Gavri Yares was welcomed during Shabbat Shirah (song or poetry) in January.
Rabbi Ariana Silverman has been impressed watching her two children, ages 4 and 6, as they participate in remote Tot Shabbat services offered this year by the congregation she leads.
The rabbi enjoys the way they have learned and enthusiastically sing along with Gavri Yares — new musician-in-residence for the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue — and she is uplifted when hearing her son and daughter repeat the songs on their own during the week.
Through the current Zoom programming, Silverman gladly watches responsive reactions from others, youths and adults, taking part in novel musical initiatives.
“We have, as a synagogue, been singing together, but Gavri brings an expertise that we did not have, and that has been very enriching,” Silverman said. “Music brings another way of being united as our voices are joining, and he has introduced us to melodies we didn’t know before.”
Last fall, Yares began appearing twice a month to sing and play guitar, drums, bass and oud. As the pandemic required virtual services, his appearances became more regular for Shabbat, Havdalah and holiday worship.
“The rabbi and I shape our services so they serve the community,” said Yares, 36, who also holds a full-time position as a music teacher for Huron Valley Schools.
“Once COVID is over, we’re looking at doing some singing circles, workshops and other ways for people to come together.”
A big motivation is preparing to celebrate the centennial year of the synagogue.
“I plan on using my experiences to strengthen the Downtown Synagogue’s musical traditions while incorporating new melodies into prayer services for all ages and including local guest musicians,” said Yares, who was welcomed during Shabbat Shirah (song or poetry) in January.
“Shabbat Shirah holds the Torah reading which contains the ‘Shirat Hayam’ or ‘Song of the Sea.’ Moses, Miriam and the children of Israel sang this song after successfully crossing the Sea of Reeds as they fled Egypt and slavery. That was our first Shabbat in Song, and we are planning monthly music-centric services.”
Yares’ resume outlines a diverse background that includes similar work at synagogues in Washington, D.C., and teaching positions at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland.
He also has performed in secular venues, touring North America, Europe and the Middle East while working with his brother, Ami. The Brothers Yares present Americana and Middle Eastern repertoire.
Yares was a musician, prayer leader and teacher at Adas Israel Congregation and the historic Sixth & I Synagogue in D.C. As a lay leader, he was an active member of Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue and DC Minyan.
“My musical interests were a product of the public schools I attended in New Jersey,” said Yares, whose main instrument is the bass. “When high school came about, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue professionally.
“I had a lot of music teachers who also were professional musicians, and I was able to see that they could teach and perform. Because of that, I pursued a degree in music education at Rutgers University.”
After graduation, Yares taught at a New Jersey public school and then took a hiatus in Israel, where he performed with ensembles in addition to the one with his brother.
The move to Michigan came in 2018 after his wife, Laura, accepted a religious studies professorship at Michigan State University. The couple are raising their two children — Nadav, 4, and Jonah, 1 — in Oak Park.
“The hiring of Gavri will allow us to further the future of our thriving and growing institution, promoting the renaissance of Jewish Detroit,” said Arlene Frank, synagogue executive director. “Gavri’s deep commitment to our local Jewish community — paired with his musical and spiritual knowledge, experience and enthusiasm — will support the Downtown Synagogue’s growth as a hub of Jewish life in Detroit.”
Silverman is pleased Yares applies his teaching skills, especially during Zoom services.
“Gavri knows how to take kids off mute, and I watched children remind him when he omitted a regular part of a service,” the rabbi recalled. “He led them in what was omitted and taught them about encores.”
As music becomes more integrated into Downtown Synagogue services, anticipated podcasts will make encores accessible to the community.
Instructions on joining a particular service on Zoom can be accessed the Friday afternoon before the service by going to downtownsynagogue.org/services.