Thursday, September 13, 2007


Happy 5768 everybody! We're in the midst of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and I am convinced that the best place to feel the spirit and joys of the coming of a new year is here in Jerusalem. As I was walking to shul today, I noticed the apple trees and pomegranate trees whose bright, perfectly ripe fruits were shining as if they were dressed in their holiday best. A woman and her 2 small children offered me a warm and excited "Shana tova!" as I passed them on the street. The whole city has a completely different feel; it's very peaceful, light and happy, as though the air itself knows it's a special time. On holidays and shabbat the whole city literally stops to observe, rest, and be joyful; as much as we'd like to, it's nearly impossibly to feel the same way in the US, where life seems always to be hurrying at it's normal pace.

This past week we've been reflecting on the High Holy Days and their significance to the Jewish people. We've learned the reasoning behind the prayers, Torah/Haftarah readings, shofar sounds, and melodies used in the services. We've taken time to reflect on our own deeds this year, learning that t'shuva (repentance) is so much more than just saying "I'm sorry." In my opinion, true t'shuva is 3-fold; in order to truly be forgiven you must ask and receive forgiveness from the one you've hurt, the from Gd, and finally and most importantly, you must give yourself permission to be forgiven. It's not easy or pleasant, but it's necessary.

Our Rosh Hashana services here were wonderful; the choir sang fairly well, we heard 2 fabulous sermons from 2 fabulous rabbis, the community was joyful and full of kavannah (intention for prayer), and all of this was experienced in a beautiful room with huge windows overlooking the Old City. Our prayer books were the same ones we use at TI, but instead of responsive reading, most of the prayers were read in hebrew. The music was beautiful and a good mix of traditional Nusach, standard Reform pieces (Janowski's Avinu Malkenu, etc.), contemporary songs, and folk melodies, so there was literally something to make everyone happy. All 5 of the cantorial students were asked to sing solos both last night and today, and both listening and supporting each other during this somewhat frightening time (there were a lot of important peoplethere and it was our first real "duty" as future cantors) was wonderful and very special.

The only part that was a little strange and a bit sad for me was when I was sang Michael Isaacson's Ve'ne'mar/Bayom Hahu at the end of last night's and today's services. That piece is one that is used at Temple Israel at the end of every Friday night Shabbat service, and I'm used to the entire congregation singing along. When I sang it last night and today, the congregation did not sing it with me; I was singing completely alone the whole time. I truly missed hearing the voices of Temple Israel singing along.

The highlight for me, however, was a prayer we sang towards the beginning of the service. While I've always enjoying singing this particular arrangement during rehearsals, I'd been overlooking the meaning of the hebrew text. I came to realize, singing this prayer this morning, that these words fit my life perfectly right now. Looking out the windows to the Old City of Jerusalem, keeping old family and friends in my heart as I am surrounded by new friends and family, it is difficult NOT to be filled with the emotion, awe , and truth of these words. To everyone who has allowed me to realize this, thank you--it's truly a gift and a blessing.


How greatly we are blessed
מה-טוב חלקנו
How good is our portion
ומה נעים גורלנו
How pleasant our lot
ומה יפה ירשתנו
How beautiful our heritage

May it be God's will that all of us are able to sing these words with meaning and significance in the coming year. L'shana tovah um'tukah (To a good and sweet year.)

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