Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—High-Holiday-Season Highlights, part 2: The Yamim Noraim

The good news is that we finally found something that the rabbi is good at (yeah, more on that later, too)—this year, he was our baal t’kiah.*

Our poor regular cantor, delusions of operatic talent notwithstanding, is a very good leiner/baal koreh/Torah reader(chanter), but he simply doesn’t have the “chops” to literally toot his own horn. :) The rabbi did quite a respectable job of *blowing the shofar.

And the High Holiday cantor was much more bearable this year for a “nusach nut” like me than he was last year.

Granted, I simply cannot fathom what on earth would inspire a chazzan to chant the V’Anachnu Kor’im” during which he drops to his knees and touches his forehead to the floor to the tune of the old Israeli folk dancers’ favorite “Erev Ba.” Sure, I can sing the tune—hey, I’m an old Israeli folk dancer, after all (and gettin’ older by the day :) ), but still . . . hunh???

But I can more or less deal with singing: “ . . .erev va-voker, erev va-voker, b’chol yom tamid” to the tune of “sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days” in the middle of the Musaf Kedusha. At least the tune matches the Hebrew words (“evening, morning, evening, morning. . .”). (I’ll let dilbert deal with the whole “is a baal tefillah/prayer leader allowed to repeat words?” halachic controversy in his Friday, October 21, 2005 post, Repeating words and Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur tunes.)

And I thanked him for using a lot fewer show tunes and a lot more Carlebach and niggunim (wordless tunes). At least, it sounded like shul, not Broadway.

Then, of course, there was my so-called Junior Congregation. On Rosh Hashanah, the teenagers, bribed into showing up by being given the honor of carrying a sefer Torah/Torah scroll, decided to grace me with their presence. Oy. One got the “three strikes, you’re out” treatment when I told that “Jack” to “hit the road . . . and don’t you come back no more . . .” after he’d insulted one of the little Hebrew School girls for the third time.

On Yom Kippur, I somehow ended up with all of the kids in the same room at the same time. And I mean all. Right down to the High Holiday cantor’s three-year-old grandson, who kept interrupting my attempts to conduct a serious discussion on teshuva/repentance by jumping up and down and saying, “Listen to me!” Who could resist anyone that cute? Then, having gotten our undivided attention, he would intone something as profound as, say, “My name is marshmallow.” :) So much for a serious discussion. (And I have to admit to having felt a little twinge, as the mother of a hard-of-hearing son, listening to a three-year-old whose speech was clear as a bell—and remembering how our own son, barely diagnosed at that age and not yet sporting his first set of hearing aids, once cried because he couldn’t speak clearly enough to enable us to understand him. Then I shook myself mentally, thanking Hashem who is good, whose kindness endures forever, that our son has only a mild-to-moderate hearing loss, hears pretty well with hearing aids, never needed to go to a school for the deaf or to use the American Sign Language that I tried to teach him as a toddler, and even shocked his dear old mom when, less than a year after getting his first hearing aids, he said a motzi with the chaf in Baruch pronounced correctly.)

And, just to make sure that I noticed that I wasn’t with the adults, they even forgot to bring us upstairs at the end of the service on the second day, which means that we didn’t hear either Hayom T’amsteinu or the last shofar blowing.

A couple of years ago, I put my foot down. Now, I get up before Hin’ni and announce that I’ll be rounding up the kids and taking them out for Jr. Cong. after the Musaf Kedushah. And not a minute before. No matter how late that is. For the privilege of being harassed by teenagers and ignored by mischevious pre-schoolers, I have to miss my beloved U’nataneh Tokef?

Which brings me directly to what’s been bothering me this whole season.

Will U’nataneh Tokef continue to be so beloved by me after the “Mi yichyeh, u-mi yamut, who will live and who will die” includes my own parents?

Thus far, the closest I got was on September 11, 2001, when I almost lost my sister, who lived only a few blocks from the World Trade Center. “Mi va-eish, who by fire . . . ?”

But I’m getting closer. This year, our synagogue lost ten members to the Mal’ach HaMavet, the Angel of Death. My congregation is dying. Literally.

Mi v’kitzo, who [will die] at his predestined time. . .” One was my favorite senior, the leader, both figurative and literal (as baal tefillah) of the morning minyannaires for many years. I’m so glad that we went to see him just before he passed away. I’m not absolutely certain that he still knew who we were, but I’m pretty sure he appreciated our visit, anyway.

U-mi lo v’kitzo, who before his time. . .”Another wasn’t lucky enough to be in her mid-nineties—she died in her mid-forties, single and childless, leaving behind a mother, also a congregant, who’d already buried a husband and a single and childless son. The mother now finds herself a frail senior with neither husband, nor child, nor grandchild to help or comfort her. Every time I think of her, I think of Naomi’s words from Megillat Ruth, the Book of Ruth: “Ani m’leiah halachti, v’reykam heshiyvani Hashem, I was full when I went away, but Hashem has brought me back empty.”

Mi va-mayim, who by water . . .” Thousands killed by tsunamis and hurricanes.

Not to mention earthquakes.

And then there are the three fathers, whose words I’ve read in the Jewish blogosphere only within the past few months, each of whom has lost a child. One young man a rabbinical school student. One young man still in high school. One young girl not yet even old enough to be a Bat Mitzvah.

I have no words of my own to offer. I can only pray that the words of David HaMelech/King David come true for you, your wives, and your suriving children someday:

"Hafachta misp’di l’machol li, pitachta saki va-t’az’reiniy simchah."

May the day come when your lament will be changed into dancing, and your sackcloth replaced by garments worn in gladness.

Following an old tradition not to end on a sad note, I’ll finish this post with a happy one. Or rather, many happy ones. The highlight of my Yamim Noraim was hearing the Diaspora Yeshiva Band sing “Ataher Etchem” in my head.


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