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Kindler on the Roof 

By Carol Felixson

If Tevya had a Fiddler on the Roof, Mishkon has a Kindler on the Roof! In our case, the kindler is a guitarist … our rabbi, Joshua Katzan.

On a Shabbat morning, Rabbi Katzan referenced kindler and light in his drash. During the discussion that followed, one of the congregants came up with the phrase “kindler on the roof.”

“Roof represents a light house,” Rabbi Josh said. “The essence of Judaism is to be a light unto the nations.”

How do we spread the light? “We are kindlers,” he said. “Kindlers bring together components needed to make light.” For Jews, the main components include Torah, divine service, and acts of loving kindness.

One of the ways kindlers operate is through music. “When I play guitar,” Rabbi Josh said, “either on its own or paired with words and prayers, my heart opens. And even when the world is dark, with music I know I can kindle light.”

Although he said, “I just play guitar,” those who know him, know that he is more than just a guitar player. His guitar playing enriches our Friday night services and oh so many other times. When he is playing, the mood is high, and we can experience and share the light. That is especially true when he is playing for our preschool kids.

“I love to see the kids sing along and clap and dance,” the rabbi said. “I relate to them. When I was a kid, my mind was blown when my grandmother played piano. To her it was nothing. To me it was magic.”

Years later, following in her footsteps, the rabbi remembered, “My first musical experience was an intro to classical guitar class. I practiced and worked hard at it but got nowhere and became frustrated.”

Then, he broke through with a fit of frustration and played three chords perfectly. “I can do it!” he said. “It felt like magic.”

It was a powerful experience that shifted the direction of his life. Since then, he’s attended workshops, studied with individual teachers, and attended the Musicians Institute in Hollywood.

The light was kindled in him. Music is one of his meditation practices. He said, “I don’t feel like myself unless I put time in making sound. It’s a never-ending pursuit to make magic with music, a practice of discipline and letting go.”

“I work on it all the time,” he said. “As I grew and developed, I realized mastering simplicity was the recipe for greatness.” He plays scales, and songs, and improvises alone and with others. “Music speaks to and through all of us,” he said. “It’s a universal language.”

After many years of purchasing guitars, today Rabbi Katzan has an enviable collection. Each guitar does something different. Sounds different. Plays different. And is associated with different styles of music.

“I try to play daily,” he said, “five to 10 hours a week. It’s like a meditation. Some days I just practice; other days I sing and play songs. Wherever I go, I have instruments.

“In my office at Mishkon, I have two guitars, drums, and a cajon – a box-shaped percussion instrument. And at home, I have two bass guitars, five acoustic, and seven electric guitars.”

How many instruments do members of Mishkon’s congregation have? Guitars, drums or otherwise? Our primal instruments are our hearts, our hands, and our voices.

The rabbi said, “We can all be fiddlers – or at least kindlers!” The fiddler, as Tevye tells the audience, represents the fragile balance of life in the village.

“Tradition, like music, is important,” Rabbi Josh said, “as it gives us a framework to improvise and express our spirituality, our yearnings, and our inner light.”

At Mishkon, we are in the fortunate position of having tradition and love, in harmony with each other. All are invited to join us in song, light, and rhythm!

Wed, July 17 2024 11 Tammuz 5784