Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Adventures in Haftarah-chanting, etc.

The fun started on Friday night, when I did my first practice run. (Since I’ve known all the haftorot [readings from the prophets] that I chant for years—in most cases, for at least a decade—I usually need only one or two rehearsals.) There I was, just chanting along and minding my own business when all of a sudden I got to this line:

Aniyah so-arah, lo nuchamah . . .


It got even better as I went along.

Hoy, kol tzamé . . .


Fast-forward to the next morning.

Mistake number one: You would think that I would know better by now, but I always manage to forget that, for some odd reason, cold water from the cooler sets off my acid reflux and makes me clear my throat 14 times. I should have gotten a glass of water from the tap before heading back into the sanctuary.

So there I am, standing up on the bima, with my husband to my right (okay, so they still won’t let women chant their own brachot, but one must be grateful for not-so-small favors—I was a member for years before they let women chant a haftarah) and the rabbi to my left.

For openers, I’m clearing my throat for the entire first page. Which is distracting enough.

Then the rabbi chimes in, trying to ask my husband a question. So the poor Punster is trying to gesture (apparently, to the envelope for the aliyah cards, which has fallen on the floor) and answer as quietly as possible. Yet another distraction.

Then the elderly gentleman in the front row, who has, most unfortunately, precious little memory left, pipes up, “What page?”

Then our resident toddler toddles into the sanctuary—and I find myself accidentally skipping to the next sentence, saying “banayich, your children,” instead of “g’vuléch, your borders.” So my husband corrects me—and, realizing why I’ve made the mistake, I point at the boychikkle in a most undignified manner (not my usual behavior on the bima) and repeat the word banayich quietly, for his benefit, before correcting myself and continuing.

Then the senior gentleman in the front row with the memory problem pipes up again, “What page?”

Then I make an error in the cantillation and my husband corrects me—incorrectly! I spend an extra second figuring out that both my cantillation and his are off, and finding the correct cantillation. At this point, I’ve pretty much already lost it, and shake my finger in “naughty boy” fashion at my husband. No, seriously, folks, I take my responsibilities on the bima quite seriously, whether I’m chanting a haftarah or leading my Junior Congregation kids in Adon Olam. I don’t act this way. Under normal circumstances.

Then the senior gentleman in the front row with the memory problem pipes up, “What page?” for the third time.

Then our resident toddler, who’s been touring the sanctuary with his mother in tow, manages to attract the attention of one of our louder seniors. By which I mean one of the quarter of the membership that doesn’t have hearing aids and needs them. And there’s that other major detail: As the old joke goes, “Some people come to synagogue to talk to G-d, and some come to talk to Goldberg.” Well, guess what? So this guy, who’s a morning minyan regular but doesn’t take the davvening (praying) part of being in shul too seriously, starts talking to the boychikkle. Loudly, of course. From the front row.

At this point, I’ve had it, and give the reading desk a clop. (Banging a hand on a hard surface is a way to tell someone to be quiet when one doesn’t wish to interrupt a prayer—or a reading—by speaking.)

How a rotten multitasker like me got through this haftarah with only one Hebrew mistake and one cantillation error despite facing a roomful of distractions is beyond my comprehension.

As the old joke goes, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

There I am, up on the bima leading my Junior Congregation kids when the boychikkle’s grandfather, also in need of hearing aids, and impatient, to boot, jumps the gun on me and starts singing Alénu a second before I do. And keeps singing it in his own key. Standing not in the front row, but, noch besser (even better), almost directly to my right, practically on the bima himself. I turn around and give him a dirty look—and he, in his typical witless fashion, smiles back!

May this be the last time in my life that I’m ever forced to do something as totally disrespectful as stick a finger in one ear in order to stay in my own key while leading a prayer.

And you think nothing interesting ever happens in shul? :)


Blogger Naomi Chana said...

*blink* Whoa. I'm still back at the part where you don't get to say your own brachot. How does that work halakhically? Does it have to be your husband (i.e., you both count as one person for ritual purposes), or could any random Y-chromosome over age 12 be the maftir oleh?

As for the rest of it -- I just avoid looking at the congregation while chanting Haftarah. (I also do it loudly and dramatically -- face it, most of our Haftarot are loud and dramatic -- but so far I have resisted doing really obvious voices. So far, I say. The best Jonah I have heard is one where the reader put a deliberate whine into all Jonah's lines.)

Tue Nov 08, 12:47:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

A) Any male over 12 will do. One of my favorite senior congregants, S., used to be my favorite brachah chanter until he passed away a few months ago. Now, it's usually the Punster by default, there being so few men in our shul who know how to chant the brachot.

B) Halachically, said male is, technically, "chanting" the haftarah--I just happen to be up there lending my voice to his brachot.

C) Well, I usually behave myself better, but I was already distracted by the time my second favorite boychikkle came toddling in.

Jonah the Whiner--this, I'd love to hear! :)

Tue Nov 08, 10:55:00 PM 2005  

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