A musical oneg: That’s one way to describe a farbrengen, according to Cantor Sarah Bolts of B’nai Israel Congregation. On Jan. 9, she and others from her Conservative synagogue gathered virtually for their first farbrengen, a Chasidic custom marking the end of Shabbat with song and food.
Bolts learned about the tradition when she lived in Boston. A friend started hosting a monthly egalitarian farbrengen. It quickly became one of her favorite things to do on a Shabbat afternoon.
“I found it to be like a warm hug to end Shabbat with when I was in Boston,” Bolts said. “And it’s a great way to start the new week, to just have that sort of warm, reflective space to finish off your Shabbat.”
As B’nai Israel’s associate hazzan and music director, Bolts strives to help build community through singing. That’s why she introduced the farbrengen, a Yiddish word meaning “gathering” or “spending time.”
“One of my goals for what I’ve been doing at B’nai Israel recently has been to bring music to the community in the sense of building singing communities,” Bolts said. “And this [farbrengen] is one of the ways in which I’m hoping to do that.”
She said that since the pandemic began, it’s been difficult to bring people together in person to sing. The farbrengen lends itself to spending time virtually.
“A farbrengen is a great venue, because it’s inherently based on individual sharing with the group,” Bolts said. “So it lends itself well to the Zoom format.”
Thirteen congregants participated in the hourlong farbrengen. The group sang nigunim, or wordless melodies.
“Because sometimes the words get in the way, right?” Bolts said. “Judaism has lots of words, often in its singing experiences. And it’s nice sometimes to have a space where there aren’t as many words and where it’s accessible to anyone who doesn’t know Hebrew.”
The farbrengen’s themes were nature, growth and justice in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 18) and Tu B’Shevat (beginning at sundown on Jan. 27).
Participants discussed the value of water, the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on the most disadvantaged in society and the importance of planting trees for the future generations. Bolts noted “the depth of the teachings that people shared. People shared some really meaningful words. And people had fun coming up with nigunim to fit the topic.”
The next farbrengen is scheduled for Feb. 20.