Frequently Asked Questions
What is Kol Hai?
Kol Hai means “all life”. It is a celebration of our interconnection through the Jewish spiritual practices of community-weaving, support, and celebration. Our time together is marked by moving musical experiences and practices that allow us to open to life through presence, connection, and heart-exchange. Together, we unplug from the day to day in order to plug into the eternal and matters of ultimate significance. We nurture a creative connection, a place where all ages and backgrounds can bring our love, light, and gifts.
Do I have to be Jewish to attend?
No! Some of us are Jewish by birth, and others of us are Jews by choice. Some of us love someone who is Jewish or simply love what happens at Kol Hai. No one is checking your credentials at the door.
What happens when I walk into services?
You’ll be greeted at the door with a smile and a name tag. You’ll be offered a beautiful prayerbook, but the text is an option, not an obligation. Our founder and spiritual director Shir Yaakov leads with gentle power, prayerful songs, and guided meditations. You may join in with your voice, your dance, or just your heart. There is no expectation or prior experience necessary.
As one participant put it, at Kol Hai there is “so much humanity in the room.” You’ll be welcomed into a community of goodwill — people who are thrilled to have you, and interested to learn about you. You may run into someone you haven’t seen in a long time or your next best friend.
The music is accompanied by world-class musicians Renée Finkelstein and Steve Gorn. You are invited to hum, follow along in the text, or even make up your own words! At Kol Hai, we revel in harmonies, wordless melodies, and new musical creations that are eerily familiar. We enjoy the traditional practices, but also invite new and novel connections, aiming our prayer as we feel personally guided, whether to our own or ultimate source. Kol Hai is a gently facilitated experience and each person is welcomed to experience and discover who they are as they drop into new spaces in the heart.
But is it Jewish enough? Or, maybe it will be too Jewish for me?
At Kol Hai, we invite curiosity and openness to tradition, while striking a balance with progressive values. We walk a path of creative tension between traditional forms and experimental innovation. To be radical means to be rooted; owning our histories while living into what is relevant for our present-day lives. We use the carrier waves of ancient languages — including Hebrew and Aramaic (with transliterations provided) as we celebrate this window through time, using this as a gateway to our ancestors, lineage-holders, or teachers, and opening ourselves to the profound subtle gifts that are transmitted through a sense of continuity through the ages.
We understand that Jewishness can have an intimidatingly high bar to entry, and we, therefore, make attempts to mitigate that through our welcoming spirit, discussions, learning opportunities, and constant reference to what is universal to the human heart and the natural world.
What does “Kol Hai” mean? How do I pronounce it?
“Kol Hai” is Hebrew for “all life.” It appears several times in the weekly liturgy in key places referencing the one who satisfies all life, gives life to all, and acts as the Source of the breath of all living things. Our embrace of Jewish spiritual practice, the study of Jewish culture and history, and engagement in Judaism-inspired acts of loving kindness and social justice is an expression of our yearning to come “all alive.” And not only for our own sake but for the sake of all life on this planet.
The H in Hai is pronounced like the ch in Bach (We didn’t spell it “Chai” to keep it distinct from the delicious Indian tea of the same spelling. It’s totally okay if you pronounce it with a soft “h” sound like the informal greeting “hi”.)
Is this a Woodland Pond event?
Woodland Pond is our gracious and generous host, but Kol Hai services are not part of Woodland Pond programming. We LOVE that many of the residents attend our services and are active members.
What's the average age? What do you mean by multigenerational?
We have members of all ages — from seven days to 107 years. We make an effort to have our events be accessible, providing transportation from assisted living facilities and arranging rides for community members when needed. We also make attempts to provide programming for our youngest ones. Some of this is currently in development, and we welcome your ideas and input on how to fulfill our mission of providing spiritual sustenance for all who are part of our community.
What should I wear?
Our most frequent gatherings are for Shabbat, the day of rest that begins Friday night until the following sundown. It is a time for letting go of the workweek and resting in Being. So you should come as you are, wearing things that help you feel free. The mystical tradition prefers white, but you will see all colors and expressions in our midst.
What if I don’t know Hebrew?
You will be in good company! Our congregants run the gamut of Jewish-learning, and we pride in the fact there are opportunities for learning and teaching among ourselves. What we have in common is our depth of spirit. If there is interest, we invite you to develop your relationship to the Hebrew language, as an access point to the gifts of Jewish learning, and we aim to provide opportunities for that learning to take place.
Are kids welcome? Is there childcare?
Currently, we provide childcare at our larger events, and occasionally at services for a small fee. When childcare is not provided, children must be attended during services. Parents may trade-off attending to the children at the back of the room.
Does it cost something to attend?
Our services are free, and our events are offered at sliding scale rates. No one will ever be turned away from a Kol Hai event for lack of funds. Kol Hai is supported by memberships and donations, given on a voluntary basis in order to maintain and grow our offerings.
Do I have to RSVP?
We appreciate knowing who is coming to our events, but if you haven’t RSVP’d please do show up anyway!
Do I have to become a member?
Kol Hai services and events are open to the public, both members and non-members. We invite our community to become supporting members in order to ensure the continuity of our organization. However, membership is 100% voluntary and we do have congregants who, for financial or personal reasons, do no make monetary contributions. We also provide a range of ways to contribute, including time and other resources. Talk to a board member, or email us here, if you’d like to get involved.
I have some accessibility needs...
We strive to make our events accessible to a variety of abilities. Woodland Pond is fully wheelchair and assistive-devices accessible. We amplify voices and instruments to enhance hearing. We use hand percussion which can be very stimulating for some people with specific neurological conditions. Our space does contain WiFi and other wireless signals but their degree of interference seems to be limited. If you have any further concerns we have not addressed please contact us.
Kol Ḥai means “all life.”
We are a Jewish renewal community. Our music-filled, joyful Shabbat and holiday experiences are held in New Paltz, NY and are open to all. Our intention is to connect with the unique vitality within ourselves, each other, and our world.
Kol Ḥai in the New Paltz Times:
...you don’t have to be Jewish to love what [Kol Ḥai is] doing — nor, indeed to come participate in the services and learn about the deep meanings of the ancient Hebrew mystical tradition and how group practice, facilitated by song, can foster what Feit calls “transformative spirituality.”
“Music is the core of what we’re offering,” in Feit’s words. “Chanting Hebrew helps us feel deeply connected. Melody can facilitate memory and mystery…”
Kol Ḥai in the Chronogram: “What is Jewish Renewal?”
Kol Ḥai is led by Shir Yaakov Feit
Shir Yaakov engages Jewish, multi-faith, and non-affiliated people around the world, building spiritual communities, facilitating and inspiring communal music, and helping people connect with their inner wisdom and truth. He works in formal and informal educational settings as a spiritual leader, teacher, and musician.
Shir Yaakov, his partner Emily, and their two daughters live in New York’s Hudson Valley, where they are helping to weave the Kol Hai community. Kol Hai’s Shabbat and Holiday gatherings draw upon Shir Yaakov’s extensive experience as a musician and reflect his unique ability to blend ancient and emerging wisdom to create a spiritual cultural Judaism that is contemporary, alive, and innovative. The music-filled, joyful experiences are held in and around New Paltz, NY and are open to all.
Shir Yaakov has recorded and released four albums of original music and co-founded and performs with The Darshan Project. His song “Broken-hearted” recently won the Jewish Daily Forward’s 2016 Soundtrack of Our Spirit songwriting contest.
Professionally, Shir Yaakov has served as Creative and Music Director for Romemu, New York City’s largest Renewal synagogue; Director of Engagement at ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal; ritual consultant for Eden Village Camp; and visiting faculty at Hebrew College and the Academy for Jewish Religion-NY.
He is a student in the Rabbinic and Spiritual Direction tracks of the ALEPH Ordination Program, a Wexner Graduate Fellow, and serves as a Spirit Holder on the Zen Peacemakers’ Bearing Witness Retreats in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
To learn more about Shir Yaakov and sample his music, visit shiryaakov.com.