Five more glimpses of Kallah
July 05, 2013
Lake; Fourth of July.
The Fourth of July. I choose the morning service which is described as "You've heard of downward dog? This is Upward God! Bring your inner Mahalia Jackson." It's led by two dear friends of mine, Rabbi Jan Salzman and Rabbi Mark Novak. Both have wonderful voices and shining neshamot / souls.
Reb Jan begins by humming America the Beautiful, and we pick up the humming along with her. Once we've hummed it through once or twice, Reb Mark speaks over the top, beginning "I have a dream..." He quotes Isaiah: the rough places will be made plain, the crooked, straight. He describes the prophet's dream of messianic reality, and speaks aloud his prayer that this should be the nation we build together.
And then we begin our morning service by singing "Adon Olam" to that same tune. And my heart opens right up: to God, to my hopes for this country, to this community, to the people sitting in this circle and singing with all their hearts, to purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.
One of my students comes up to me and tells me that he's been talking with his eleven-year-old son about writing psalms, and that his son totally "gets" it, and that his son wants to write psalms now too. He tells me that he and his wife have brought their sons to Kallah (or to Ruach ha-Aretz, ALEPH's summer program during even-numbered years) since they were six, and that his kids love it here.
It is such a delight to hear that my student is loving my class -- to hear that he's talking about it with his kids -- to hear that his kids are into it, too -- to hear that his young son understands immediately that he, too, can be a modern-day psalmist and can speak the words of his heart to God. To think of a little boy growing up with annual dips into this precious co-created Brigadoon where we learn and sing, play and pray, in conscious community.
That afternoon we work on psalms of "negative" emotions -- sorrow, grief, loss -- and my students really go there with me. It's a deep class and a powerful one. I am humbled by their participation and their trust. Grateful to be here with them.
I walk down to my apartment, change into my swimsuit, tie my room key around my neck, and walk across the street and down the road to the lake. The sky is blue, the trees are green, the water is steeped the color of dark tea from the tannins of countless pine needles.
I slip off my sandals and walk slowly into the water, feeling my way on the unfamiliar sandy bottom. The water is cool, the sun is bright, the voices of people talking and laughing surround me. People are gliding across the lake lazily on bright red kayaks which draw the eye. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and submerge for a moment. When I come up, the voices and the laughter are even sweeter than they were before. A kind of precognitive echo, a ripple, of the mikveh immersion to come on Friday afternoon.
On my way back to my apartment, I find a duck feather, gleaming at me in the grass. I bring the duck feather to Rabbi Kevin Hale, "the barefoot sofer," who is teaching a class on sofrut and Torah repair this week. My intention is to ask whether he needs more quills for his students. But he has a great big pile of goose and turkey feathers, and my little duck feather is not needed. To my surprise, he says instead, "would you like me to cut it for you?" And then he offers me a tiny vial of ink and a scrap of klaf -- a bit of marginal parchment from a 100-year-old Torah.
I am unaccountably moved. To my sorrow, the piece of parchment disappears sometime during my psalms class -- there was too much commotion in the room, and it must have floated away on the wind -- but I carefully carry the ink and quill to a safe place. I don't know that I will ever learn sofrut, but in even trying to use the tools of that trade, I feel closer to every beautiful handwritten letter of every Torah, everywhere.
Banners in the tent, before anyone arrived to daven and drum.
Friday morning I decide to try the drumming davenen. We're in the tent, translucent yud / heh / vav / heh banners glimmering in the sunshine. Together, Rabbi Ilan Glazer and Akiva the Believer lead us in a morning service with drums. This isn't a drum circle; it's a service, and our davenen follows the traditional mat'beah tefilah, the order of prayer. We will touch on each of the liturgical touchpoints of the different prayers, accompanied by drumming.
When I arrive, my intention is to daven but not to drum. But as the davenen gets going, and I see that there are a few unclaimed drums in the circle, on impulse I get up and grab one. When and where else am I going to try this?
It feels great. I love being part of the music we're all co-creating as we pray. And I'm not as inept as I thought I would be; maybe I've absorbed a few rhythm patterns from twenty years of life with Ethan! As we drum and pray and sing, people get up and dance through the psalms. For our silent amidah we enter into a simple eighth-note beat. First one drummer alone, then two, and then one by one we all take it up. We sustain it for ten minutes. I close my eyes. Are we playing the beat, or is the beat playing us?
After the service, my left arm is striped from my tefillin and my right hand reverberates from the drumming. Marks on my body, sealing and recalling the experience of heart, mind, and soul.