Tag Archives: davening

Community and Hallelujah

27 Elul 5774

It’s almost Tishri, and I find myself thanking God for that.

It has been… a rough couple of weeks. Although last Friday I managed not to set the oven on fire while baking, I still managed to forget to bring the loaf of grain-free challah I’d specifically made for kiddush after services to services on Saturday morning. I’ve been facing a lot of whelm (as in, overwhelmed) at work and outside of it, even though positive things are happening. Depression – the clinical kind – has been an inconsistent, but constant, visitor. It’s been hard sometimes to keep my mind on what I’m heading for. 2014-09-19 at 18.38.53

See? And I felt so bad, and so idiotic, for not remembering to grab it on my way out the door.

But… I also got to talk about what this last Shabbat’s Torah parshah (Nitzavim – Deuteronomy 29:9 – 28) meant to me in Shul that morning. I’ll just quote the part that the rabbi had us read, and then talk about the Torah study that our rabbi makes a regular part of our Shabbat morning services, in lieu of a sermon.

 “You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God – you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, 10 you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water-drawer — 11 to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God, which the Eternal your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; 12  in order to establish you this day as God’s people and in order to be your God, as promised you and as sworn to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 13 I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, 14  but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Eternal our God and with those who are not with us here this day.

I had tears in my eyes, reading that, for two reasons. I started out with a copy from a website, and then I went and got my copy of the Torah and copied it out here, because the wording matters.

“even the stranger within your camp” and “with those who are not with us here this day” was what brought me to tears that morning. All people who want to be part of it can be. Anyone who wants in, can be in.

I want in. I said that back at Pesach, didn’t I?

Everyone in the shul that morning who heard me say that for me, this was God saying to the stranger and the not-yet-Jew, “You are also part of this covenant,” told me that they were happy I was there and part of their community.

I’ve been going for two weeks. Then I missed a week due to the oven fire. And still, they already see me as their community member. As part of what they are doing and who they are.

I can’t express what that means to me. To already be accepted. To already belong. To be, in some small sense, already a Jew in their eyes.

This part of this parshah also speaks to me as a ger, because those who are not there in body may still be there in soul – as at Sinai, nu? And my soul is being braided into this community, into this place, into these people, with every time I go to shul.

God is in this place, and how could I not know?

Afterwards, I got to talk to J, the man who usually leads song, and asked if he could teach me some of the songs so I could maybe lead sometime when the rabbi asked. He was more than happy to have another singer in the group.

Again, belonging. Perhaps someday, mispachah.

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Front of Havdalah candle holder.

I also had my first-ever Havdalah this past Saturday night, and it was more special than I thought it was going to be. I made my own havdalah candle holder and my own bisamim box from crafting materials and acrylic paint over the past couple of weeks, and on Saturday night, they were ready to use for Havdalah. I’m trying to create these items just like my father created so many of my family’s holiday decorations that were so important to us every year.

Back of havdalah candle holder.

Back of havdalah candle holder.

I can’t honor my father in most ways that are religious (although I bought a yarzheit candle for him so I have one when January rolls around), but I’m going to make as many of my own ritual items as I can, and what I can’t make, I’ll purchase carefully.

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Bisamim box.

I plan to at least make a hanukkiah and a kiddush cup (I just have to find an appropriate cup). I may draw the line at a Seder plate, though.

I stumbled sometimes, and stammered, and I admit that I didn’t have all the prayers down, but this production from Moishe House Rocks helped me a lot (the song is also really catchy):

I’ve been thinking about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur coming up much faster than I thought they would. For Rosh Hashanah, I can only point to this rendition of Psalm 150 (Hallelujah) by Hillel Tigay and the community of IKAR, in Los Angeles, for the joy that the thought of Rosh Hashanah fills me with.

And finally, although I know I’ve shared it before, sometimes music just speaks for me more than words can. So once again, I give you the Maccabeats and their amazing Yom Kippur song, Book of Good Life.

I am thankful for all these things. I am thankful for you who read my posts. I am thankful for my life and for the people who sustain me.

On Rosh Hashanah, that’s part of what I’ll be singing Hallelujah for.

And as Yom Kippur is coming up very soon, I ask forgiveness. If I have wronged you in the past year, please let me know. I will do whatever is necessary to make amends.

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Song as Prayer

11 Sivan 5774

For each person, prayer (and worship) means something a little different. For some people, davening means quiet, almost whispered prayers in Hebrew while swaying with the joy of prayer. For some it means the joy of creation.

For me it’s always been about using the power of song to praise G-d. My father was a church choir director for years and years, and man, was he a purist about liturgy. We did not have 70s “folk music” at the Masses he directed. We had Mozart. Bach. Beethoven. You know – the good stuff. And when he couldn’t find good stuff, he’d write his own and the choir would learn it off in nothing flat. When my father finished his master’s program in music composition and conducting, the main feature of his master’s performance was a Mass he’d written called “The Walk of Faith,” and based on the pain of doubt and the need to trust. A recording of it was played at his funeral, and as soon as I can get the CD that my brother gave me to cough it up, I plan to play it on my father’s yartzheit in January every year.

The main reason I kept going to the Catholic church, after I started doubting G-d, was the music. Even in my 20s, when I was in deep denial and pain about the existence of G-d, I still managed to write an entire congregational Mass for the church that I was the volunteer choir director and pianist for at that time. (I guess it runs in the family or something.)

I tell people that my father raised me to be a liturgical musician. If I’d realized I had a yiddishe neshama ten years or so ago, I might have decided to go to cantorial school instead of going through a doctoral program. Singing kept me going to church for a long, long time, and it’s a big draw for me in going to temple, too. Fortunately the congregation at the Friday services seems to have a good sense of song, and some of them even harmonize! (Once I’ve learned the melodies well enough I’ll do the same thing, I’m sure.) I have not yet been able to attend Saturday morning services at my temple, but I want to. I want to hear the cantor and see if that makes me feel the way I felt when I was twelve and singing in my father’s church choir.

I hope it does, because I love to sing. I feel most like I’m worshiping when I’m singing, and when I hear or sing good music is when I most feel G-d’s presence. Since starting on this journey, I’ve been using my handy Spotify account to find music that is both singable and uniquely Jewish. Some of it is in Hebrew, and some in English, but I’ve begun to memorize various songs by popular Israeli and Jewish artists. Some of them are close enough to prayer that I count them as such: Shomer Yisrael and Hu Elokeinu, by Neshama Carlebach, make my eyes sting with tears every time I sing them or hear them. Right now I’m listening to L’dor Vador by Josh Nelson, and it’s having a similar effect. Whenever possible, I sing the brachot over meals. It makes them mean more to me.

But it just occurred to me why it’s so important to have this music available to me. It allows me to feel the presence of G-d again. It allows me to worship again. Yesterday, singing along with Josh Nelson, I felt a presence I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. The hairs on the back of my neck and on my arms stood up with the overwhelming feeling of rightness and awe that washed over me as I sang “L’dor vador nagid godlecha/L’dor vador, we protect this chain…”

This music is another spiritual helicopter for me, telling me that yes, I’m on the right path, and that this is right for me and what I’m called to do. Maybe cantorial school is still in my future – who knows?

What does prayer mean to you?

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