Leading Sunday morning prayer with a dear friend. (Gift #5.)
One of the blessings of my Shabbat morning was davening with Hazzan George Mordecai. He has a beautiful voice, of course. Also a beautiful presence. And he frequently brings melodies I've never heard before. Sometimes this is because his knowledge is so wide and deep; his heritage is Iraqi, Turkish, and Indian, and he taps deep into Jewish melodic traditions which I don't know well.
And other times it's because he's written the melodies himself -- as with the setting of "Hallelu avdei Adonai," which I was blessed to hear him lead in March, and which he brought again this weekend. But even when he's leading melodies no one in the room knows, somehow he gets us all singing along within minutes. And oh, how his "Hallelu avdei Adonai" goes right to my heart and fills me with joy.
I spent our menucha (rest) time on Shabbat afternoon sitting on the floor of a college dorm room with a guitar and a pair of prayerbooks and two friends, planning melodies for afternoon services and for morning services to follow. It was like a sweet little glimpse back into rabbinic school! And then I got to attend the Shabbat mincha services led by those two dear friends, and sing with them, and beam.
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg spoke about mincha as the hour of redemption and the time of greatest sweetness. And he spoke about living in a time when God is hidden, and how paradoxically that means that God is all the more present with us. God's transcendence may have withdrawn; we no longer live in an era of overt miracles. But we live in a time when Shekhinah, divine Presence, is everywhere.
At se'udah shlishit, the "third meal" of Shabbat, my beloved friend and teacher Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg offered a vort, a word of teaching. He spoke about the powerful blend of fulfillment and yearning which characterizes that hour of Shabbat -- especially when we are together in community like this. We have moved so deeply into this "foretaste of the world to come," and we know it is about to wane.
One piece of his teaching which made me swoon was the image that when this community comes together for Shabbat in this way, together we are like a Tibetan singing bowl. We become a musical instrument together, an instrument of song and praise. Our hearts and souls resonate in harmony. He said that and I thought: yes. Yes. We are. And even after we go home, the music still reverberates.
Saturday after dinner, I sat on the floor in a packed room and listened to Rodger Kamenetz speak about dream work -- not only what's in his book The History of Last Night's Dream, but also the way he's working with (and his students are working with) dreams now. He spoke about life lived on the horizontal plane and how dreams can operate on the vertical plane, taking us deep -- or lifting us high.
And then someone in the room volunteered to share a dream, within the safe space of our coming-together, and Rodger worked with that person and with the dream. And even though I wasn't the person whose dream was being explored, I came away with deeper insights into my own dreams.
One of the sweet surprises of my weekend was that I got to lead Sunday morning davenen (prayer)! My friend Rabbi Aura Ahuvia led with me. The building in which we were supposed to meet turned out to be locked, but that wound up being a blessing; instead we sat in a rough circle outdoors on a patio instead, and davened along with birdsong and crickets. It is delicious to daven in the open air.
We began the morning with some gentle and melancholy melodies. Saturday was 17 Tammuz, when we remember the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem so long ago, but because it fell on Shabbat, this year that remembrance took place on Sunday. We sang the last line of Psalm 150 to "By the Waters of Babylon" and as our voices interwove I thought of the broken walls, the broken places, in our hearts.
And by the end of our davenen we had shifted mood. I said a few words about how I've come to think that the way to deal with the brokenness in the world and in our lives is to seek to find God's presence in the experience of what's broken. (As that great sage Leonard Cohen wrote, "There is a crack in everything -- that's how the light gets in.") We closed with sweet and heartfelt song.
I love leading davenen for a room (or, in this case, a patio) full of people who are dear to me and to whom the words of the prayers mean as much as they do to me.
At the Sunday "Living the Legacy" event which served as the culmination for the weekend, we heard from several of those who were on that historic trip to Dharamsala, and from other luminaries as well. Of course, Rodger spoke beautifully. I was so immersed in listening that I failed to take a single note! And he showed a video clip from Dharamsala, including a few moments which weren't in the film.
Rabbi Moshe Waldoks pointed out that adopting techniques -- acculturating, not assimilating -- has always been part of our tradition. We can take the best of what's outside to help us strengthen inside. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg said that this moment in time is either an age of tikkun olam (repairing the world) or chorban olam (destroying the world) -- and the choice is up to us.
Alaa Murad said that we can cherish our differences, even feel pride in those differences, and still be able to learn with and value each other. My friend and teacher Rabbi Shaya Isenberg, who moderated the discussion (and who taught the first ALEPH class I ever took, which was on deep ecumenism) spoke about dialogue and spirituality, saying, "I can learn from you without becoming you."
Rabbi Leah Novick taught that we don't need to lose our specificity when we come together. She said, "Learning from other traditions has made me a better Jew and a better rabbi." Dr. Rachael Wooten urged us, "Know your teachings deeply enough to use them in service of what you believe in." She said, "go deeper into what you already do." She said, "The real work is inner work."
Right on the heels of "Getting It... Together," we began a two-day ALEPH Board meeting. The first thing we did, upon gathering around the table, was sing a blessing for the dinner we had just eaten. Then Rabbi Shohama Wiener, who acts as Rosh Hashpa'ah (head of spiritual direction) for our Board, offered an opening blessing and niggun and we sang more. Oh, impromptu ten-part harmonies!
And then we went around the table and spoke a few words about how each of us is. The dear friend who was sitting beside me said that being here with our hevre -- the singing, the davenen, the love of Torah, the companionship -- fills her up. When it was my turn, I said, "I feel exactly the same way." What a gift it is to be able to serve, as co-chair, this community of which I am so blessed to be a part.