TRAVERSE CITY — There are few things Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg loves more than Shabbat and smooth jazz, though he admits combining the two is a rare treat.
It has been nearly 15 years since Sleutelberg and Jeff Haas organized a series of “Jazz Shabbat” services, reharmonizing traditional Jewish prayers into jazz songs. He jumped at the chance to do it again.
The two will reunite for a Jazz Shabbat on Aug. 18 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Traverse City. Sleutelberg will lead the free Jewish prayer service while Haas playing jazz harmonies of traditional Shabbat hymns from the grand piano.
“Having an opportunity to pray and use jazz motifs to elevate the music of those prayers is exciting,” Sleutelberg said. “Anyone familiar with the prayer service will still be able to chant along, but the surrounding melodies will be something very new.”
Sleutelberg was a Rabbi at Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy for 28 years before retiring last year. He joined Congregation Beth Shalom of Traverse City in September and has since led monthly sermons at the synagogue.
Congregation Beth Shalom will host the Jazz Shabbat with funds from the Ravitz Foundation Initiative for Small Michigan Jewish Communities, a grant that supports smaller Jewish congregations outside the Detroit metropolitan area.
The congregation applies for the grant twice a year to fund special programs beyond what it can usually afford, said event chair Terry Tarnow. She said they wanted to focus this year on shaking up the usual Shabbat service.
“We’re trying to make a service that is still spiritually inviting but doesn’t sound the same,” she said.
That’s where Haas came in. The jazz musician grew up on liturgical music and said his Jewish heritage was fodder for several of jazz compositions.
“I fell in love with music of the synagogue when I…