his own music, “Open My Heart” (available from risingsong.org).
Goldman was grateful to be back to his “natural” habitat on the Upper West Side.
“There are so many places just on the Upper West Side that were formative for me in ways that I’m drawing on in this work. It will always be a spiritual home.”