Summer at my synagogue is usually quiet, as most of Manhattan heads off to less humid locations. But services have been packed this year, perhaps because of the insane cost of gasoline, and I miss the relative emptiness of the Sanctuary on Friday nights. I want the end of my week to feel differently during the summer, a slowing-down more like the sea and lying on a blanket on a patch of sunny grass, a rest that forgets the week as deeply as possible.
This, for me, is harder to achieve when the room is filled. The hazzan and rabbi know this, as well, and the tefillah these past few weeks has been quieter, tempi more relaxed, creating a longer trajectory to the moment when prayer, as if gliding down a runway, finally rises. The music this Friday evening began like a deep sigh, and soon I think all our breaths and heartbeats were synchronized. I closed my eyes and imagined a cloud of all our combined souls hovering above, blanketing us and damping the noise of the week that had passed. I felt the very molecules in my cells slowing down, untwisting, like ice changing into warm water.
I looked around and wondered if everyone else agreed, but we were all hidden behind our faces; I could only guess. But as people danced and I watched them smile and laugh—a moment that defines Shabbat evening for me, actual proof before my eyes that life is more joyous if you learn to leave the harder parts behind for a day—I knew we had all been transformed from our weekday selves. My dear niece came to services this week, and her presence next to me made the embrace of the music feel even stronger. During the Amidah, I prayed for time to slow down so that the service might last longer; walking down the street afterwards, I imagined all the annoying details of my week flying away like bunches of balloons, until they drifted beyond sight.