Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Sounds of Shabbat

on September 7, 2014

Shabbat began with the sounds of the shofar, tekiahhh… Long and wailing, then short, piercing, and urgent. The notes wavered and flickered as we lit the candles and ushered in a Shabbat that was soon to be full of sound.

I realized I had picked the best seat for davening as soon as the first prayer began. I sat surrounded by men who could harmonize. And, my goodness, there’s nothing more intimate. The words of the prayers are all wrapped up in a beautiful melody, and then someone adds an extra layer. Picture a wool sweater, all knit together by threads- these threads are Hebrew words that form the whole prayer. The harmonizing voices form a layer of fuzz, the way you can see the little fuzzies of a sweater standing out like frizzy hair. A frizzy golden glow to our evening prayer.

At dinner, Chai Notes provided musical accompaniment to the sounds of 100 people enjoying delightful food and company. Even though our group had greatly diminished and our repertoire was small,  we sang quietly, our light voices filled with both vital energy and calm serenity. Our small size created not only precision, but an joyous reverberation that can only be found between those who are both good friends and good musicians.

The last notes of Matisyahu’s One Day had only just dissipated when Birkat began. I’d never heard 40 people sing Birkat at the top of their voices until Friday night, and I can assure you there’s nothing like it. The same harmonies that had woven themselves into the service now squirmed their way back into the after-dinner songs and split the seams of everything I had ever heard before. My mind could not grasp how vibrant the whole room sounded. The very walls were pounding.

The sun preserved some of this thrumming intensity, beating down on us the next morning as we walked to services. Sweat dripped from our foreheads as vowels dripped from our mouths. We paused only to wipe one melody from our lips before the next one could spill over and begin anew. Broadway tunes melted into humid air that had already soaked  in notes from Jewish a cappella tunes and pop songs. Our voices were as soupy and strong as the air we breathed and provided us with the sustenance we needed to walk 3 miles to shul and back. The spring in our step was matched only by our boisterous voices. Singing, singing, singing. You couldn’t stop us if you tried (and trust me, when we all started singing songs from Avenue Q, Rabbi Dave tried).

The cool hum of the air-conditioned synagogue muted our joyful whoops and sobered us all up a bit. As the rabbi delivered his sermon, his solemn words stacked up like a brick wall around my ears. He lifted the weighty words from his mind with much effort. Slavery. Child labor. Immigration. Ancient Egypt. Oppression. When he urged us to think of donating, raising awareness, and being conscious consumers, I knew our compassionate efforts could help erode a wall built on thousands of years of hate.

I decided to break down some of my own walls and head to the local chabad house for lunch. I’d never experienced the Orthodox community first hand, and I figured it was about time. I arrived still slightly skeptical, and the screeching voices of children greeted me as soon as I opened the door. I developed an immediate affection for them, these youngsters ranging in the ages of 2 to about 8. And it was the voices of children and their rabbinical father that carried me through the meal. Little Sholom delivering his d’var Torah first in Yiddish and then in English. Rachel asking politely for the brownies and Rivka screaming for them. Mendel’s serious, excitable voice that asked questions and told us about all the wonders of being oldest of 6- he beamed when I told him I was the oldest of 5. All of the children banged on the table as their father preached or sang with gusto. While I was unaccustomed to some rules (the rabbi’s aversion to shaking my hand) and uncomfortable with some of the questions (what is your last name?), I found the entire family very warm and welcoming. I left Rivka giggling in the front lawn as she tried to follow me back to campus. Orthodoxy often echoes of the past, but I heard only the sounds of new life and vitality in that house. And it made me very happy.

This Shabbat was restful, musical, and rejuvenating. How else can I describe it? I hope to have many more as wonderful as this. As we enter into a new week, I wish you all peace and happiness. Shavua tov.


4 responses to “Sounds of Shabbat

  1. Rivki Silver says:

    Ah, I love a musical Friday night service. There was a shul in Israel I sometimes went to that did a Carlebach davening. So moving! Thanks for the window into your Friday night. 🙂

  2. Scott Sewell says:

    Love the post Jen…music really is such a gift to be part of. The music and songs at my shul stay with me daily…sometimes when we sing the Shema I tear up…its so moving. your blog thanks for posting sis!

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