The best part of singing in the choir was where we sat: the balcony to the left of the stage, way up front, with a bird's-eye view of the rituals as well as the 2,500 other people melting in the late summer heat. No ordinary altar for the Christian Scientists; this was a grand platform bedecked with pedestals, balustrades, and other important ornamentation, accessible from the pews at ground level by marble stairs that had been worn over the years into little slippery valleys. Two "catchers" from the congregation stood ready at each side to make sure those going up for aliyot didn't trip and kill themselves in the process.
The rabbis stood at a small bima at the front of the stage. Behind them was a large portable Ark and behind that, hidden from view to everyone except the choir, was Carlos the organist. Carlos had been friends with the rabbis since they were kids together in Argentina, and didn't speak a word of English. He was a dentist by day and played keyboards, all kinds and sizes and with great love and exuberance, much of the rest of the time. He traveled to New York every September and spent hours sitting, swaying and sweating below the towering gold pipes, using all of his limbs to fill the whole space with sounds that reminded us how small we really were.
Whenever I saw Carlos, who always had more fun back there on Yom Kippur than seemed to be legal, smiling up at us from behind the ark, I knew that the new year would be full of hope and joy.
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