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I finally decided to go to the every other Tuesday night choir rehearsals at my synagogue. They’ve been calling them Tuneful Tuesdays, as a way of separating them out from the formal summer rehearsals leading up to the high holidays, because they say that the purpose of these alternate Tuesday nights is really just to give people a place to sing together, and maybe to have a spiritual experience, or at least a communal one.

I had been considering going to Tuneful Tuesdays ever since I finished my second internship for social work school, but the clincher came when I went to services one day and the cantor happened to hear me sing and asked me to come for the Tuesday nights. I like praise. I could do with a lot more of that in my life, that’s one of the reasons why I have dogs: they love to show love, and to tell me that I’m special to them. It happens multiple times a day, especially if I leave the apartment for a minute and come back in.

I was hoping that there would be a lot of people at the rehearsals and I could hide in the crowd, but so far there have only been six to eight people on any given night. I was also hoping for low stress singalongs, but instead we’re doing the three and four part harmonies that I dreaded. The discipline of singing my own line, while others sing in opposition, is not fun for me. It’s actually the opposite of what I wanted, because it separates me out, instead of joining me together.

I am one of the only Altos, which means that they are happy to have me and have already decided that I have joined the choir, rather than trying it out, which is what I thought I was doing. I want to sing more, but I am still uneasy performing in front of an audience. I’m much more comfortable singing within the audience, but it’s a limitation that I feel the need to push at. There are so many things I want to do that require being front and center instead of hidden in the back.

The Tuneful Tuesday group is led by the Cantor of our synagogue, and by the band leader, who is now a rabbinical student. They have similar facility and expertise with music, which is intimidating. They can both sit down at the piano and play whatever is in front of them exactly as written, or change keys at a moment’s notice, and they can both sing whichever part of the harmony doesn’t have enough singers. When I listen to them I feel like a dodo for ever thinking I knew anything about music. But then I remember singing for my oldest nephew when he was a baby, and how he would reach out to touch my lips, in awe, to see where the sound was coming from, and then he’d make a big O with his mouth to try to imitate me. He doesn’t remember any of this.

Each Tuneful Tuesday session has been overwhelming, so far: either because a song is in 7/8 time, which seems to mean that the next note comes up much faster than I expect it to; or because a song is so crowded with notes that I can barely breathe until the whole thing is over; or because we only do a couple of sing-throughs before we start adding harmonies, and I can’t keep track of which notes I’m supposed to sing.

I ask for help whenever I’m struggling, which makes me feel like a moron, but the cantor and the rabbinical student are always kind and understanding; they answer my questions and offer explanations when I’m confused. But I wish I could bring Cricket and Ellie with me. They could help me feel less self-conscious, unless Cricket decided to bite someone, which would make me even more self-conscious.


grumpy cricket

“I only bite people when they deserve it.”


Ellie’s hiding, just in case.

My goal was to force myself to go to the Tuneful Tuesday sessions at least four times before deciding whether or not it’s right for me, but on the fourth session I found out that there’s a performance coming up, with only two more rehearsals, and all new songs, and the only other Alto isn’t sure she’ll be there. Maybe it would have been okay if we’d started rehearsing these songs months ago, or if someone had responded to any of my concerns with actual concern instead of a patronizing pat on the head. But what I kept hearing in my head for the whole hour and a half was: you’re a loser; you just don’t have the talent; you don’t try hard enough; you’re letting everyone down; it’s all your fault.

The first two songs were taught without written music, and there’s no recording available, so we can’t practice on our own even if we wanted to. The third piece of music is a complicated four part harmony, so complicated that when I looked down at the page I had no idea what I was looking at and I wasn’t convinced it was actually music.

This was not fun.

I wanted to be excited about singing again. I wanted to warm up my voice and learn some new things. I didn’t want to scare myself to death. But now I’m afraid to let people down, because they’ve developed expectations of me that I didn’t want them to have, and they are going to be disappointed in me and I hate disappointing people.

I haven’t decided what to do about this yet, but I do know that, no matter what happens, I will get to come home to Cricket and Ellie and their kisses and cries that I’ve been gone too long. I really don’t know how anyone gets through the tough days without having a dog (or two) waiting at home.


“She’ll be here any second.”

I want to thank everyone who wrote a review of Yeshiva Girl on Amazon, or read the book, or thought about reading the book, or told a friend about it, or encouraged me along the way. If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl, and if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, I’d be honored.


Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.




About rachelmankowitz

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

89 responses »

  1. Jennifer Barraclough

    I hope you will persevere with your singing, Rachel. It’s 16 years since I joined the choir at my Catholic Church and I too was nervous at first, not having done any musical activities since my schooldays. I’ve gradually become reasonably confident with 4-part harmonies, learned some basic piano technique and music theory, made some good friends and had lots of pleasurable and uplifting experiences. Singing is also good for health in lots of ways. I dread getting too old to stay in the choir!

  2. I hope you enjoy being part of the choir. It’s a shame Cricket and Ellie can’t come along, too, they’d probably love it! I used to play the piano, and my dogs always gathered around. I think they liked the music.

    I have just tweeted about your book. What awesome reviews it has! Congratulations!

  3. Rachel, you’ve been writing this blog for years with great success, and now you’ve published a book. You will also be successful singing in the choir, so stay with it. Don’t worry about messing up. Everyone does occasionally. Your audience will be as supportive and forgiving as your readers are. I look forward to hearing about your performances. Break a leg!

  4. First, recognize that what you’re doing is very difficult work. It’s kind of a big deal in my view that you’re attempting it, a gutsy thing to take on. Second, maybe those people patting you on the head were genuinely behind you, believing in you, showing faith in you, wanting you to keep at it. Your doggies would do that. Look how they wait for you. I like that you’re taking the chance. Make those doggies proud. Okay, they already are. But sing, just sing. It’s good for you, and your singing is probably good for those around you.

  5. Don’t dare say those horrible things to yourself! They are thrilled to have you there.

  6. This appropriately followed the “pesky expectations” post. I do identify with the struggle about singing parts in a chorus. My brain had difficulty trying to sing and try to think about what I was supposed to sing at the same time. I gave up much too soon, I think, since it was years ago and at the peak of my “never going to be good enough” outlook. I hope you find joy in singing, either here or in another setting.

  7. I’ve come to the conclusion that life is a series of stressful events. It’s how you stretch and grow. It’s how you know you’re living it. You can do this.

  8. They are happy to have you, Rachel. Embrace the moment and belt it out! Let Cricket and Ellie know their mama is a singing diva! And then chicken treats for everyone.

  9. I can truly sympathize. I took a “chorus” class for three years in high school and sang in a church choir in college. I really miss singing, even though I was never really very good. Unfortunately, my voice has deepened to the point where I’m really an alto, but I can’t sing harmony, so I end up dropping an octave and trying to sing tenor. No matter what I do, it hurts, and I can no longer carry a tune, anyway, so I don’t sing any more, but I sure do miss it!

  10. Pets just pull out the sadness and anxiety from me. Yes they sometimes replace this with their own antic related pressue -but it’s a price worth paying. I realised my singing career would be a short one when I was told to stand at the back and mime by the school teacher. I’m sure you will be fine.

  11. Rachel, don’t you realize just how special you are. You occupy a place in this world that no one else can ever fill. No one could ever replace you. There are no duplicates in this world. Each person is unique in their own right. Especially you. Your words flow like honey from your fingers. No one can write the way you do, sing the way you do, love the way you do, replace you. You are vital to this world. Stop being afraid and just believe in you. I do

    I was sorry to discover Butterfly had passed. Forgive my neglecting reading your blog or I would have expressed my sympathy that day. I was sick most of 2018 so know I understand what you went through.

    You take care and I do read your blog and always wish you the best. Remember: NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER SURRENDER.

  12. I cannot carry a tune in a bucket – as my mother would say. Just that you’re giving this a try is amazing, and I have this vision of you standing in front of the congregation just belting out the tunes as if you’re channeling Whoopie from Sister Act. You can do it! I also used to sing to my nephew (great nephew, really), because I believe that God said make a joyful noise, and not a word about it being pretty. Alex didn’t seem to mind when I hit a sour note. Often. Most of the time. 🙂

  13. theseniorclaycrafter

    Rachel, What you’re hearing isn’t the truth about yourself. Think about your strengths and all that you have already accomplished. Then be honest with yourself and those around you. If they aren’t understanding and encouraging they may the wrong people or situation. Just never let yourself or others make you feel less of a person. You are special and created for a special purpose. They may have felt the same way when they joined the group. If they don’t understand, then Cricket can bite them. (Just kidding. But, I suspect she would for mommy and some chicken treats.)

  14. I can’t sing at all, so I am impressed that you were asked to join in. That should tell you that you are good enough. But if you ever doubt yourself, there are two furry super-fans waiting at home for you. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  15. I hope you find the strength and enthusiasm to keep singing. Your voice must be great if they asked you to join. One of my sisters is very shy, but the city choir heard her voice and asked her to participate without an audition. She was reluctant, but managed to muster the courage to go. She loves it now. Trust me—choirmasters know a good voice when they hear it. Keep us posted.

  16. Good for you that you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and beyond! Speak kindly to the voice in your head that tells you that you are not good enough and reassure that part of yourself that you ARE good enough, you ARE talented, you ARE needed! I know you’d love to take Cricket and Ellie with you but when you venture out in the wide world without them, you are practicing a kind of autonomy that builds the bones of self-reliance. Besides, when you return home, their kisses must be all that much sweeter.

  17. Oh Rachel!!
    Never heard you sing but I’d be willing to bet a pretty penny you have a stunning voice and perfectly in time and key. Also imagine the patronising responses and lack of concern about your own concerns are probably more because everyone else but you knows perfectly well how capable you are – if you weren’t they wouldn’t ask you to sing and if anything would find a way to get you doing something else instead.

    If you were pants they would not be asking you step up and sing so easily. Easier said than done I understand and having spent several years performing lead roles in numerous musicals over the years I get that crippling fear and sense of “Oh dear God in Heaven what am I doing??” but that’s the stuff that keeps performers sharp, giving 100% and when you’re nervous it means you care.

    I can’t read a note of music and haven’t a clue what people mean when they tell me to sing in this chord and that key and refer to musical stuff so literally say to them “Have no clue what you’re saying sing the note you want me to start with I’ll pick it up from there”

    Actually just about to leave for two days in the recording studio (doing some of the soundtrack and voice characterisation for my son’s games) but you can guarantee the studio engineers will have to give me a “Laaaa!!”

    Relax, loosen up with maybe a few breathing exercises or cheeky tipple of whatever your poison (if any) and enjoy it. Sounds more a confidence issue than one of competence.

    Just get up there, sing like you’re at home singing to the doggos and enjoy yourself.

    Make sure you or someone else gets footage and share I’d love to see and hear you.

  18. Keep on singing. It is good for the soul. Tell those critical voices in your head to go away. They are liars. I relate to the wanting to sing within the audience and not to an audience. I love to sing but need others singing the same harmony for me to hit the right notes. Carry on and you will be fine.

  19. I love to sing too, and at junior school was good enough to sing solo, but at Grammar never made the short list for any of the choirs. I put on a CD the other day while I was card making and it’s full of oldies. I was singing my heart out to You’re my World without getting puffed and felt like a million bucks. It’s been a long time since I belted out a decent number, but I was glad it was in the comfort of my own lounge. Last time I sang was at Mum’s funeral when I gave You’ll Never Walk Alone everything.
    Hope you go for it Rachel.

  20. This sounds like the kind of thing that will eventually be fun. Your dogs would probably like it. Ours thinks we are having a group howl whenever we sing at home!!

  21. My dogs join in when I sing at home or play the piano. I’m not sure if that is them being positive or wishing I would stop. I also have been singing with a choir for the first time in years and my voice is getting older (along with the rest of me). Sometimes I can be on the right notes and sometimes not. Choir should be about singing for God and forget what anyone says. Just sing for him and let the rest go!

  22. Very brave! Wouldn’t your synagogue let Cricket in as a service dog? ❤

  23. I was already planning my comment about how this must be a learning experience for you that God has possibly sent you on purpose when I came upon the pic of darling Cricket with the caption “I only bite people when they deserve it” and now I’m ROLLING laughing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! omg lmao

    I think Tuesdays are a great idea, go and sing your ass off girl! You can do this! Imagine us all naked there cheering you on or something! lol

    • The naked thing would not bring calm. But the support is wonderful!

      • i know, i was rethinking that as i said it lmao!!!!!!

      • But I bet your sing beautifully and I think the Tuesday night thing will be great for your mental balance!

        I am attempting similar. We have a Tarot Tuesday here where I live and I soooo do not human very well, and I soooo prefer my sofa or bed over being…. out of the house lol!

        But I did last month’s and stayed the whole time and had a good time and am going to try January’s as well.

        I guess I am a worse hermit than even my guinea pig that I make fun of lol

  24. Please don’t bite me, I like you to much.

  25. They say one should sing as if no one is listening and that’s good advice and accurate. When I sing not onlyy does no one listen, they call the cops. By the way, are there Jewish drinking songs? Serious question if perhaps off topic. Coming from an Irish heritage you can see why I am curious.

  26. They asked you to join! They want you there. You can do it!

  27. As a retired music ministry director, I have to reach out to you about two specific concerns you made above, neither of which are your fault in any way.

    First and foremost may I emphasize in huge, bold typeface on this: singing for the purpose of worshiping should never make you feel uncomfortable or like you are performing for an audience. Yes, you practice and prepare, but for worship, there is an audience of One. If the director is imposing a patronizing or haughty outlook and not encouraging your contribution as you are able to freely offer it, they are not leading the ensemble for the purpose of worship, so run away and don’t feel guilty about it. It’s not you being “not good enough” at all; it’s the director’s fault, especially with such a tiny ensemble as you described. How overwhelming on a person’s time and energy is a mere 6 or 8 singers? No excuse for blowing off your concerns. Besides that, whatever is on YOUR heart to share with God flows freely and spontaneously, whether in your shower at home with the puppies or in your car at the top of your lungs, or with a microphone in the front of a room of 10,000 fellow worshipers. From what we know about you: what is on your heart flows most easily from your fingers on the word processor. Whatever your contribution is to the ensemble has to do with your love for your creator. God doesn’t hear squeaky voices or wrong notes; He hears our hearts – happy, sad, and everywhere in between. When people are listening as part of their own worship, they miraculously hear your song offering with their hearts and not their ears as well. It has blown my mind many times over that this phenomenon truly occurs and is at the heart of true communal worship. “Siskel and Ebert” in the audience critiquing you have their own conversations with God to worry about.

    Second is specifically about this sentence: “…and there’s no recording available, so we can’t practice on our own even if we wanted to.“ Shame on the rabbinical students for not being willing to use their abilities to whip out the tune for you onto a simple recording device so that you CAN take it home and practice it until you feel comfortable with your part. Not everyone who has the desire to sing is able to read music but that in no way should ever disqualify them from participating. I have always made practice recordings or videos for my choirs. It’s part of being a leader who puts the ministry aspect of music far ahead of the performance aspects of it. My Master’s thesis is going to be on this specific point, so I am very passionate about it. My suggestion is to bring your own handheld recording device with you to the rehearsals and make the guy bang it out on the piano or sing it. Put it on the top of his piano when the whole group is singing and ask him to sing your part so it picks up strongly but in context with the whole piece. A true ministry director will go over and above to help the neediest of their ensemble members. Give the guy my contact info and I’ll explain it to him myself to correct that kind of professional cluelessness, hopefully without getting my Jersey Girl ire up. I have an old YouTube page (SuzySunshineObx aka CaffeinatedMusic) that I cannot even remember the password for to get back into at this point. It has a bunch of cheesy renditions of songs I whipped out like karaoke videos for my choirs to practice with, and some of those videos have gone around the world – especially the “Pass It On” one. Obviously, they were needed way more than just by my little choir.

    You CAN do whatever you put your mind to do. Your personal contribution to this planet is between you and God. I know you find it difficult to not think about what others may think, but I assure you: conduct your doings from your heart and for the sole purpose of your “why” and know that it is always, always good enough. Peace ❤

  28. Hang in there! You’ll get it – and it’ll be worth it!

  29. Oh dear, much too much stress for something as joyful as music. I bet if you see it through you’ll be glad. And then the girls can give you big kisses of congratulations.

  30. You can do it! It took me 3 years to get up the nerve to join the band at my church, but now I’m glad I did. However, we only do mid and high harmony most of the time. I can’t imagine 4 part harmony! I’m alto as well. Ultimately, you’re not singing for the other people of your faith and at your synagogue; it’s for God. Make a joyful noise, right? And singing worship for Him is a blessing to both of you!

  31. I love your dogs Rachel – even from the back, they look so cute. You capture their personality with your pics too. Amazing how you do that – Thanks for the smiles! 🙂

  32. So come on then lady – where’s your video? We’re all waiting 🙂

  33. Good luck! You can do it! (As a friend used to advise me: fake it till you make it.) Imposter Syndrome means you may never feel like a success, no matter how much you accomplish, and lots of women suffer from it.

  34. There’s just been a wonderful documentary on here called Don’t Stop The Music, about kids in a very underprivileged primary school being taught music and given instruments that were donated by the public. The change in them was extraordinary, not only their confidence and their articulateness, but their schoolwork. Kids who hardly ever came to school now have a perfect attendance record. Very inspiring about the power of music – so don’t give up!

  35. Nice post! I could identify with what you wrote. It IS hard to do the complex musical singing you are doing. But, “the only way out is through.”

    You don’t need to be perfect and it is so good for the soul to do something you love.

    I say, “don’t give up till the fat lady sings.” You can do it!!🎶🎶

  36. I love this post for so many reasons, and only one of them is because it’s about singing!

  37. The choir might bring out your dogs’ inner wolves!

  38. Dogs make everything better and easier. They are the best companions. But I’m sure you’re doing great and the choir appreciates you no matter what. Stick with it!

  39. Hi Rachel, Thank you for *liking* my posts! Tho this is more about your pain and CBD and medical marijuana. I encourage you to go the medical marijuana route. There are so very many strains of marijuana available today – when you take the time and put in the effort to go the medical route, I am sure you will receive excellent advice from your local dispensary.


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