Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

You Know Better Than I

A humbling prayer and a much needed reminder (the lyrics are everything).

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Pavane For a Bullet-proof Soul

Sometimes, the very thing that’s about to send you over the edge is the same thing that keeps you from jumping.

Mashup of two pieces, Pavane and Titanium.

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HHD Meditation #4

Today when I had a short break, I went back to my room and literally meditated. I laid facedown on my bed and thought about nothing. And just was. Wasn’t asleep. More like daydreaming where the occasional picture would flit across my mind, but no conscious thoughts.

Then I returned to being aware of time, wondered how long I had been there, and got up. It was so nice and so rare for me to take half an hour and not think about anything because I am definitely the over-thinking type. Always. Before I took a break, I felt really dead inside. Overwhelmed, overworked, and unhappy. Now I feel peacefully content and ready to keep chugging along.

So, I don’t have much to say today. I don’t want words to clutter up the open space that I feel inside. Instead, here’s a song I found afterwards that brought me to tears, and I still don’t know why. Childhood nostalgia, the poignancy of Joseph seeing his mother for the last time, the simple melody. Something touching.

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Sounds of Shabbat

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.


Chai Notes Spring Concert

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but part of the reason for that is due to some technological battles.


The video of my group’s spring concert!

For those of you who don’t know, I am the musical director and President of Hofstra Hillel’s Jewish a cappella group, Chai Notes. We sing Jewish and pop music, and we provide community service as well as perform at campus events. The group was founded four years ago and has grown beautifully since then. I absolutely love the girls, the music, and the wonderful difference that we make in the world. This is our first ever concert (recorded by the Hofstra AV department).


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Planted From A Seed

When I was 14, I started the Teen Choir at my church. There was a kid’s choir (2nd-7th grade), an adult choir (more of a senior citizen choir if you ask me), and a youth band, which featured a collection of brass, strings, guitars, and a guy on set that we called King Nebuchadnezzar for his role in a local neighborhood play. They only played at one mass each year, graduation mass, in which a handful high school soon-to-be grads would sit in the front row in their robes, bring up the gifts, and exit the sanctuary to a rallying chorus of “Go Make a Difference.”

So, there was never really a place for teens who wanted to sing. And when I’m frustrated about something, I let someone know and I do something about it, if it’s important enough to me. Which is why an ad appeared in the bulletin and I was sitting a few weeks later in the basement of the Catholic school with a box of pizza and one quiet, punk-ish, emo-ish girl. She turned out to be one of my best friends and a lovely singer, and the very first teen choir started as two singers and my mom on piano. By the time I graduated high school, it had grown to about five singers and a flutist, with my mom still on piano.

Just last night, I heard them rehearsing for the first time since I’ve been home from college. The sounds of saxophones, voices, flutes, and cellos drifted up the stairs to my room. I smiled at all the different textures and sounds. How wonderful for something that started so small to grow into something mighty.

Liturgical music, to me, has always been set apart from other forms of music making. It doesn’t really matter about the skill level of the performers or who sings more solos or who looks better. It’s about glorifying God and making beautiful music that will inspire people to sing along with your praises, bringing them closer to God though song. For me, there’s no greater purpose than that. Teaching that to teens gives them the opportunity to use their musical talents in a way that transforms them and their music into something more meaningful than just notes on a page or words of prayer.

As the director of the kids’ choir always said, singing is like praying twice: once for the words and once for the song. A prayer, a song, a single voice is only a seed. My teen choir, small and quiet, started almost afraid to bloom. Purpose, music, and the congregation encouraged growth, and with time, blossoming. Watching others nurture this group with care assures me that it will continue to flourish, allowing the music to take root here and reach out to the heavens, creating a connection to something greater than ourselves.

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Just a little something fun. I described this video to my friend as equal parts impressive and humorous.

My first reaction was something along the lines of “Whoaaaa-hahahahahahahawhoa.” Definitely impressed with the talent and the high level of cuteness.



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