Sinai Temple’s Friday Night Live to undergo change

Rabbi David Wolpe and Craig Taubman announced on April 11 that they will no longer be leading Sinai Temple’s highly popular and influential Friday Night Live services after June 13.

“I’m old, and he’s tired … the time has come for younger and spryer folk,” Wolpe said at the most recent Friday Night Live, standing on the Sinai bimah alongside musician and producer Taubman.

The “younger and spryer folk” he was referring to will be Rabbis Nicole Guzik and Jason Fruithandler, who are set to succeed the founders this summer.

In a recent interview, Taubman agreed that age had been a factor in the pair’s decision to call it quits from the monthly musical service that he and Wolpe have been co-leading for more than 15 years.

“It’s no longer a young professionals service, but you know, it falls under the rubric of Atid, the young professionals program [at Sinai],” Taubman said. “Rabbi Wolpe and my demographic is clearly not 29-year-olds. … Both David and I reached the conclusion that it was time to pass it on to other people.” 

When the duo created Friday Night Live in 1998, Wolpe (now 55) and Taubman (now 56) were in their late 30s. Wolpe had approached Taubman with the idea of a concise, Friday night service that would integrate instrumental music and serve young professionals — although it expanded several years ago to include people up to age 40.

The rabbi’s goal was to create an experiential take on the Friday night service, to make prayer relevant for an often-apathetic community. It would do so by offering a concert experience with unique, melodic interpretations of traditional prayers, special guests, a short sermon and a social component — a singles event for young professionals at the end of every service.

It worked. Friday Night Live, since its inception, has inspired legions of synagogues across the country to rethink approaches to Friday night services, according to a 2009 Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies essay by Rabbi Laurie Matzkin as part of her thesis. 

Attendance at Sinai’s Friday Night Live grew exponentially over the years. It reached its peak around 2005, when it drew close to 1,500 attendees each month — a dramatic increase from the 300 people who attended the inaugural one.

Two Wolpe- and Taubman-led Friday Night Live services remain.