Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Holidays Past and Present

After 5 years at Temple Micah, I feel so totally entwined with the congregation, the choir, and just about every aspect of this place. I know that I make a contribution to the services through singing in the choir. It’s good to finally feel a real sense of purpose and belonging.

I found myself contrasting this year’s Rosh Hashanah experience with my first experience just about 30 years ago. We attended services at Washington Hebrew Congregation, a really upscale Reform temple, not at all like Temple Micah. The array of expensive fall suits was like an ad for Nordstroms or Saks. Not knowing a word of Hebrew at this point in my life, the only thing I could possibly identify with was the music. Unfortunately the congregants used every musical interlude as an excuse to talk to each other. I became so annoyed that I wrote a letter to Rabbi Haberman, which he actually read at the Yom Kippur service and which did absolutely no good whatsoever. I never seemed to know where we were in the service or when it was going to be over. I didn’t even realize that the congregation were all reading the prayers in Hebrew, thinking that they must all have memorized them. I was certainly not prepared for religious ritual which was so foreign to me. I distinctly remember suggesting to David that we write our own words instead of following a prescribed service that someone else had designed. I had this idyllic picture of us reading our own sentiments to each other under a willow tree by the river while our children played nearby.

When our children were young, we moved our membership to a temple closer to our home in Virginia. I tried several times to become part of the fledgling volunteer choirs that inevitably failed because they had no support from those in charge. Having sung in choirs all my life before becoming a Jew, I found myself really missing religious music. Temple Beth El’s approach to the High Holiday music was to hire a quartet of non-Jewish soloists to support their non-Jewish cantorial soloist. There was not room for me in this musical picture.

After our children had their b’nai mitzvot and swore off religion all together, we decided to look for a congregation that was more than just a convenience. From the first time we visited Micah, it was clear that music was a priority and that people were welcoming and intellectually stimulating. We just wished we had made the move many years earlier, instead of wandering in a religious desert. Perhaps our children would have a very different view of their religious heritage had they attended Temple Micah’s religious school.

We joined just prior to the High Holidays in 2000. I found the notebooks of music to be daunting. There is just not enough time to completely prepare a new choir member for the many pieces of music that comprise the various services. I practiced on my own like crazy so as not to be too ill-prepared. Teddy was encouraging and the choir members were supportive and it was fine. I was hooked after that. The regular music was almost a let-down after the difficulty of some of the High Holiday music.

Every year since then has become easier. I sympathize with new choir members and always try to reassure them that we all started at the same place.

I chanted Torah and Haftarah for the first time this year. I was so excited recently when Lynn suggested that we share a service next summer and learn another portion together. The musical possibilities and just the chance to grow in this religious are endless at Micah. What a community!

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