Sunday, September 19, 2010

950. High Holy Days 5771, part 3

I hope everyone had an easy fast. I did; just a little thirsty, and not hungry at all. (Although my stomach did begin to rumble in the morning during Sh'ma Koleinu, which I hope the microphone did not pick up.) I'm sure my relative comfort was due in part to the three large meals I had the day before, and also because I was simply too focused to want to stop and eat. I know all the halakhic reasons for fasting, and they make perfect sense, but I think I finally, truly understand why we do it. Meals, even when experienced alone, are social events. You're ether with and talking to people, contemplating them, or buried in a magazine, fork in the other hand, reading about how much better other people's meals are than yours. Rarely is eating a thoroughly solitary experience during which one ponders future life and death, as is our task on Yom Kippur. (If we had to think about those things at meals, we'd probably lose our appetites.) Community surrounds us like a cocoon on Yom Kippur to create a safe space in which we can experience the deepest, most intensely private prayer--much less likely to happen if we had to keep interrupting ourselves to eat, especially in the usual, social way. There's also the convenient side benefit of hunger, lightheadedness and the altered state of feeling empty mentally as well as physically--all the better to allow prayer to flow unimpeded.

Whatever the reason, I did have a tzom kal [easy fast], and a few of those scary but good naked moments: God, I've run out of words to enumerate how I've screwed up. Please just extract them from me. I know it's painful surgery without anesthesia. That's OK.

I don't have much to write about singing this Yom Kippur. There were neither catastrophes nor unintended drama (aside from a few minutes at the beginning of Shaharit at Big, Fancy, New Theater when I couldn't hear the musicians, who were playing a little too sensitively for the world-class sound system to pick up. After some dueling key signatures between bimah and band, they turned up the volume and all was well.) I tried to wring out every bit of myself, and also remembered to breathe. I felt like I was having a conversation with all the people I couldn't join for dinner, a thousand friends in the same boat. It was a two-sided dialogue even though I was way up front, their presence the most comforting thing in the world, and the answer I was looking for. Later that the day at Minha at the Usual Church, I quickly realized I wouldn't use up my remaining energy; great stores of fumes remained even after the fuel tank reached "E". But I tried.

I spent the entire Yom Kippur with the same rabbi, which is unusual (because I was switched to Big, Fancy theater at the last minute for Shaharit. Although a million other reasons could be at play, I think it's because someone was suddenly unable to chant half the haftarah, so I was asked to fill in. Which was also fun—although there sure are a lot of words to fit into the melody in that last paragraph of Yom Kippur-specific blessings.) It was nice to have the privilege of standing at this rabbi's side throughout, her continued presence welcome stability, because I hit the jackpot this year—four services over the Yamim Nora'im at four different locations. Usually I get to lead in one location more than once—not this time, although I felt equally at home everywhere, having logged lots of prayer in each place. I was reminded that Judaism is a religion of time, not space—with the right intention, anywhere can be holy. This year the entire Upper West Side (and a little below) was my synagogue, its walls defined by the crowds on Broadway, oblivious to the holiday but still sharing it with me as I walked home after Kol Nidre on Friday night, as well as the tall stained glass windows of the sanctuary where we usually pray, hiding the outside world but letting in just enough light so that we couldn't forget it, either.


Laura said...

yasher koach!

alto artist said...

Thank you!


George said...

Glad you had a good Yom Kippur! I also had an easy fast, but I have often felt that wishing somebody an easy fast is not the right thing to do. There is a growing trend in Israel to wish people a "tsom mo'il", which is probably best translated as an "effective/useful/efficacious fast", one which achieves what it was meant to.

alto artist said...

I have never heard that phrase before--that is really, really smart. I will use it next year and try to start a trend!