D’var Torah: On the 10th anniversary of The Big Bang

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 18 October 2019

Ten years ago, on Saturday 3 October 2009, we tried something new.
It was Sukkot 5770, and at 11.00 in the morning (probably the last time we actually started on time) Mark Greenfield started drumming, Gideon Lyons and I started strumming, and The Big Bang began.

The idea had been quite simple: to create a service that bogrim, those who had grown up in Youth movements in the 80s and 90s, would want to come to with their children.  A proper, complete, service; one full of music; one in which children could be children, but would also learn how to be in tefillah; accessible and filled with joy.

We had no concept of the impact it would make, or that ten years later it – and we – would still be going.
The first surprise was the fact that the best part of 150 people came that morning… it was one of the first hints that we would need to rethink the Alyth building.  No longer would a Youth Hall upstairs be enough, when what we needed (and still need) is a new second Beit Tefillah.

Equally a surprise was that the room was filled not only with children and their parents, but with adults without children also interested in a new tefillah experience.  Alyth had already begun to experiment with parallel minyanim with Kollot.  This was evidence that there was scope for even greater innovation.

We were not fully prepared for the interest from the local press, or that from other synagogues.  A number of shuls were quick to try something similar; some were rather less quick – just last month a shul came to see what was going on with this new-fangled Big Bang idea.

Much has changed at Alyth in the last ten years:
When the Big Bang first appeared in October 2009’s Around Alyth, the newsletter was just four pages long; there was no High Holy Day book that year – indeed we would not have the extraordinary programme that we do now for another 4 or 5 years; in our prayer life there was no such thing as Tefillah Labs, Sensory Shabbat, Baby Den; Kollot was once a month; the service in here on Shabbat morning was always accompanied by the organ – this was before Viv had made the brave decision to move away from the organ; Erev Shabbat was not quite like this… indeed, many of the melodies that we have sung this evening were first sung in this community in the Big Bang.

Together with Kollot, the Big Bang helped to change the prayer life of this community.  And underpinning that journey of change, are some core ideals that informed us 10 years ago and remain true today.

Firstly, and simply, a belief that the prayer life of a community matters.
Some institutions say that we can live a full Jewish existence without religious life – indeed some shuls rebuild to make smaller Batei Tefillot…
But one of our values as a community is that prayer matters.  That it is a central element of the lives of Jews, a fundamental form of Jewish expression, whatever our personal theology.
So, we would like more Jews to do more prayer more often.

And for that to be the case we need to take prayer seriously.  It needs to be good.  It needs to be interesting, joyful, thoughtful meaningful and especially planned.  If prayer is not to be a mechanistic exercise from duty alone, it must have an investment of time, thought and effort to craft properly – as the Big Bang was.

We believe that worship is an essential element of a full Jewish life and we believe that it needs to be planned and meaningful.  And, of course, we also know that people are different, and that we therefore need diversity
Kollot, the Big Bang, Sensory Shabbat and the Dens, the continuing evolution of Friday night and our core community service which hosts the celebrations of our community; the extraordinary breadth of prayer, study and reflection at the High Holy Days – all of it reflects a commitment to diversity in worship.

And with it a commitment to working hard on prayer, innovating, experimenting.  A commitment that remains in place in 5780 just as it was in 5770.

Ten years ago, on Saturday 3 October 2009, we tried something new.  Something that really worked, and became an exemplar for communities around the country.  Since then new generations have come through the Big Bang learning the joy of tefillah.

May we always be a community that cares enough about prayer to try new things; a community brave enough to learn from them when they don’t go well; and – as we do this weekend – a community able to celebrate them when they do.