Wednesday, July 01, 2009

825. A reason

I've had many great excuses for infrequent blogging over the past few months, but have thus far avoided--have been afraid--to voice the one that's most significant. I learned awhile back that because of the general state of economic near-catastrophe here in NYC, my synagogue will be having fewer High Holy Day services this year. Since I was asked to help out in 2004, we've held simultaneous sets of Shaharit, Musaf, and all those others, on each day of the holiday. As all two or three of you longtime readers might recall, the only reason I was asked to lead in the first place was because we lost our biggest venue, a church that sat 2,500, and had to divide everyone over three locations instead. (The Upper W. Side is light on venues that seat 4,000. Our actual synagogue fits about 800.)

With the addition of services for kids and families, the three locations turned into four. Two of those were Big, Fancy, Expensive theaters. It was a monumental production. In the years when my fellow congregants had jobs, we were doing very well with donations, thank you, and could easily cover the rental costs.

Everything changed this September. Half my friends are now unemployed. The few rich people I know are much less so. My synagogue--and most others in NYC--are in emergency mode, trying to figure out how to cut costs drastically while still proving the same the services and support. We also collectively realized, along with the rest of the American people, that we let money fly a little too freely. We are now, to frame it in a positive way, back to basics.

In a less positive way, it means that we can't afford all those theaters. We approached the original big old church and said pretty please, and they decided to be neighborly. So once again I will have the unique pleasure of praying the Amidah while staring at an artfully masked, 50-foot-tall stained-glass portrait of Jesus and Mary.

It's a beautiful church, and in the company of my community I can pray anywhere. That's not the depressing part. What makes me sad is that we'll need fewer service leaders for the fewer services. No one has spoken to me yet, but I have the least seniority of our small crew of hazzanim and hazzanit. I know that everything at my synagogue is done fairly--no favors. So I'm bracing myself for any outcome from not being needed at all, to leading one service, to leading a few. I strongly doubt I'll get to sing at every Shaharit and Minha on Yom Kippur, as in past years.

But I've become accustomed to, maybe even addicted to, the intense energy of giving and receiving from the bima on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I can hardly remember any other way to spend those days; even before leading I sang in the choir for four years, where I had to do the same sort of thing. Now I'll need re-learn another way of praying, of sharing myself without acting as lens and focus. I've done so on a million Shabbatot, of course--but it won't be Shabbat. My only other experience of the holidays is before I came to my synagogue, when they were just a reason to sit and stare at the back of someone's head before going back home for lunch.

I always knew my role as a hazzanit would end--I'm just a volunteer, and that's how it goes. But I thought there would be a better, or at least more dramatic reason; this one is so unfair. As a citizen, I guess I'm as much to blame as anyone for helping perpetuate the economic and political mistakes that brought us to this strange season. Whatever. It is what it is, and sometime in the next month or two I'll find out my new role. I am trying to see this turn of events as a sorely needed learning experience, since I'm very bad at accepting change. And what's the point of angsting over something that's out of my control? I'm also great at over-dramatizing; I need to keep in mind that the holidays are just a small slice of my life, which remains so rich and filled with other marvels that I have no reason to blow these days out of proportion.

Finally--I need to remember who I am today, and where I was five years ago. From this experience of leading services I've learned more than I can begin to absorb about myself, life, Judaism, God--even writing. Cosi revaya, my cup runneth over.

But the not knowing has made me not want to write about singing, or even sing, at times. So I force myself to do both, and always feel better. It still makes me sad. I want everything to be the way it used to be.


George said...

I used to lead High Holy Day services for many years and when we moved, we also moved synagogues. That year, obviously I wasn't asked and I had my best experience for years, as I could pray at my own pace (slower than the congregation). Even though it is a different experience leading, I still selfishly prefer not to do it on the High Holy Days. Once in three years is plenty for me.
On the other hand, the best Yom Kippur experience I ever had was when I lead Shacharit about 20 years ago. I almost felt as though I was actually hovering above the ground. When I finished I was totally exhausted, both physically and mentally.

rbarenblat said...

I hear you, so much. For a variety of reasons I'm not seeking a high holiday pulpit this year, and I miss it already. I know there will be blessings in *not* being in charge, but I have mixed feelings about it. So I'm right there with you.

alto artist said...

Thank you both... it is comforting to know that I'm not alone in wanting that kind of spiritual high. As George said, it can literally feel like getting closer to heaven--flying, ascending. I've felt so lucky (and maybe a little guilty) for having access to that fast track to catharsis.

Anyway, I don't yet know what I'll get to do... keeping my fingers crossed (and trying not to think about it or kvetch needlessly!)