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Choir Rehearsals

            I can’t do choir rehearsals at my synagogue during the school year anymore. I tried.

For the past two years we’ve either had online rehearsals or did recordings on our own, so even if a zoom meeting came up on a day when I had to teach synagogue school, I could still go home, have dinner, unwind for a minute, prep for my next class, maybe even take a shower, and still be in time for the Zoom. But in-person rehearsals are a whole other thing. I have to rush through prep and communicating with parents and dinner then get back in the car, rehearse for an hour and a half, and only get home around ten o’clock at night. When I tried, a few weeks ago, I hit a wall around nine o’clock. I left the rehearsal early, but it still took me days to recover.

“Life is exhausting.”

            And I was frustrated. I’d already committed to singing at the Women’s Seder (a yearly event at my synagogue, a few weeks before Passover, to celebrate the women in the Exodus story and modern religious music by women), and I had to tell the musical director, and the Cantor, that I wouldn’t be able to get to the rehearsals, for that or for anything else during the rest of the school year.

            When I told the musical director that I wouldn’t be able to get to the rehearsals, he sent me the music (four songs we’d done in the past, and only one with two part harmonies) and said he trusted me to be ready on my own, which was both kind and a lot of pressure.

And when I reached out to the Cantor to tell him that I wouldn’t be able to go to choir rehearsals during the school year any more (after almost a week of working up the nerve to write the email), his response came back quickly and with a lot of understanding and compassion.

            But I still felt crummy.

I haven’t been able to go to many in-person Friday night services either. I know I’m not the only one who has fallen out of the habit of going to services in person, but I still feel guilty when I watch the Friday night Zoom and see that only two or three congregants are actually in the sanctuary. And I feel guilty when I choose to attend with my camera off, instead of showing my face on Zoom, even though I know I don’t have the energy to change out of my pajamas or even comb my hair.

“My hair looks perfect.”

I feel guilty when I set limits to protect myself, but I also feel angry, because I’d rather be someone who can do all of these things. I don’t want to be ill.

Hopefully I will be able to manage choir rehearsals over the summer, when I don’t have to teach on the same days, and I’ll be able to prepare for the high holidays and socialize with friends and feel more normal, but we’ll see.

            Even though I can’t get to choir rehearsals, I have been able to bring more music into my classroom. Not only does the Cantor come in to sing with the students, but a visiting teacher gave us an idea for another way to bring in more music. He suggested playing different versions of the same prayer for the kids, to give them a chance to see for themselves how well, or badly, the music fits the meaning of the prayer. He chose Oseh Shalom (He Makes Peace) for his example, because it’s a prayer that has been done in so many different ways, and I followed his example. I found seven versions of the prayer and we all sat together on the floor and listened to one version after the other. The choice of song became even more meaningful after the war in Ukraine began, because the kids have been watching the news, along with the rest of us, and singing about peace, and thinking about peace, gave them a way to feel like they were doing something to help.

Some of the kids danced to the faster versions of the song, and others took notes like the serious musicologists they are, talking about how the changes in language and instruments and voices added to our ideas about what peace might actually be: it isn’t just the slow and mournful kind of peace we’re used to singing about, but also the raucous, complicated, dissonant, fast and faster, loud and louder, one voice and many voices cacophony that can encompass everyone, if we let it.

We may have played the music too loud, because one of the kids came back from the bathroom saying they could hear it down the hall, but I don’t think anyone minded. Music has so much power to make us feel heard, and connected, to each other and to ourselves. I never want to lose that connection from my life, or my teaching.

And, maybe inspired by my students, I was able to practice the songs for the Women’s Seder on my own, and when the day came, I was ready to sing with the female members of the choir without too much anxiety. And it felt really good to be a part of things, and to be able to add my voice, and not have to stay home and watch it all on Zoom. I hope this is a sign that there will be ways for me to adapt to circumstances in the future and always find my way forward, but for now, this was enough.

In case you’re interested in trying the experiment:

Oseh Shalom by Nurit Hirsch
Oseh Shalom (SATB Choir) by John Leavitt
Oseh Shalom by Debbie Friedman
Oseh Shalom by Elana Jagoda
Oseh Shalom by - Nefesh Mountain
Oseh Shalom by Nava Tehila
Oseh Shalom by Ochs

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

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

38 responses »

  1. You did right to realize that you were in over your head and needed to set some limits on your time. Good for you. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about that, no matter how well intentioned they may be. Stick to your guns and don’t feel bad about doing it. You did the right thing. Don’t worry about outside subtle pressures. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.😊

  2. Pingback: Choir Rehearsals | The Jahraqian Kingdom

  3. I’m so glad you could find your own way to sing without stress. It can bring such joy.

  4. It is a good thing to say “no” and set limits on how much you can do. Perhaps you will be able to take it one day at a time later .

  5. Rachel–don’t let anyone make you feel guilty. You told the director and the Cantor, they were OK with it and you still got to sing. That’s so wonderful! If there are only so few congregants at Friday night service, they are feeling the same was as you are. You are not alone. And I am very happy for you.

  6. It seems to me that you are providing a lovely service for the future of your faith by including singing as a way to enhance children’s lessons. They will treasure these experiences for a lifetime. Until you feel ready to wean yourself from Zoom attendance and resume your regular choir participation, you are doing what you can and that is plenty.

  7. It is important to set limits. I didn’t do that well and got to where I felt an almost physical weight drop on my shoulders when I walked through my church’s doors. Eventually I stopped going altogether (there were other issues but I know this was a major factor). I hope that your limits allow you to continue to find comfort, strength and community in your faith community.

  8. First and most important tell Ellie that yes her hair always looks perfect. Second, I had a wonderful time listening to the different versions of Oseh Shalom. Thank you for sharing them! Each version had a quality I liked but I think I narrowed down my two favorites. My traditional side enjoyed SATB choir while my country girl heart was taken wifh Nefesh Mountain. (I just added their album with Oseh Shalom to my country playlist). What a fun activity for your students. You must have enjoyed hearing their thoughts on the various versions.

  9. How wonderful that you were able to sing with the choir.

  10. I’m glad you found a way to take part that worked for you.

  11. Adapting to circumstances is what you do

  12. I applaud you for not only recognizing that you were overwhelmed but actually being proactive to do something about it. “Fill your own cup first, then nourish others with the overflow.”

  13. When people respond to your setting limits with understanding and kindness, try to really listen to them and not those nasty little voices in your head that tell you to feel guilty. I know, that is very easy to say and not so easy to do, but please try. You have nothing to feel guilty about and every reason to feel proud of taking care of yourself.

  14. Brava!!! On taking care of yourself, on creatively teaching your students, on learning the music on your own. Wonderful ways to be a bright star. Thank-you.

  15. Happy Passover, Rachel! ❤

  16. The period of readjustment after lockdowns is definitely a challenge. Somehow we feel it should all be over and forgotten – but it isn’t either. Thank you for this lovely post.

  17. I think that the most under explored territory is that long stretch between all and nothing. We tend to think of things as one or the other. When you worked with others you learned about the middle ground which allowed you to conserve your energy and perform. Here’s to more times in the middle for you.

  18. I feel your struggle. We really need to step back sometimes and take a breath. I think we feel too much guilt and forget self-care.

  19. What a super idea using different versions of the same song is! It’s hard not to feel guilty, but I hope during the past two years we’ve all learned that there is more than one way to be “present” for each other.

  20. As I came to understand in my past teaching, if one way to teach didn’t work, then I tried a different strategy. Playing different forms of music to a prayer as you did can give good insight on how to adapt your style of teaching as well. Consider for example how the contrast between the free form of jazz and the more restricted reading of classical music might inspire new ways of teaching.


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