Sunday, December 10, 2023

1023. Back again

 This old blog is about chanting, which I haven’t written about in… years and years. So a few words to catch up, if just for my own amusement and writing practice (a muscle has been unused for way too long). (And if I want to actually WRITE and maybe publish something before I’m 103 I need to, like, write.) Due to dispiriting circumstances beyond my control, the High Holy Days service-leading journey is over. For a brief while I then flirted with leaving the community, but my friends, the deeply spiritual and music style of prayer, and the overall mission of this great group of people convinced me to stay. And, of course, the opportunity to chant Torah. I’m still learning—I still have so much to learn. I continue to get better at it (I think), and feel more confident and less stage fright-hobbled as a result, and it becomes even more fun.  For the last two months I’ve read almost every week, not a whole lot at a time, mostly the same stuff as when this 2nd year of the triennial last came around in the cursed year of 2020 when I was often one of 10 people in an empty, freezing sanctuary, a large camera in my face and the gabbaim on the other side, which seemed to be same distance as  across the Red Sea, yelling out corrections as needed and unable to help if I got lost, as once happened to my great distress (I lived to tell the tale).

Although my brain seems to have mostly erased the memory of those actual verses, it’s comforting to see my old markings on the printout and realize that the words and tunes are somewhere in there and helping me re-learn without too much trouble. 

Saturday, July 22, 2023

1022. Covid and chanting

 I finally got it last December, a mild case. It was almost a relief, no more waiting to see where on the Wheel of Ill Fortune I might land. The Pandemic Era for me consisted of three years in a fever dream, time not really time and normal activities, like going to the store, pixelated and in saturated color. 

It was awful, every moment.

My synagogue moved immediately to Zoom for services, now three times a day like the most traditional of congregations. I joined every one (because: what else was there to do?). I grew to love the little community of praying faces in squares, and the unique privilege of seeing, rather than backs of heads, the beauty of faces focused in prayer. (It was almost too intimate to watch; sometimes I turned away from the screen.) For months the only people I saw in actual person were the terrific barista down the block each morning for about a minute, a vital part of maintaining my sanity, and a friend that I walked with on Sundays along with her dog, always keeping a sensible few feet apart.

Since my synagogue straddles the border between progressive and traditional, we refrained on Zoom from the parts of the service that required a minyan. So Torah wasn’t chanted from a scroll during all those awful first months, just read from a chumash. I soon figured out a new Shabbat morning ritual for myself in the courtyard of my building, which is equipped with Adirondack chairs with and occasionally reliable WiFi. I’d get dressed in just a slightly fancier T-shirt than usual to mark the day and head downstairs with my laptop, siddur, and headphones. Through the gap between buildings I’d watch the sun dance around clouds as two rabbis and a hazzan prayed at each other, and the invisible rest of us, from opposite ends of a sanctuary that seats 800.

After nine months of this weirdness, our medical advisory board said it was safe to have a few more people in the sanctuary so that we could make a minyan and read from the actual sefer Torah. I volunteered. I missed chanting, and what else did I have to do, really?

Friday, July 21, 2023

1021. Three MORE years later

 aaaand… it’s been another 3 years.

I barely see the point in noting that the world has changed. It would be like putting up a billboard proclaiming that the sky is blue. I’m still here, healthy, sometimes happy, always grateful, distinctly older, and still often praying.

But not, as of the last two years, like I used to write about in this blog. It’s been a source of sadness for me, and big disappointment in some people I loved—still love—and respect—still do, but with a little less of my heart. But the situation is what it is (how I hate that phrase, but it fits). I want to be happy, not sad, and learn to place this thing in the small box where it belongs, rather than the big dump truck in the middle of the road of my life, cars honking “Get out of the way!” Sometimes the thing is so small that I barely see it. But other times it looms larger than the eyes of my cat when they’re 12 millimeters from mine as he wakes me with a paw on my cheek for food at 5AM.

I’ve been trying to write about what happened to help me understand, and feel better. Now that I’ve finally recovered the login info to this blog, don’t ask, and was also inspired by this beautifully introspective blog, it occurred to me that some kind of audience—probably no one, but even a theoretical audience—might motivate me to craft a few sentences to help me work out my issues. Recommitting here might also jumpstart another writing project that I’m determined to finish before I depart this earth at age 120 (or older).

So, a start. Maybe, maybe I’m occasionally back.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

1020. Three years later

To paraphrase Leonard Cohen (I only steal from the best): 

There is a crack in the universe--as there’s supposed to be, on some level. And I will find the light in it. 

It feels like forever since I was here. It seems almost ridiculous to note that the world has changed an awful lot lately. I'm lucky. I'm healthy, loved, safe. My challenge is to remember this.  I continue to navigate the different and attempt to steer clear of the waves up there in my head. I fear (extrapolating from those waves at least) that over the past 19 months we humans became conditioned to expect that change is always bad, Well, it has been. But it isn't always. Maybe the beach were the waves wash up.

Wishing tzom kal (an easy fast) to any human reading this who observes the holiday. This year during the Vidui section I've chosen to gently tap and caress my heart instead of beating (gently, but still) with my fist. It's helped. We've already been beaten, It's time to stop that, even while acknowledging where we all missed the mark. 

Sunday, September 09, 2018

1019. Breath

It’s been almost a year since I wrote anything here, and it feels like long-overdue time to pay a visit. All has been well, considering the current bizarre state of this country. Still doing everything I’ve written about, and much more. I continue to blessed to be able to volunteer as a hazzanit at High Holy Days services. Since I started doing so—15 years ago, ack!—the cast of characters has changed only a little, pretty amazing. But, as Epictetus said, “Nothing endures but change,” and this year at my synagogue has been proof of his wisdom. The are fewer services where singing is needed; a number of musicians and longtime volunteers won’t be back; an intern with a beautiful voice has been added to the mix. All this, all at once, initially felt like great upheaval. (It is not, really.) Then my usual duties were reduced just a bit, and it was like being back in middle school: They don’t like me! (Why is it so hard, at times, to remember that I really did graduate 8th grade a very long time ago?)

Just as I was coming back to my senses, and remembering to actually see the reality of the situation vs. the stories stuck in my head from decades ago, I was offered the opportunity to work with a professional singer who was coaching all the rabbis, too. Free voice lessons, what did I have to lose? They were amazing. Among other things, I learned that you can think you know how to do a thing the right way because you’re doing it exactly they way you learned, but in fact that way is no longer the right way FOR YOU. I re-learned—re-remembered?—the correct way to breathe, and that one’s diaphragm is in charge of the whole show. (Well, almost; one’s mouth and tongue help, too.) Net result: I hope and pray that singing will be easier and more fun than ever, and that I'll feel more confident about the sound coming out of my mouth. So the lesson for me this Elul, this month of reflection: breathe. Breath, I knew, was the magical elixir when facing doubt or worry; these past few weeks reminded me that it's just as magical when trying to translate God’s words into God’s music. “Nishmat” means both soul AND breath. How lucky I am to be a human that breathes!

Wishing all who read this a new year to come filled with unending air in our lungs, expansive sky beneath our feet, and boundless breath within the sweetness of the chambers of our hearts. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

1018. #BlogElul 28: Give

(Written two weeks ago, before Yom Kippur.)

This prompt brings up two two ideas: what I’ve been given, and what I can give. That my body never forgot the ability to swim, even after decades away, continues to be one of the most amazing and mystifying gifts I’ve received this year. Each time I go to the pool I feel my body stretching, getting stronger, rising to the challenge. I never imagined such a thing would be possible, especially at my age and relative lack of athletic skill. Best of all, it’s like flying. When I look through the clear blue and glide to the wall buttressed by water, safe and free, I remember that I can do this in life, too—if only I remember to open my eyes and look for friends and family waiting on the other side.

I can give this gift, too, with the help of God to remind me. I hope that the coming 25 hours will give me greater strength and understanding of how to reach this goal.

1017. #BlogElul 27: Bless

As I write this, we’re just a few hours away from Kol Nidre. I’m lucky to get to listen, imbibe, and absorb those notes, and hear a voice beyond description—and even luckier to be singing two services, tomorrow morning and afternoon. I hope and pray that my voice will fully express my heart. I hope that God will bless me to do my best, and that I will feel those blessings magnified through the kahal and be able to reflect some of them back, as well.

1016. #BlogElul 26: Create

(Written two weeks ago, before Yom Kippur.)

I used to think—why? It makes no sense—that creativity dissipated with age. This year has been one of my most creative in a long time. I decided to make tallitot, an idea that came to me one day during services but that had been brewing and bubbling for a few years. I learned and taught myself to sew. I’m getting ready for the next creative challenge, executing and marketing my ideas. I hope and pray for the continued ability to create, and for the strength to not give up when inevitable obstacles appear. I need to remember to be constantly and fully grateful for this and so many other gifts.

1015. #BlogElul 25: Change

(Written two weeks ago, before Yom Kippur.)

This prompt brings to mind a different meaning of the word than I think was intended: those silver and copper pieces that roll and clink in our pockets. As I write this, we’re on the other side of Rosh Hashanah, the final marathon just a day away. I’ve spent this past week ping-ponging between great happiness, great insecurity, renewed self-awareness, frustration, gratitude, exhaustion, and boundless energy. Life, in other words, but somewhat compressed and magnified to fit within a few days of deep reckoning. I reached no conclusions, but perhaps a little more understanding of myself and my weaknesses.

One thing I observed: I rarely carry change any more. Most of the time I pay for coffee, groceries, whatever, with a debit card, which makes it easier to track my expenses. All fine and good, but I never have anything to offer those who ask for money on the street. I will admit that I’ve rarely given that money—nor considered it as requirement for being a good person—but now there’s never an option. I’ve been doing my best to respond to those requests so with a smile and an apology.

This awareness will not change my habits. I will continue to give tzedakah in other ways, and try to exceed what I think is my limit. What I have been thinking about, more and more, is how grateful I am to not need to be in the street asking for change. At times I’ve felt financially stretched, but I still always had a roof over my head. I am very, very lucky in so many ways, and must never forget that.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

1019. #BlogElul 29: Return

I know I'm skipping ahead—I still have to finish 25 through 28 (all begun, or at least considered!). But since I've actually written and posted more of these this year than ever before, I want to officially conclude, for now, with the last one. The other four will appear before Yom Kippur, a fine time to continue to be circumspect. As Pirkei Avot says, starting the task is the most important part.

By #BloggingElul, I've fulfilled my goal of returning to writing after some time away. I stopped blogging because other creative pursuits took up too much of that kind of energy, and they will continue to do so. But I'm glad to have proven to myself that I didn't forget how to string words together, and still have a great deal to say. A metaphor for my life, in general: I need to to not be timid or afraid to use my voice. Oh my goodness, that lesson applies to so many different thing right now.

Whomever may be reading this, I wish you and the entire Internet a good, sweet, happy, and healthy year ahead. May our our country return to some semblance of sanity very soon, and may the world be filled with peace even sooner.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

1014. #BlogElul 24: Hope

There's just too much to hope for at this particular moment in the world, and in our country. Writing these hopes, in some ways, feels like writing a bad science fiction story.

I hope we all don't annihilate each other any time soon. North Korea, please chill out and put away those nuclear warheads.
I hope our "president" doesn't manage to degrade the character of the presidency to a degree from which we can't recover.

I hope our Constitution, and the lawmakers sworn too uphold it, can remain strong.
I hope that the relentless tide of natural and social disasters won't claim so many lives and hearts as to wear us all down beyond repair.

I hope that this entire country doesn't get so depressed about all the above that we never want to leave our homes ever again.
I hope that the refrain so often invoked these surreal days, "We've been through this before, and we survived," really is the case. Every time is unique, but this time more so. I know I have the narrow perspective of having lived in only one time—but humanity has never before been so easily able to destroy the world with a misguided push of a button.
I hope 5778 brings us hope, and a great deal of wisdom.

1013. #BlogElul 23: Begin

As I write this, I'm drinking wonderful coffee and hoping it does its magic so I can wake up after a late night of Selihot. This is the beginning. We studied prayers, we sang beautiful piyutim, we listened, for the first time this season, to the melody that will bookmark each service and help set this time apart from ordinary time. I sang loudly and with complete abandon some songs that I will be singing into a mic over the coming days, a very different experience—equally intense and meaningful, but by necessity more measured.

High Holy Days rehearsals have been completed. The beginning is really here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

1012. #BlogElul 22: End

The first thing this prompt brings to mind is that what may seen to be the end can also be the beginning. The challenge is to reframe and try to see the situation from a radically different point of view, which can yield amazing discoveries. I think this is the hardest thing to do in life, period.

I have a dear friend who was the victim of a horrific crime. The physical aftermath of the assault altered her life completely, with challenges she never imagined having to confront. And she scaled those unexpected mountains—not without painful stumbles, but also with a great deal of love both given and received. Her life now, many years afterward, is good, full, challenging, rewarding, and truly happy. She's my hero and teacher in so many ways, the best example of finding new paths even when the end of the road is all you think you can see.

1011. #BlogElul 21: Love

My Hebrew name, I was always told, is Ahuva, "beloved." I love my Hebrew name even more than my somewhat archaic English one, which I'm fine with now but was an uncool burden as a kid. Ahuva begins with the same letter, aleph, as my grandfather's Hebrew name, Asher; there's no one better after whom to be named. I grew up hearing so many stories about him that sometimes he seemed to be just hiding around the corner, waiting for the right moment to jump out and say hello. No one ever uttered a bad word about Pops; he was kind, sweet, smart, and ethical, the one you'd always go to for advice and a smile. "Asher" means "happy," and in photos his face is gentle and welcoming, and (within the technological constraints of the era, when you had to sit as still as a stone) clearly, calmly joyful.

But last week I finally had time to looked at a CD of photos and scanned documents from my father's side of the family, painstakingly compiled by a relative. Included were images of yellowed, creased pieces of paper with family records in both my parents' handwriting. I found my paternal grandparents' yahrzeits, the dates they died, which I had never before known. And on another was the record of my birth, with the date and my name written in careful caps in my mother's distinctive slanted hand. Above it was my Hebrew name, in my father's scrawl. But, wait: there were 2 names, Ahuva Rahel, in both Hebrew and English. Rahel? Who?

No one ever told me I  had a Hebrew middle name. I stared at it, and read it over and over. I vaguely recalled my mother telling me I was almost named Rachel, and getting a little angry at the time that I was denied such a beautiful name. Maybe this was a compromise? I don't know of any past Rachels among my ancestors, but there are few existing records on either side. My father's grandmother, perhaps?

So my Hebrew name is now bigger and better than ever before, and I will be using it whenever I'm lucky enough to be called to the Torah for an aliyah. (I consulted with my rabbi, who agreed that this discovery is quite legit.) What better time of year to stumble upon such a bounty? I think it means that my task ahead is to try to understand this unexpected gift, this cryptic dispatch from my parents' souls, and live the life that Rachel z"l (zikhroná liv'rakhá, may her memory be for a blessing,) as well as my grandfather z'l, might want me to lead.

1010. #BlogElul 20: Fill (in remembrance of 9/11)

Last Monday was the 16th anniversary, which much of this country seems to have overlooked. I did, too, to some degree—there's so much else to worry about right now.

When I think of important dates in my life, birth, graduation, and so forth, and then count back 16 years, the distance feels like another era. Things that happened even a year or two before I was born are firmly entombed in my mind's history. But 9/11, in many ways, still seems like yesterday. What helps fill the gaping chasm in my soul is to look at this installation at the 9/11 Museum:

"Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning" by Spencer Finch

Somewhat reluctantly, I visited the museum two years ago at the invitation of a visiting friend who wanted her children to experience it. I'd done my best to avoid even having to go to that part of the city. Although I had to skip the graphic exhibits that were too close to my nightmares, others—photos of first responders, salvaged steel posts covered with marker scrawls of love and hope—were good to see, and reminded me that we humans can be great at times. The tour guide was calm and respectful, as if we were at a memorial service.

And then we reached this artwork, in front of a wall behind which unidentified remains still sleep. I thought of earlier that morning, when I went running in the park and marveled at the impossible color of the sky. Keeping that blue in my mind's eye, to retrieve when blackness was all I could imagine, filled me with strength and hope throughout the day and unreal weeks and followed. It still does.