What makes a boomer service different?

Swinging clergy, from left, Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer, Rabbi Evan Krame, Cantor David Abramowitz and Rabbi Bella Bogart
Photos by David Holzel

There was no scent of patchouli, no hint of weed drifting in the late afternoon air. But there was a white and yellow striped tent, and inside, a circle of musicians dressed in white.

They played guitars, a violin, accordion and various shaking and thumping percussion instruments. Around them were 125 people, all to celebrate the arrival of Shabbat at a service for baby boomers — the Woodstock tribe reconvening at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.

“Tonight is not a performance,” Rabbi Evan Krame told the gathering after the musicians had slipped seamlessly across a half hour of Shabbat hymns. “It’s a transformance. You are here to be transformed.”

Do boomers have different spiritual needs than other Jews? The Jewish Studio, a local Jewish Renewal group that counts Krame as one of its rabbis, thinks so.


The service’s name, Shaboom — evoking both a 1950s do-wop song and the ‘60s generation — is a bit of a misnomer. It isn’t so much boomers as empty nesters that are the target group.

“I come in a good mood and I leave in a better mood,” said Galia Steinbach.

“The Jewish community has really focused on families with children,” said Rabbi JoHanna Potts, another Jewish Studio leader. “One of the groups that was hardest to reach was empty nesters. Now they’re ready to develop their own deep spiritual lives.”

The Jewish Studio offers services once a month. Potts calls them “value added” in that they are not meant to replace synagogue services. Bethesda Jewish Congregation members and Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer even came along to participate as a co-sponsor, along with the Bender JCC and the Jewish Food Experience.

“Raise your hand if you dropped off a kid at college last week or this,” Krame said during a break in the music. A number of hands went up.

Vince Berg and Jeanne Nathan of Rockville are regulars at Jewish Studio services. “It’s very good singing and good music,” Berg said. “You don’t have to worry about crying babies.”

Added Nathan, “The programming is all for adults.”

At 46, Jeremy Mendelson isn’t a boomer. The Bethesda resident said he enjoyed the ruach of the service, its spirit. Abil Bessaha of Bethesda, also 46, called the service a cultural event. “It’s not just a Shabbat, it’s a connection” to other Jews, he said.

Good singing, good music and “you don’t have to worry about crying babies,” say Vince Berg and Jeanne Nathan.

“It’s a happy service,” said Galia Steinbach of North Bethesda when the service ended and participants sat down at tables for dinner. “I come in a good mood and I leave in a better mood.”

The sun was down now and a crescent moon hung in the sky. Robert Zimmerman, who came to the service with his family, said he heard about it through the Bender JCC. “It was different than the usual Jewish services,” he said. “I’d say it’s like San Francisco ex-hippies.”

Asked if that describes him too, Zimmerman said, “Oh, no, not anymore. It did once.”

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