(Continued from here.)
(As I was in the middle of writing this post, a dozen firemen ran into the hallway outside my apartment and tried to knock down my neighbor's door. The hallway filled with smoke. I opened my door, and a fireman yelled to stay inside. So I put my two cats into the carrier, grabbed my wallet and some photos, tried to remember to breathe, paced, prayed, and posted on Facebook from my phone, which made me feel much less alone. Sirens, breaking glass, awful smells. But finally the ambulances and fire trucks left, and I learned that no one was hurt. A downstairs neighbor had left a candle burning, and it fell over and started the fire. That apartment and another on this floor were seriously damaged. I am very, very lucky, and thank God that I can sit here now and write some more about the New Year, or write anything at all.)
Back to Rosh Hashanah:
The Yamim Nora'im began with one big service at Massive Church, where all the rabbis and the hazzan stood together at the bima and welcomed 2,500 of us into the new year. These sound like unmanageable, un-haimishe numbers, but it wasn't like that at all. Imagine, instead, an entire small town lucky enough to fit under one roof. The ceiling stretched to the heavens, but the balconies aspired toward ground level—so low that their first rows (where I once sat with the choir) were even closer to the rabbis than seats way up front, down below. We all seemed to meet somewhere around the Ark that was situated right between both levels.
The following morning, as in past years, I got up at the crack of dawn to warm up—but soon discovered that I was pretty warm already. Ever since this moment two years ago, my voice has been different—more pliable, easier to navigate between chest and head—I don't know exactly how or why, and part of me keeps waiting for it to change back into that old, tense kind of voice. But so far so good. I sang, dozed, sang some more, and then walked ten blocks (instead of three miles, what a relief). I wanted to run, actually. I couldn't wait to get there and begin the adventure once again.
I slipped under the right side of the stage and waited on the Laura Ashley sofa as people rushed around and complained about the sound (a bit muffled the night before, and those in the back couldn't hear at all). The audio guy swore he fixed the problem, but no one else was sure. Since I would be standing at the far left of the bima and the sitting room was under stage right stairs, I had to lead the way upstairs. We hugged and wished each Shanah Tovah, and I headed down a little hallway—which turned a corner to another hallway. For a second I thought I went the wrong way and we'd have to wander below the bima for 40 more seconds, minutes, or years—but then I saw the stairway, and the light of the sanctuary above it. We climbed up the carefully engineered platform and, in front of a gathering crowd, took our places right below the Ark.