(Continued from here.)
(Update on the fire: What a strange week this was. I felt like I was living in a fog, biding time until a catastrophe befell me, too. The loud hum of industrial-strength air filters working 24/7 outside my door didn't help, either. But on Thursday, when I realized Shabbat was only a day away and I needed to clean up and get ready, I straightened up the mess both in these rooms and in my head, said another prayer of thanks, and resumed being myself.)
Back to the first day of Rosh Hashanah:
It was strange, at first, to be in front of everyone in an unfamiliar place and immediately have to pray out loud. I'd always had a chance to stand for a minute or two on the stage or bima a few days before I led at other locations; when I finally opened my mouth I knew, sort of, what it might feel like. Not this time. But after a few minutes I realized that the audio guys had done their job, and we were loud—probably very loud. There wasn't a monitor, but I could hear an echo bouncing off the walls, like a polite reply from the chandelier: yes, you're up here. And the view from the bima wasn't much different than what I saw years ago from the low first row of the balcony: a restless quilt of seats and people punctuated by the occasional white column and gold balustrade, Jesus and Mary of the Back Window demurely obscured by a diaphanous opaque white cloth upon which were embroidered 20-foot-high Hebrew letters for the word mizrah (east).
We began to sing and pray, and it felt like home. I couldn't hear the congregation but saw their mouths moving, enough to assure me that we were all in this together. I stood next to not just one, but two rabbis; I was the final link in a chain of electricity, energy magnifying and multiplying as it traveled to my side of the bima.
We reached the repetition of the Amidah, and I called each of the patriarchs and matriarchs by name. As is customary in my congregation, we linger a bit on Ya'akov and Leah, as if to say: you may be last on the list, but not in our hearts. I tried to picture them as I prayed, imagining gentle, dark-haired people serving flat bread in low houses alongside the desert. We smiled at one another; I could almost hear them singing back to me.
(To be continued.)