A foot (or feet!) in the door!

Last Thursday evening the rabbi from B'Vat Ayin called and asked me to be both rabbi and cantor for services THE NEXT NIGHT! "Of course!" I said...then went to work again. Put it together, with melodies I thought they would know, and wrote out the Hebrew for "we continue together" and "please rise" and "please be seated" and "continue in silence" etc. Read the Torah portion for Shabbat Sukkot in Hebrew and English, made some notes in English for a sermon of sorts (my d'vrei Torahs are always short, and sometimes pithy!) Got my stuff together, and went to Rosh HaAyin.

A very small but enthusiastic group finally arrived, and we had a lovely hour together. Everything went smoothly except for "Yedid Nefesh" for which I have learned the Israeli tune and I have heard it in all the services I have attended here. Well almost every service, because I started it, and nobody there knew it!! And it was a singing crowd. So we used the tune I always have used, but things fell apart because in the states we only ever did the first verse--of, like, six! So it fizzled, and we all laughed, and went on. Everything else was nice, and I felt pretty good and again, not particularly nervous.

So gig number 2! Again, once I have the tax stuff worked out, I'll get paid. A HUGE advantage to last minute gigs is that there is no time to worry about it!

And then yesterday Beit Daniel asked me to be the cantor on October 12. I meet with the senior rabbi on Sunday to plan the service.

Throughout the year it took me to get here, I kept saying that I thought there is a place for me here, in Israel, to show the people that there is another way to be Jewish, that there is an alternative to "Orthodox or nothing." But the voice in my head invariably said, "oh, you are SO full of s--t!"

Now I think that voice was wrong. (Hooray!!)

On to Yom Kippur

So four (4!) days before Yom Kippur, I got a phone call from a rabbi of a congregation in the seaside city of Netanya. Their guest cantor had just cancelled, and the rabbi from Beit Daniel (in Tel Aviv, where I have been interviewing) had recommended that they talk to me. Of course I said yes, and we met the next day with the man who would be doing the reading parts of the services.

A word to you who aren't familiar with Yom Kippur--it is a 25-hour fast, with no food or water. Services begin the evening before, with Kol Nidre, a prayer sung by the cantor on behalf of all of the people in the congregation about vows undertaken but not completed. Here in Israel, the text covers last year and the next. (So the text is different from that in the Reform prayerbook in the US. More on this later!)

The next day continues with a 5-hour set of services in the morning, then more in the afternoon, continuing until the sun sets. A lot of liturgy, a lot of singing. You have to know a LOT. ( I know SOME.)

We spent 5 hours going through the liturgy, in a typically Israeli meeting. I am my serious, focusing, not-quite-panicked self. They were taking turns talking on their phones, making jokes, singing songs I don't know, talking about past services, and what the guest cantor was supposed to do, and leaving the room and coming back. I had to use my yoga breathing to stay calm.

I spent the next 3 days trying to fit what I know into what was needed. Nearly all of the texts were different from the music I had. Much of the music I had wouldn't work with the text or a capella, or with a Hebrew speaking congregation. In the end, I wrote out a lot of texts and simply made up chants to go with them. "Improvising" is what I called it! Cantor Jack Chomsky from Columbus scanned and emailed me the music for a special text for the Musaf service, from two different transcriptions. I knew the beginning of one, and fortunately, the text in the service here is about half of what it is in the Conservative books in the US, so that's the one I picked. Though I plan to learn the other one, too, for effect! (Thanks, Jack!)

It is against the law to drive for the 25 hours of the fast, so I had to get there early, before they closed all the roads. They found an elderly widow (originally from Argentina, 25 years here) who graciously let me stay with her. What a sweetie! She and I spoke a combination of Hebrew, Spanish and English, and were friends by the evening. She is not religious, and was very worried about my being offended that she was eating and not going to synagogue--of course, I was not, and we were very comfortable together.

In the evening, I dressed in white (but not the dressy-with-stockings I used to wear!) and put on my 10-year-old canvas shoes, and carrying my music stand, walked to the synagogue. I worried a bit about walking home by myself (more about this in a minute.) Then we did the Kol Nidre service, and what I knew, I did, and when I didn't know what to do, I sat, serenely in silence. (Something I have learned to do here!)

When I came out, all of Netanya (in fact, all over the country) was out in the streets! With bikes, scooters, blades, wheelchairs, and on foot--old, young--like a street fair, but without vendors. Just everyone out in the soft night together. Like nothing I have ever experienced!

So I slept peacefully, and got up the next day to do it again!

This was a long day, very different from what I knew before, but amazing fun! As I said, a lot of the words were different, and I have a lot to learn for next year. And I found I wasn't particularly nervous (all those years of chariot racing on the bima at TBS--you know, where every horse has its own reins, and the driver has to control them all) gave me a patience for mistakes, and a pretty good poker face! The reader made mistakes, I made mistakes, we stepped on each other's parts sometimes, and once, I started a song and the congregation took it to another place, but they all knew I was new here and when I was at my best, I was pretty good.

And all that said, even with all I didn't know and the fact that the guy leading the services and I had 5 hours to plan them, it was very successful. And I received the 2 compliments I like best: "I ordinarily don't like a woman's voice doing the traditional prayers, but YOU sound like a CANTOR!" and "You took our prayers to heaven"--and afterwards the family who are notorious for NOT liking anything in the services invited me to break the fast at their home, with their family, where they went on and on about it!

And the rabbi of the synagogue will tell other rabbis, including the one from Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv, who recommended me, and I will work here. And learn what I need to learn. And teach what they need to learn. And make the mark I am on earth to make.

The next evening at Galron rehearsal, my friend Gila told me she sent her nephew's family to the services to hear me, and that after, one of them said that it felt like my voice was "the voice of God"--higher compliment I don't think there is!

So I get my check next week (after I go to the income tax office and get a form that exempts me from paying tax on this income, and register as a freelance worker. The good news is that I know where the office is, and what I need to ask for!)

Random Rosh HaShanah Musings

So instead of waiting and writing a grand masterpiece (as I have been doing, sadly only in my head!) I'll share several posts of topical natures!

Rosh HaShanah here was fascinating--I was not working, but had three days' worth of interesting experiences. Everywhere I went, people were wishing me a happy new year "Shanah Tovah!" It was unreal. The guy who checks your trunk before you can go into the underground parking at the Kfar Saba mall greeted me with a paragraph of blessings for health and wealth and peace. You can't imagine how it makes you feel.

Here, the new year is becoming all about presents--remind you of something? All of the ads on radio are about matanot--gifts, gifts, gifts! And since I was invited to many peoples' homes for the holiday, I was out there with everyone else! And of course, money spent on other people doesn't count, right?! But I also found myself out "spreading sweetness and light" to quote P. G. Wodehouse. Called nearly everyone on my address list, stopped in to hair dresser, the baker who makes the most delicious pitas, and the adorable young woman who sold me my car (the little jar of honey in the picture was from her.) It required only thought and time--and what pleasure it gave. So I have Learned Something.

On Erev Rosh HaShanah (the evening before the first day) I went to Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu as the guest of Shoshana and Arye Shalmon (Arye is a Galron bass.) We drank apple tea and ate honey cake, while Arye and I decided what to sing together (we did "Bo V'Shalom"--he sang the verses while I "doodled" a harmony, then we sang the choruses together.) After a while the family gathered, we all talked for a while (I doing a fair amount of Hebrew!) and the grandkids opened their new year presents of new socks and underwear! A fun tradition, and they have really cute socks here!

Then we all walked to the kibbutz dining hall, which was beautifully decorated for the new year. Long tables with bread and honey and fish appetizers (gefilte and spicy Moroccan fish.) Around 250 people gathered, lots of kids and multiple generations. Lots of talk and noise, and people having a great time. We ate wonderful salads, then it was showtime!

There were kids that read about the new year with a grandpa, and a 5-year old dressed as a princess who was the new year and tossed flowers everywhere. Then songs, and a description of the new year symbols, arranged on a round plate like those used for Passover seder.

Then I was introduced, and I sang something, then Arye and I did our piece. And through all of it the kids were running around and about half of the people were listening--and it felt like working the family Erev Rosh HaShanah service at Temple Beth Shalom!

So I was comfortable, and we sat down and ate, and ate! Wonderful food, and talk. And I ran into a woman from Zimbabwe with whom I was in the Hebrew language ulpan when I first got here! Small world...

Then the next day I went to the Orthodox services with my teacher from the ulpan--and heard the Shofar from behind the mechitza (a sort of barrier to separate the men and women.) But mostly during the service she and I chatted, and I helped her figure out where we were in the service.

Later that day I had a meal with South African friends, Janine and Danny Gelley. I have been to their home so many times that I know the family and friends--very pleasant! Aliza Regev was there, too, and Janine made us sing there, too!

Finally on Friday I had a lovely meal at Ronit and Razy Goldberg's house, with Razy's brother and his family. It was a comfortable way to celebrate the second day of Rosh HaShanah.

Meanwhile all week I could hear Shofar practicing from my apartment balcony!