BEST SYNAGOGUE MUSIC (reprinted from the Berkeley Express, July 2009)

Debbie Fier at a show in Oakland, 2008 Kehilla Community Synagogue
1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont

Walking into Kehilla Community Synagogue at the conclusion of Rosh Hashanah morning services gives entirely the wrong impression of Judaism. Rather than repetitious Hebrew blessings, overwrought intellectual humor, and noodley niguns emanating from the bimah, a visitor would encounter a scene of musical euphoria worthy of Southern Baptists as a drum-crazed congregation belts out "Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu." The cantors, all curly-haired women in vaguely biblical white vestments, hold their arms outstretched in a gesture of open religious ecstasy that is not the usual mode of modern Jewry. The vibe owes much thanks to musical director and self-styled "ritual creatrix" Shulamit Wise Fairman, who has been with the synagogue since 2005 and serves as lead lady in white vestments with arms and voice outstretched. But Kehilla's true musical signature is the powerful drumming, courtesy of Debbie Fier, a percussionist specializing in dumbek, djembe, and conga. Fier sums up her philosophy on her web site: "Around the world, music brings people and communities together, and I see myself as part of that joyful work."