There's really nothing like the experience of praying with a room full of people who I know and love (and who know and love me), all of whom know and love the liturgy, all of whom offer prayers with song and joy. This is one of the things which is most revitalizing to me about spending time with my ALEPH community.
Shabbat morning services at the pre-Ohalah Shabbaton this year were amazing. Everyone on the bimah was a dear friend of mine, which meant I felt an outpouring of warmth (in both directions: from me to them, from them to me) the moment I walked in the room. Two of my friends led an extraordinary psukei d'zimrah (the opening section of the service -- psalms and poems of praise), which featured chant and song and the tiniest tastes of silence to help the prayers reverberate within us.
I knew we were in good hands from moment one, so I was able to relax into the prayer experience right away. The music was so good -- and the prayers so heartfelt and fervent -- that I was honestly transported. After the first psalm or two, David leaned over to me and whispered "welcome home." And yeah: that's very much how this feels. Returning to a kind of portable home, constructed every time we gather, made from prayer and from song. And there was nothing else tugging at us, nothing else we were supposed to be doing or remembering or thinking about. It felt as though our only purpose, that morning, was to come together and sing praises. Which is what Shabbat is supposed to be, though it isn't always.
Singing the Iraqi setting for "Hallelu Avdei Adonai" (which you can hear recorded by Richard Kaplan and Michael Zielger if you're so inclined) was particularly sweet for me. There was good hand-drumming, and the community picked up the refrain easily and sang it with fervor. As the melody skated higher and higher I found myself teary with joy. "Offer praises, you servants of the Most High" -- it's amazing to pray those words when everyone in the room understands themselves to be such a servant. Rabbis, rabbinic pastors, cantors, spiritual directors: we've all dedicated ourselves to serving God and serving our community. We sang our hearts out. It was grand.
I could have been content to stop there, with just p'sukei d'zimrah and shacharit (the first two parts of the service) -- but of course there was more! And the Torah service was fantastic too. Another of my friends led us through that service, singing the words and melodies of bringing forth Torah in a way which made clear how much those words meant to her and to all of us. And still another of my friends gave the dvar Torah -- and in so doing, brought the room to a kind of charged anticipatory silence, as one might experience at a really good poetry reading or a really powerful wedding. We hung on his words and they opened up Torah for us in new ways.
From the very first wordless niggun at the start of the morning, to the closing Adon Olam at the end of the morning, we were awash in harmony and praise. It was pretty awesome, in the original sense of that word. I am so grateful.