I made it through the Jewish high holidays. It was touch and go there for a while, because I couldn’t go to the last few choir rehearsals, and because three of the other synagogue school teachers got Covid at the same time, including the Cantor! So I was relying heavily on my KN95 mask to get me through.
I made sure to wear my sneakers (because there’s a lot of standing at the high holiday services, especially on Yom Kippur), and I practiced the music as much as possible on my own, and I even started to do breathing exercises (there’s an app for that!), to build up my breath capacity after months of not singing much at all.
The surprising thing was how much fun it was to sing with the choir again. I’d forgotten that it was more than just work. When, after missing Rosh Hashana with Covid, the Cantor made his triumphant return for Yom Kippur, it was truly joyous to hear him sing again, and to be able to sing along with all of the tunes the choir doesn’t lead, and realize how much of the music that we only hear once a year is actually familiar and comforting and really powerful.
It was fun to be with a crowd again; to have so many people in one place, at one time, experiencing the same things, hearing the same stories and singing the same songs and laughing at the same jokes, and it was wonderful to see the children of the congregation (many of whom have been my students over the past few years) go up to the bima and take pride in opening the ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept, but even more so at just being seen.
The high holidays are still a lot of work, don’t get me wrong. And waking up early, and dressing up, and singing and praying and standing and sitting, over and over and over again, was grueling. And the dogs really hated the constant coming and going (mostly the going), especially when we had more than one service to go to in a single day.
But it was worth it. Beforehand, I was so focused on how hard it would all be, and how much pain I would be in, and how tired I would get, that I forgot how extraordinary it can feel to be surrounded by a community I truly like, and share history with, and can sing with, and even sometimes dance with.
I’m sure I will forget all of this again by next summer, when it’s time to rehearse with the choir again and build up to the high holiday services again. I’ll probably spend hours, and days, and weeks, dreading the whole thing and resenting the choir rehearsals and worrying about what to wear, but so far, I can still feel the joy, and it’s wonderful. There are so many difficult things in life that really don’t feel worth all of the effort and pain and anxiety; but some things, like this, are totally worth the effort. Thank God!
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?