There was no music at my childhood synagogue. Of course the prayers had melodies, but compared to the singing I would do in college--Bach, Brahms, masses, motets and requia soaring to the tops of churches which I felt guilty being in at all, but loved just the same--well, there was no comparison. When I was very little, only 3 or 4, I remember my father standing at his usual spot in the front row of the sanctuary, mumbling rapid, off-key sentences in a voice that shook the floor even at its softest. I'd run around his feet and then he'd raise me onto his shoulders and let me watch as the men swayed and the women milled about in the balcony. Jewish music, as far as I knew, consisted of the low rumble of men's voices, as well as some pretty bad kids' songs.
I learned otherwise at the mortgage-free synagogue. They imported a special cantor for the High Holidays all the way from Israel, a fact the rabbi never let us forget. "And now we will be led by Cantor Shlomo FromIsrael," he intoned each time the man with the funny hat stood up. But I would have been impressed even if his last name was FromHackensack--I didn't understand why, but his voice gave me the chills and made the skin on my upper arms tingle. Whenever he sang the Hatzi Kaddish, in a mode I had never heard before, some exotic Middle Eastern sound, it replayed in my mind over and over without my conscious intervention. I went to services on the second day of Rosh Hashonah instead of sleeping just to hear him sing that part again, which he did many, many times. I told no one about my discovery.