Ruth Messinger on tikkun olam at OHALAH 2015


1. Thursday


It is difficult to describe the experience of entering into Reb Zalman (z"l)'s prayer room. Parting the curtains, entering a little cave filled with prayer books and holy items and meaningful photographs. Sitting in one of the chairs facing his empty seat. Gazing at the items on the table -- the small keyboard, the little velvet pouch -- and feeling as though I had entered into a still life painting. Or as though I were in Pompeii, some vital and vibrant place where everything just stopped. Nothing has been moved. It feels as though he could have just been here, as though I just missed him. The room vibrates. The moment I sit down in the chair I burst into tears, so sudden and intense that I am surprised by their presence. I think: this is how a place becomes holy -- when someone sits here and prays, day after day after day; when visitors come seeking teaching and counsel, year after year; when hope and heart and tears and love are poured into a place so intensely that they leave an imprint.


2. Friday


It is difficult to describe the joy of leading davenen with a dear friend. Leading a community of a couple dozen ALEPH board members, all of whom we know well, all of whose voices are dear to us, all of whom know the flow of the prayers as intimately as we do. Beginning with the "Cowboy Modah Ani" (which has never felt so perfectly appropriate as it it does in Colorado.) Starting R' Hanna Tiferet's "Ashrei" round, and having everyone in the room not only sing along but also spontaneously take up the round, as R' Shefa Gold drums. Invoking (and imitating) the angelic choirs while singing "Holy, holy, holy." (Soon-to-be) Rabbi Evan Krame singing the Mi Chamocha prayer of redemption to the melody of a Zulu hymn, a test run for Shabbat. Me singing spontaneous prayers on the themes of the thirteen "request" blessings of the weekday Amidah. Closing with riotous laughter as we honor the snowy landscape outside by singing "Adon Olam" to the melody of "Winter Wonderland."


3. Saturday


It is difficult to describe the joy of Shabbat morning services with some two hundred people, many of whom are known and beloved to me. The service led by people I know and love. (Soon-to-be) Hazzan Daniel Kempin playing his guitar. Singing the hymn Siyahamba in Zulu, and then in Spanish, and then Hebrew, and then German, and then English -- "We are walking in the light of God!" -- which transitions seamlessly into into Mi Chamocha, the song of our redemption at the Sea of Reeds, when we walked in the light of God from slavery into freedom. Dancing in the aisles, feeling tears of joy prickle the back of my eyelids as we shift to "We are singing in the light of God" and finally "we are praying in the light of God." Hearing (soon to be) Rabbi David Markus' extraordinary d'var Torah about Moshe at the burning bush, and chaplaincy, and "rookie moves," and how our times of turning away can become inflection points in our spiritual paths. The harmonies. The heart. The joy.