It was made clear to us early on that Rosh Hashana falling on the weekend was going to be an issue for the banquet hall we were occupying. It seems that they had scheduled a wedding for the Saturday night and were not in any way willing to compromise a lucrative business opportunity for a bunch of Jews that won't use their bar. A deal was struck with the management that worked like this. We would complete our first day Rosh Hashana worship by 12:00 noon at the very latest. (In order to accomplish this task, we needed to begin at 9:00 am.) As the rabbi and I made our way back over to the day school we use as our regular home in order to conduct an afternoon children's service, our crew of dedicated builders and schleppers came in to dismantle the entire room at the banquet hall-bimah and all! They stored everything in a rented panel truck that they parked on site. The wedding family arrived later in the afternoon to discover that their required set-up was complete. It gets better! The next morning, before 6:00 am mind you, our group of eager beavers returned to the hall and reset the entire room-bimah and all-so that we as a congregation might resume our Rosh Hashana worship. Following that morning's worship, they then once again dismantled the entire thing and re-stored it until Yom Kippur, when they repeated the process one more time. The dedication of these men and women absolutely floored me, and I am relatively certain that few in the congregation knew what they did and how they did it with smiles and understanding.
Before the holidays, a question arose on one of the listserve groups to which I subscribe as to how to go about forming a volunteer synagogue choir. The discussion centred around expectations, Hebrew literacy, music literacy, rehearsal times and demands placed on members. I hesitated entering the fray because frankly, I have no idea how I came to be so blessed with the unbelievable group of people that comprise my synagogue's choir. These are individuals that come weekly to rehearse, (twice weekly in the summer) and with a shared purpose of making the music a true extension of our worship experience. They are of various musical levels and various Hebrew levels. They are men, women, young people and not so young people. Some of them pre-date me at the synagogue and some are relative newcomers. They sing every kind of Jewish music that we throw at them-from challenging Baroque choral pieces to contemporary rock-and they do it with a passion and a kavanah (intent) that is unparalleled. Our musicians include keyboard, cello, guitars, clarinet, oboe and the occasional tof, volunteers all! These people give up their weekends at the cottage, their Wednesday night Lost fix, holiday evening family dinners, early arrivals at break fasts, and sitting and worshipping with their loved ones, all in the name of the music and the prayer. They are soulful and spiritual and they do what they do because of their love and commitment to our synagogue and to Judaism. Believe me, there are trying times. There are occasions when we have all questioned our sanity and dedication, but I simply cannot imagine my synagogue without my choir family. I hope they know the depths of my gratitude.
We live in a world where it is not uncommon to have things done for you. Groceries are delivered to your front door, gardening and household chores can easily be contracted out, and child care is passed off to others. We pay a fee and we demand services in return. Occasionally though, we encounter a select few who recognize a void that needs filling and don't wait around for somebody else to fill it. They have vision. They do it because they want to give back, to help the collective and to enhance somebody else's experience. Volunteers are not unpaid employees, but rather they are caring souls who do what they do out of love. As we begin this new year, I urge you all to find a volunteer opportunity that suits you. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our society and there is nothing like the feeling one gets from a job well-done. And now, I return to my slothing.