Saturday, 8 September 2012


***For those who asked and for those who could not be there, here are the remarks that I gave this past Shabbat when I was so needlessly and unnecessarily honoured for my work at Temple "Sings All The Time and Won't Shut Up" The names have been removed to protect the guilty*** 

When the powers that be informed me (not asked, but informed) that they planned to mark the end of my "Chai" anniversary at synagogue "Sings all the Time and Won't Shut Up" with an honouring service, my first reaction was nausea. Truly. Pit of the stomach, gut-wrenching, visceral motion-sickness like waves of repulsion. You see, this kind of event is so outside of my comfort zone that it truly meant that my body was screaming at me from within "Run away!! Run Fast!!" And while I obviously could not avoid this evening, I still cannot for the life of me figure out why this kind of human worship was necessary. For those who do not know me well, they might find it shocking that I am actually incredibly shy and extraordinarily uncomfortable with these types of PDAs. (That's Public Displays of Affection for all of you who weren't raised in the 70s and 80s.) It is easier for me to stand up and sing in front of thousands than it is to sit still and listen to somebody publicly extoll my limited virtues. That said, I thank all of you who are present for this event-both those who were in the room and those who have contacted me personally and privately.

It is impossible to reduce 18 years into a few sentences. I was truly stuck on how to convey to all of you-you who have become my family-the depth of my emotion and appreciation for allowing me to be a small part of this great "Sings all the Time and Won't Shut Up" experiment. A friend suggested that I deliver it as if I were writing a blog post, so I have decided to shamelessly steal her idea and hence I present you with my Top Ten favourite things-in no particular order-about being the Cantorial Soloist here at Temple "Sings all the Time and Won't Shut Up".

  1. I cannot get you people to shut up. Seriously. You sing all the time. You sing when I ask you to and when I ask you not to. You sing my parts, your parts, the rabbi's parts, the choir's parts, the cello parts, the oboe parts-you sing it all. If I explain to you that a certain prayer like the Ashrei is designed to be antiphonal, you throw your heads back, laugh maniacally at the mere suggestion, and sing it all anyway. I kind of love that about you. 
  2. In 18 years I have NEVER EVER EVER attended a board meeting. I'm quite proud of that record. Thank you to all of the presidents over the years who have inherently understood that I would much rather just shut up and sing.
  3. Every single music person in this congregation-from each individual member of the choir, to its directors, to the musicians, to the song leaders and music teachers-does what they do as a true labour of love to both the music and the prayer it influences. I cannot begin to count the number of hours that these people have dedicated, the time they have taken away from their families, the work that they have invested, all in the name of making this place the haven for Jewish music and prayer that it has become. And...they have done it all without complaint. Ok-that last part was a slight exaggeration, but I do hope that they all know how I feel about them and their dedication to the task at hand. 
  4. I love that our kids walk around carrying and playing guitars, want to learn how to song lead, want to teach music in our school, and become musical role models for the generation coming up behind them. My all-time favourite service of the year is the Second Day Rosh Hashana morning where all of our songleaders join me in leading our congregation in a kind of mass High Holiday jam session. I love the effect of what this L'dor Vador experience-from generation to generation-has had on this community. And when I look at the leaders that many of them have grown to be within our midst, I do feel a small amount of pride. And....yes this is a pitch to get you all to come to that service next Tuesday morning; to participate in a truly unique Temple "Sings all the Time and Won't Shut Up" experience. 
  5. I am so grateful that this place has allowed me to be me. Let's face it. I am nobody's classic idea of a cantor or even a cantorial soloist. I sing alto and sometimes struggle with those upper register notes. I am not well-schooled in traditional chazzanut-although I am always learning-and I carry some degree of suspicion towards cantorial concertizing. Instead, I am the one who slings a twelve-string over my shoulder, stomps my feet in an attempt to entice participation, yells from the bimah not to clap on the "One and Three", and encourages you to sing your mistakes loudly and boldly so that you will learn from them. Not your Zaidy's cantor to be sure. Yet, this wonderfully weird place has not only accepted my idiosyncrasies, it has encouraged them and allowed them to flourish. And for those of you who still don't understand the "one and three"'re learning too.
  6. And along the same lines...I love that you all have allowed this not quite five foot tall woman to sometimes sit cross-leggged on a bimah chair when my feet don't reach the floor and you have accepted it with bemused discussion, rather than scolding condescension, and that you have allowed me on occasion, to sing in bare feet from up there. Talk about an accepting group. You might see more of that this High Holidays. I am rather hating wearing shoes these days.
  7. I know that I mentioned the choir and its leader and musicians earlier on in this diatribe, but we are getting to the Oscars/Emmy/Grammy/Tony acceptance speech that I will most likely never deliver, (one can always hope!) so I need to thank these people directly. This group defines the ideal of Shiru L'Adonai-Singing to God. They are not now and never will be my back-up. They stand on their own feet-barefoot if they wish-and have constantly amazed me with their talents, their support, their love for Jewish music, their willingness to learn and tackle the most advanced pieces, and their dedication to this Kehillah Kedosha! J-words alone do not do justice to express how I feel about our musical journey together. You are my right arm, my best and most honest critic, my partner in this madness and most importantly, my friend. Love!!
  8. Every rabbi with whom I have had the distinct privilege and true honour to share this bimah has been incredibly supportive, wildly open to my musical experimentation, actively involved in what happens on this side of the aisle, and has been a true teacher, mentor, and friend. I am reminded of the passage in Pirkei Avot that tells us Asei L'cha Rav u'keneh l'cha chaver-Go and Find for yourself a teacher and make of him or her your friend. I have had and continue to have, incredible teachers and even better friends. No amount of thanks is sufficient to repay the debt I owe these phenomenal people. Rabbis W-A, G, S, and M have shown me that the Divine presence truly does dwell in this place.
  9. To my parents-all of them-who have never missed a music night, recital, holiday program, or service-unless they are in some place like Bangalore, Tibet, Shanghai, or cruising the South Pacific; and even then they want me to Skype them in-they are my biggest fans, my most ardent supporters, and my best friends. When people ask me how I got into this bizarre line of work, I answer boldly that it is their fault. Both of my passions of Jewish lifelong learning and music came from them and the love that they instilled in me. So I place the blame for these last 18 years squarely on their shoulders. You could say that Temple "Sings all the Time, and Won't Shut Up" has allowed my parents to see the fulfillment of their dreams. 
  10. When The Husband and I decided to leave the place that we had both called home for most of our lives, it was done with careful thought, some pain, a few tears, and difficult discussions. The leaving was the issue, not where we would be landing. Temple "Sings all the Time and Won't Shut Up"embraced our family as if we had been one of you for years. This place is home and that will not change. I love that The Husband and sons have been allowed their own space here and allowed the room to grow into whatever type of Judaism that fits their needs, independent of my work here. The men in my life have had to put up with a great deal. I am not always the easiest person to live with-especially around the holidays. They are the most amazing people I know. I love and adore you all-even when I am in my pre-Rosh Hashana, PMS-like cycle and it seems like I am an escapee from an asylum. You are my heart, my soul, my breath, and my voice. I am silent without you. And as I watch them all squirm as they hear this I say to each of them....too bad. If I had to go through this so did you!
So now--we do what we do best. We sing. The song is based on the words of Rav Hillel who famously said Im ayn Ani Li Mi Li...If I am not for myself who will be for me.....U'ch-se-ani l'atzmi ma-ani...If I am only for myself, what am I....V'im lo achshav ei-ma-tai...And if not now when?

I sing with my voice and in the voice of my people....

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