Thursday, September 28, 2006

381. Rosh Hashanah 5767, part 1

At tashlikh last Sunday, I squeezed between people leaning against the railing at the edge of the Hudson River and prepared to offer my crumbs. Wide-angled shafts of grey rain punctuated the sky beneath dark clouds on the opposite shore. In past years I made sure to throw my bread with all the force I could muster, as if the strength and distance of my arm could convince God I had the qualities to deserve another year in the Book of Life. I think I was taking a little dig at God at those moments, too, a show of impatience: I prayed, now it's Your turn.

This time I looked down at the water and saw chains of crumbs floating directly below, long, unsteady lines like drunken flocks of birds drifting back and forth on currents tiny as the rock of a cradle. Further beyond the river wall there were no crumbs at all; the waves, in preparation for the storm, had swept them under. I decided I didn't want my crumbs to to fend for themselves in the scary part of the water, even though my arm could get them there just fine. I dropped them straight down instead, and after a slow push or two by the wind they joined all the others and began to wobble upstream.

I think in many ways I've been holding my breath since the day I lost my voice last Rosh Hashanah. And without air, unsteady, I could neither join the chain closest to me nor swim further out. Sometimes I thought I did both but was just caught in the current, afraid to go left or right even when I had the chance.

As I sang last Saturday and Sunday--with a voice free of congestion or fever, with my voice--I tried to speak to and for the congregation, but at the start of the service just wanted a witness to my demands. I felt very selfish. I didn't know what I was asking, but knew I needed an answer: You listen! Maybe You just couldn't hear me last year. It seemed very chutzpadik, but the rabbis at my synagogue teach the value of this approach, and I agree. Judaism is about action. So part of me was constantly vigilant about pitch, cues, tempi, a thousand other details, while the rest of me focused on pounding at the door in hopes that the sweeter my sound, the closer I might get to finding the key and opening the lock. It was a strange sensation, being completely there and yet somewhere else entirely. By the end of the service we were all massed on the stoop, waking up the neighbors; I was still the loudest, but now fueled by the strength of everyone in the room rather than just my own stubbornness. We were the chain of crumbs that reached deep water.

We didn't have many rehearsals this year, didn't need to. I missed those weeks of euphoric anticipation, but now see that my preparation simply took a different pace, eddies instead of waves. Some of it happened months ago when I visited Israel and stopped feeling like an imposter when praying on behalf of my community. The rest happened as I listened to the music while I practiced, remembering the tunes and knowing they would always return like a tide to mark the start of another year, another chance, no matter how I sang.


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