All you need is love, according to Cantor Lenny Mandel of Cong. B’nai Israel in Emerson. Mandel brought The Beatles’ message to his congregants on Feb. 5 with a Fab Four-inspired Shabbat.
The cantor set the traditional Friday night prayers to popular Beatles tunes and Q104.3 DJ Ken Dashow, who hosts “Breakfast with the Beatles” on Sunday mornings, explained the significance of each melody.
For example, he described “In My Life,” which came out in 1965, as John Lennon’s version of Kaddish.
“That’s become such a spiritual song for all of my listeners,” Dashow told The Jewish Standard. “That seems to be the song that connects us. I don’t know if The Beatles were aware of how deeply their songs were connecting people.”
Every other month or so B’nai Israel holds a themed Shabbat, which, Mandel said, bring together and relax his congregants. Past Shabbat themes have included “Fiddler on the Roof,” with V’Shamru set to “Matchmaker,” and Mitch Albom’s book “Have a Little Faith,” with quotations interspersed through the service.
“If they’re going to make the effort to come to shul, let them enjoy being there and feel a sense of spirituality different than the norm,” he said.
Congregants showed up wearing tie-dye shirts, Beatles wigs, and flowers in their hair. Mandel expected a certain amount of non-members, and more than 200 people filled the sanctuary. Mandel began the service with a warning: There would be no smoking of anything that night.
“When you start off getting your congregation to laugh,” he said, “then you own them the rest of the night.”
Mandel’s liturgy included “Shalom Aleichem” to “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Lecha Dodi” to “Eleanor Rigby,” “Mizmor L’David” to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” Ahavat Olam to “In My Life,” “V’Shamru” to “Twist and Shout,” “Magen Avot” to “Yellow Submarine,” “Elohanu” to “Yesterday,” and “Adon Olam” to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Dashow worried at first that people would think he and the cantor were being disrespectful of the traditional service, but they have since received calls from other shuls asking for the arrangements.
“I really didn’t know how they would take it,” Dashow said. “When I saw people coming and opening the back of the shul [to create more space], I knew we had something.”
Congregants were singing along louder than they ever had, Mandel said.
“Adon Olam,” he said, is written in such a way that it can be set to any melody. Other prayers were a bit harder to pair with Beatles tunes. Mandel matched up the songs based on their meter, not meaning, and congregants appeared to appreciate the effort.
“It was incredible,” he said.
Dashow commented how wonderful it was to see children packing into the synagogue. Actor Victor Spinetti once asked Lennon what his most important lyric was. He answered, “All you need is love.”
“What a beautiful thing to say,” Dashow said. “It sums up why the music is so vital. When will that message not be a good message for a generation?”