I’ve just returned from Wisconsin, my second Hava Nishirah, a songleader’s Jam and inspiration and teaching. (Last year’s first was revelation, post here) My sound recorder died, first night, so I’m writing as I remember. Firstly, returning was like finding Brigadoon: connections made last year were as solid as though it were yesterday, in an idyllic campground and perfect weather. It is also the end of Shavuot as I write, celebrating the first harvest, and the Harvest of inspiration from Sinai. The theme of the Hava week was light, they told us, but it was light through sound: music and silence! And it all seems to be converging: light and sound, Hava and Holiday.
What’s cool about mixing light and sound is that sound and light are very different energy waves, yet all connected, just like all 250 of us were totally on the same wavelength as we sang! Also, in the Ten Commandments, read on Shavuot, the intensity of revelation is such that we saw the thunder: radical! and what a coincidence/connection. They remind me of waves that rocked the aluminum dock on the lake as we sang in harmony in the sunlight.
Worship service highlights for me: I will begin with mornings. On our first morning shacharit service, we sang Or Zarua la Tzaddik: light is planted for the righteous, we sang in three part harmony in the early sunshine, with scroll unrolled.
And Rabbi Ken Chasen told us Maya Angelou’s passing by reading from her poem, When Great Trees Fall
….And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
This was the first time I was moved to tears during this weekend, and it would happen at every service afterwards.
On the second morning, Friday, “Don’t forget the miracle of the morning, says God…how I drench my mountains in gold, pink, purple and orange,..” There was an index card on everyone’s chair to put our deepest wish or blessing, and these were incorporated into the morning blessings, while Craig Taubman sang Elohai neshamah (the soul You have given me is pure…) Later he asked us to give our card away. I gave mine to the lovely woman sitting next to me, whose prayer had been to help heal a sick little boy. She hugged me for the gift, and all four or our eyes were wet.
Shabbat morning services: Three Torah aliyot were chanted in English (!) and Hebrew by a Rabbi friend, Melody Davis. Two sweet teens sang That’s What Love’s About by Craig Taubman, to enhance the V’ahavta. Rick Lupert’s poem “Silence” was amazing and funny, he spoke of the silence in an elevator, or gazing into his wife’s eyes, and helped make all our silences ring with meaning. The pauses making the melodies much sweeter. Sound and silence… I wonder if silence has wavelengths too, because I thought I felt them.
Evening services: one evening I “Laugh, Look, Listen. Leap, 4D family worship”. It was mind expanding. Did you know that with every step you take you bring G-d with you?” asked Shira Kline? Yes, I’d read that, but tonight we’d pray that way. The yud in our faces, the hey in our shoulders and arms, vav in our spin, and final hey in our pelvis and legs, makes us walking breathing examples of b’tzelem Elohim, and we, like Rav Heschel, got to pray with our feet, and arms and hearts as the Sun set, and sent our consciousness wandering and back under Billy’s guidance
Erev Shabbat was about doorways, the image kept appearing on our screens. And about LIght, of course “Let there be Light, Tonight, Tonight Tonight” we sang this beautiful song by Judith Silver, a wonderful lady, with whom I had spent time. We walked down to the dock on shifting platforms, to join in an impromtu song teaching session on the lake earlier that day. And Cantor Ellen Dreskin was a magical storyteller that night. Both of the stories she told made me cry. One was of the rescue of a momma sea turtle come to lay her eggs on the sand of a beach. But in the morning she’d not returned to the safety of the waves. The poet grabbed a park ranger to help, who hooked the enormous reptile onto his jeep, and she was terrifyingly dragged through the dunes until reaching the waves. This amazing prelude to Mi Chamocha made us all experience redemption as primally as a sea turtle freed. Her second story was a prelude to Ba yom ha hu, (That day will come) of a mom and daughter walking home from synagogue. Mommy? queried the child. Didn’t Rabbi say G-d was all around us? Yes. But, mommy, didn’t the Rabbi also say G-d was inside us. Yes. That’s what I don’t understand, if G-d is all around us and also inside us, then how can it help but shine right through us ?! “On that day”, Ellen explained, “God will be One”
For me the most powerfully lovely evening service was our last, the most heart-expanding havdalah, beyond beautiful. Havdalah is usually bittersweet, marking the end of Shabbat, beginning a week of work, of stress, or obligations. This was even more so, for it marked the near end of Hava. We began in darkness, just candles in an enormous room. Shira told us a legend of danger, that Shabbat had opened some sort of door that must be carefully closed. Then Rosalie told a story I’d known. Adam and Eve, who have struggled hard after being kicked out of Eden, endured trials, raised a family, eeked out a life together, and are now old. They decide to travel together, to see the wide world. They see gorgeous mountains, valleys, oceans, glaciers, rich forests, and then glimpse a place familiar, a garden guarded by a seraph with a flaming sword. God offers for them to return It’s been long enough in exile. There is no suffering here, and all is timeless. The earthlings choose instead a life of overcoming life’s hurdles and reaping joys. They turn their back on Eden, and walk off hand in hand together. How brilliant to use it to here, as we return from Shabbat and Hava to the world, it was shattering! And then came the cello, whose sonorous tones filled the building and our hearts. ….then we ate ice cream…
Some of my classes at Hava were just as inspiring. My first, with Rosalie and Ellen, challenged us to find a worship vision. It began with text study to try to work out the meaning of prayer itself. Heschel describes prayer as having no adequate way to express what we long to express, but, a wave of a song carries the soul to heights which unutterable meanings can never reach. Such abandonment is not esape…for (this world) is the nursery of the soul, the cradle of all our ideas. It is…a return to one’s origins. What a JOY to study with my small group of partners. We then were asked to record an inspiring prayer moment in our life, and to craft a metaphor for what it means to be a prayer leader. And by clearly defining the landscape, I felt my eyes really opened; light! Another class with Merri gave insights in leading kids in a youth choir, and making it an organic part of a service, not a performance, by teaching, no, by demonstrating the kavannah, the intention of each moment in which they sing, by setting the background, helping the kids make connections with the lyric and melody. Similarly Alan Goodis’ workshop on connecting with teens and kids was from a kid’s eye view, with the life stories of real kids and their likely, or unlikely involvement in synagogue music. The kid on whom the Bar Mitzvah tutor gave up in frustration, but the rabbi took under his wing was a synagogue drop out, and electric guitar player. Alan reached out to him. persisted: we really could use you. Now the teen is a leader and teacher, irreplaceable. As they all are. Shira Kline is a master song leader, and gave instruction on the most incredibly fun ways to experience/ teach music for young kids k-6. Use your body, and your feet! Just do it. Keep the beat while you are teaching. Be large and in charge. Use all your gifts. Tell stories: now I’m taking you back in time: A long time ago… The purpose of blessing is PAY ATTENTION. I have paid attention.
Torah Study with Jerry Kaye on Saturday morning was very small. Jerry asked why we were in the wilderness to receive Torah. He wondered if we were really exploring Torah here, or just Kumbaya Judaism. I reminded him we’d just sang Lechi Lach the night before. Lechi Lach, and you shall be a blessing… it’s from Genesis. He looked heavenward “Debbie stay out of this”, he implored. Yeah it’s Torah all the way around. And the wilderness is Wisconsin.
A huge thanks to all my teachers and friends. Let there be light, let there be music, let there be love (congrats Rob and Julie).