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The Music


I haven’t been going to synagogue as much this year. I try, but my internship hours keep me from events during the week, and I am so freaking exhausted by the end of the week that even if I can make it to Friday night services, I don’t have the energy to kibitz afterwards. As a result, I feel more like an outsider again. I’m not making connections the way I used to, and I’m missing out on a lot of things.

I don’t know what to do about this, except to hope that it will reverse next year, and I won’t have lost too much. Except that next year I’ll actually have to look for a job, and that’s terrifying and all-encompassing in itself.



At least I can still get to services often enough to hear the music. Even on a random Friday night we now have congregant/musicians sitting in, and singing with the congregation does something to fix me. I can’t say I understand the process. Maybe it’s just that singing encourages me to breathe more deeply and settle down, but I think it’s more than that. Singing with other people, with the express purpose of feeling connected to community, and to history, and to myself, really seems to work for me.

The other night we had a full musical service, with guest musicians, including a new (to us) Israeli saxophonist/flautist. It was magical. The musicians are always good, but this was above and beyond in some way I can’t explain.

Music has always intrigued and confused me. Learning to play piano was frustrating and detail oriented, like learning calculus, or trying to press my feet into first position in ballet: there was nothing inspiring about it. The same went for guitar and voice lessons. And often the music I listen to on the radio has a similar pieced together feeling, like paint by numbers. It’s pleasant, but, eh. But then there are moments when a certain voice, or a certain instrument, captures some transcendent melodic moment, and I feel so much, and so transformed, and I have no idea how it happened.


“Cricket is very relaxed, or sleeping, it’s hard to tell.”

Music also seems to bring out my contradictions, the deep darkness and the bright joys, with all of the knotted places in between. There is music that makes me angry and frustrated, or violently bored, and there is music that barely reaches me, and then there is this other level of joy. I don’t know where it exists in space, but it seems to take me somewhere else, where the rules of gravity and time and connection are completely different than they are here, in the everyday world.

It’s a relief that the music comes to me at synagogue, and I don’t have to go out to a new place to find it. The fact is, I know I like live music. I was entranced by a classical guitar player way back in college, but I only went to the tiny concert because it was required for school credit, and have never had the motivation to look for such a thing again. The fact that the music comes to me, in a place where I already feel (mostly) comfortable, is a blessing.

Now if only Cricket could come to services too. She’d love to join in with the band and add her own special sound. She’s also a pro at interpretive dance, and we don’t have much dancing at my synagogue, yet.


The dancing doggy!

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

68 responses »

  1. No dancing…..yet. I love that. Keep on those dancing shoes, Cricket. Your big break might be coming soon! Isn’t it wonderful how certain music can transport us? Those are such special moments. This was a joy to read, Rachel.

  2. You are very talented. Cricket must be a wonderful inspiration, especially peanut butter.

  3. Beautifully written Rachel. Your writing has a sweet truth to it the same way that music does. I would leap at the chance to attend a service where Cricket was doing interpretive dance! Now that sounds transformative 😊❤️

  4. Does Cricket sing, as well as dance??

  5. Great timing. We just returned from our Pentecost Vigil Mass with an astounding belting soprano backed by the women’s choir. She had the staid Catholics leaping to their feet as she finished. Music skips right past the intellect and our well built defenses. I am so glad you get that experience as you worship.

  6. KIBITZ?? My peep is a good bridge player. I kibitz and all I can contribute is poop on the shoulder.

  7. I bet Cricket would be a great service dog!

  8. So glad to hear that Cricket is multi-talented!

  9. It sounds like you might be able to schedule those weekly services into your overfull calendar. Don’t wait for next year. Don’t wait for Friday. Ask yourself, in five years, will you wish you had found the music or put in the hours…change your schedule if you need to. I know its tough to ask for this, but a great psychiatric tester pushed me to start making connections again. He was right. In addition, it’s those things that keep me connected to others that keep my sanity. (Some days, I wonder which thread the sanity hangs by.) So, go to synagogue, just one day a week before Friday. Make that difference and see how it re-energizes you for the rest of the week. I even started to learn this in my early undergrad/professional days. When I would go out on Wednesday or Thursday evenings with a few responsible friends, I was so much more productive the next days. Those connections are important because we are social animals. Allow yourself a little social time.

  10. I have never been religious, and I was not brought up to attend church, despite being baptised as a Protestant, and having Godparents. But I have always been interested in people whose lives are founded on their religion, their church or synagogue, and the community surrounding that religious observance. People who identify with a religion before a nationality perhaps, and get great comfort from their faith. I enjoyed reading about the musical service, it must have been a nice moment, Rachel.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  11. thebookofjess7504

    Cricket is a multi-talented, amazing dog!

  12. I’ve always found a great comfort in music, either playing it or hearing certain pieces. I love strings, and one of my favourite haunting melodies is the theme from Schindler’s List. That reduces me to tears every time.

  13. I like to sing along when the Central Synagogue live casts on face book. Its not even close to actually being there, but its as close as I can get right now.

  14. Do it one step at a time, priorities first… you will have time eventually, mudic is that way … one chord sends you soaring another makes you hit rock bottom.. Cricket is looking good.

  15. I share your feelings about live music – it is a transcendent experience. I hope the God of your understanding will make a space for you to be able to enjoy the healing power music has for you be in synagogue or a live performance somewhere else.

  16. I use music to calm me, or distract me, or to just sing along while cooking. I’m also irrepressible about singing in the car, if I know the song. I’m sure your community will still be there next year, don’t fret. Get the internship done. One thing at a time!

  17. Music does all these conflicting things to me, too – but I had to smile at ‘violently bored’. That’s a category all of its own!

  18. The blessing of the animals is a Franciscan tradition related to the fact St. Francis of Assisi loved animals of all kinds. It takes place in Autumn. St. Francis, also, wrote a beautiful canticle for God’s creatures. I thought you might like to know. ❤

  19. Cricket looks like she’s having fun.

  20. Funny enough, music has been on my mind today since I saw an article in the paper that the well known Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole would have celebrated his 59th birthday had he lived. Later, I was in the grocery store pushing the AJF’s cart and was (softly, I thought) humming “Kaleohano” when a nice lady shopping nearby started to hum the same song! We sorta just grinned at each other and moved along but there was a small connection brought by a common knowledge of a Hawaiian song. Look it up on Youtube, it’s a haunting melody.

  21. I have always said that music is magic, but I never really analyzed my reactions to it the way you did in this post. Thank you. And I would love to see Cricket the dancing dog!

  22. There’s a reason for the quote, “Music soothes the savage beast.” The right music touches us all differently, evoking memories, longings and deep-seated feelings. I cannot play or sing, but my soul can still be ,moved. I am glad you are in touch with this part of yourself, Rachel.

  23. – thinking about you and Butterfly this morning. I finally found this story I had remembered reading a long time ago. Hope you don’t mind me sharing it:

    Why Dogs Don’t Live as Long as Humans

    A four year old child’s wisdom

    (From the internet….author unknown)

    Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten year old Irish wolfhound, named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa and their little boy Shane were all very attached to Belker and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer.

    I told the family there were no miracles left for Belker and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog. Ron and Lisa told me that they thought it would be good for the four year old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

    I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few moments, Belker slipped away peacefully. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion.

    We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.” Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I never had heard a more comforting explanation.

    He said, “People are born so that they learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The four year old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

  24. ‘Singing with other people’ is the most life expanding activity possible. And singing with your own community just wonderful.

  25. Nice post–how old is Cricket now?

  26. Nice blog! i love your blog and i followed
    check out my website?

  27. I can relate 100% to everything you say about music!

  28. saachijain987

    Hey you have written an amazing blog. And I wish that you could help me get better by reading and a person who could read my blogs and tell me about my mistakes. Anyways I am Emma and I am a teen and I really loved your blog

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  30. Live music has its own charm !

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  32. CUTE doggie Rachel! Perhaps if your Doggie could go with you to shul, you would go too!


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