Saturday, November 10, 2007

551. Brisket and laughter

The tunes of prayers change often at my synagogue, unlike at 99% of synagogues in the universe. No decision of a ritual committee is involved, and most of the time I don't think the cantor himself knows what's happening until he sings something different. It keeps our spiritual muscles on their toes; I love that prayer can take on a new flavor when least expected. This morning I came to services happy from a warm, intimate evening with my havurah, but also exhausted and not feeling great, and trying to stave off uninvited voices in my head yelling about deadlines and bills. I felt a little better once we started praying and singing. But just a little.

Then we got to Psalm 136, Hodu l'Adonai ki tov, ki leolam hasdo, "Praise God, Who is good and Whose kindness is forever," also one of Passover's greatest hits. We usually sing this to a fast, upbeat tune also used a little later in the morning service for Az yashir Moshe, the Song of the Sea. But today the cantor chose a jauntier melody I hear once a year at a seder I've attended for over a decade, a hoarily monotonous version of the ritual conducted by dear friends that brings back memories of the Dry and Boring Years before I started going to my synagogue. I love it nevertheless, because I get to be with wonderful people and see the holiday through the eyes of their brilliant children. And, oh yes, eat incredible food.

And every year at my friends' seder, we're roused from our Maxwell House haggadah-induced lethargy the instant we begin Ki leolam hasdo. Along with its first notes this morning, I can practically smell brisket in the oven and hear the infectious laughter of my friends' daughters, which completely drowns out the crabby, kvetchy sounds stuck in my head from before.

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