So we walked to the end of the block and, safely out of sight of anyone who might be offended, hopped a cab to the diner. We were late; the tenors from the Orthodox shul, sopranos from the fancy Reform temple, and the non-Jewish bass who was snuck into the octet upstairs at our synagogue under an assumed, Semitic-style name, because the conductor couldn't find anyone else of the correct persuasion who sight-read and had a low D, had already arrived and were all working on their second plates of curly fries.
The pre-Ne'ila double cheeseburger ritual had been going on for years. Everyone who was anyone in the world of professional synagogue High Holiday choral singing made an appearance. I listened to tales of rodents in choir lofts and cantors who pretended to know Hebrew but actually read from a transliteration. I learned about ex-boyfriends who couldn't stay on key if they were handcuffed to it, and how everyone made more money in Italy. I was awed and honored to be initiated into this thirteenth tribe, although stuck to a tuna fish sandwich. After about an hour, we said goodbye and ran back in the rain to our respective gigs, ready to stand in front of those closing gates with the kind of energy only bacon grease and a milkshake will engender.
Before the last note of "Hatikvah" had stopped vibrating, our quartet ran up the stairway behind the main sanctuary to the accountant's office, where we joined the downstairs octet in what was my most spiritual moment of the holiday: signing for a nice, fat, check, and bidding farewell to my new cool friends.
When the hazzan called that Tuesday in May with his improbable question, I had already told the other synagogue I'd be back. I convinced myself that the joy of singing was an acceptible substitue for atonement, and the cash (which I would surely give to tzekakah this year) compensation for the super-hard praying I would cram in at evening services at my own synagogue, when I wasn't at the other place. I didn't really believe any of this, but was so flattered to be included in the elite corps once again that I didn't know how to say no.
I had already put the contract in the mail. It was a brit, a convenant, right? I had given my word. I told the hazzan I wasn't available. Well, maybe I was, possibly, but didn't think so. It's OK, he said, really; there will be other opportunities. I hung up and thought, what have I just done? If this, in fact, is really happening, am I insane? I called three friends and asked them, and they agreed that I was, and also believed I didn't make it up. I called the cantor the next morning and told him I could do it.