Saturday, March 26, 2005

38. Travel agent, part 3

I do design work for my synagogue, so they call about this at times. But occasionally it's the hazzan, the cantor, on the phone. He's a man of few and carefully chosen words, so I know a call from him is not trivial. At the very least, it means I'll be reading Torah again. Hearing this is more interesting than anything a client needs to tell me, so I generally drop everything when Caller ID tells me the synagogue is on the other end.

The hazzan is just like Superman. X-ray vision lets him see through our usual weekday masks so he can adjust the melodies and tempo of the Friday night service in order to calm, bolster, or completely revive us, as need be. From behind his keyboard, hidden from view, he rescues flailing bar mitzvah boys from a churning sea of inadvertent key changes, thus saving the congregation from painful disharmony. On Yom Kippur his voice leaps in a single bound directly from his heart to the heavens, petitioning with urgent sensitivity on our behalf for one final chance at redemption. I have no doubt that this extraordinary sound tempts and maybe even convinces God to keep the gates open for us just a little while longer. Also like Superman, he's mysterious, shy, handsome, and very human.

And it was the hazzan on the phone that Tuesday afternoon in May. I hadn't planned on speaking to anyone so soon after belting out "Jet Plane" with the wrong part of my voice; I felt like I had been caught in an illicit activity, and hoped I didn't sound too hoarse.

He asked me to chant Torah in a few weeks. I agreed, as always, because not even lying across the top of a piano in the sequined dress of my dreams is as as cool as chanting Torah. "Oh, I have another question for you," he said. "Something that will be fun."

"Would you like to lead High Holy Day services?" he asked.

"What?" I answered. The sentence didn't seem to make sense, not in my language, unless the hazzan was referencing a sort of global concept with the word "you," asking if I thought all the women of the world might like to lead High Holy Day services. Or maybe he was speaking in tongues, and I had more to learn about Judaism than I thought.

After a few more moments of conversation, I realized he wasn't kidding.

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