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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Yom Kippur

It went fine. Not perfectly because of my cold, but it went fine. I only got dizzy at the end of Neilah, the final service, and that passed. Yom Kippur is always a much easier fast than Tisha B'Av, the other 25 hour one. It's as much the spirit of the day, I think as the time of year - Tb"a is in the middle of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, so it's hot, usually humid *and* it doesn't end until past 9PM. Y"K is in early/mid Fall - cool, crisp and generally ending no later than 7:30.

But the spirit is the main thing. Tb"a commemorates the Destructions of our Temple, as well as other Bad Things to happen to the Jews, such as the Crusades ("Let's stop off along the way to Jerusalem and massacre some Jewish communities, why don't we?" "Yeah!") and the Expulsion from Spain (took place actually *on* Tb"a.) There is also some Holocaust commemoration. Yes, I know there's Yom HaShoah, but this is a traditional date and the commemoration began they decided on a separate day. It's death and destruction and mourning, and a glimmer of hope that one day things will turn around.

Y"K is a celebration of hope, of spirituality, of the faith that HaShem *does* hear our prayers and our cries of repentence and responds positively to them. We are uplifted even as we suffer.

This year, my seat was next to the mechitza, the partition separating the men's and women's sections. Ours goes back to front. It meant I got a good view of the men's side through the lace curtain on top. And it's an amazing sight on Y"K - all the *white*. It's traditional to dress in white as symbolic for purity but also, I think, in imitation of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, who wore white garments on, and only on, Y"K. The married men, therefore, wear a white robe called a kittel, which they first received on their wedding day, and over it, they wear their prayer shawls. Never-married men, of course, wear neither, unless they are of German or Sphardi descent. Then they have the prayer shawls.

But here's the thing. Normally, the prayer shawls are only worn in the morning. Normally meaning 363 out of 365 days. The exceptions are Y"K and Tisha b"Av. On Tb"A, the men only put on their prayer shawls and phylactories for the afternoon prayers, not for the morning ones. Which is very weird indeed. Y"K being a holiday, they don't wear phylactories at all, but they wear the prayer shawl at *all* of the services - kol nidre, evening, morning, extra, afternoon and final. It's odd seeing a man wear one at night.

But they *do* look regal, especially when they wear the big prayer shawls.

Yes, there are six services to Y"K, as opposed to the normal three. And these are all longer than the normal ones. But then, what else do we have to do? We can't eat, we can't have sex, we can't watch television or talk on the phone or go to work. About all we can do is pray and sleep. The first is "kol nidre", which nullfies the unintentional vows we might have taken in the past year. Vows are a big thing that religious Jews tries as hard as possible to avoid. This is why there are no vows in the wedding service. Vows are too big. And so we have mechanisms to rid us of unintentional ones. Also, of intentional ones, but those require a court. Kol Nidre means "all vows" and the Aramaic words are sung to a lovely tune. This is also the usual time for a speech by the rabbi and an appeal for money. Tzedakah, "charity", but meaning righteousness, is a good thing in terms of repentence, so here's an opportunity. And synagogues all need money. Of course, we can't give it that night, or even write down anything, but there are ways, like a card with amounts on corners to be folded over.

Then we say the evening service, with extra verses in the long silent prayer and the first of the group confessions. That over, we go home to while away the next couple of hours before we go to sleep. We accidentally set our own timers to shut the lights extra early, but that proved to be a good thing.

The morning service is the morning service, with again the group confession at the end of both the silent and the extra long repeated long prayers. Then there is the Torah reading. And usually another appeal and speech by the rabbi, and then there is Yizkor, the memorial prayer for the dead. This is said on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, the second day of Shavuot and the second day of the final holiday of Pesach. In Israel, where they do not observe the second day of holidays, it occurs on the only day.

Yizkor is traditionally said only by those who have lost a parent. Everyone else leaves the synagogue. My rabbi, who is a grandfather, gets to leave. I used to joke that the people who stay in got to eat something.

We don't, of course. I started saying Yizkor, with my parents' permission, before I had to. I said it for my grandparents because my parents didn't. My father was very already very ill on that last Shemini Atzeret, and I found myself wondering if I would be saying for real the following year. Turned out, no. Because you don't say Yizkor for someone until after their first Yarzheit, which would be the following day - he'd died 11PM the night of Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah follows right after Shemini Atzeret, as night follows day. Remember that the Jewish day begins at nightfall.

I said it that year anyway, because, well. I was already doing it, and when I asked my rabbi, he said I should. I just didn't say it for Daddy. That had to wait until the end of Passover.

Anyway, there wasn't a speech and only a brief appeal. And we keep Yizkor short. It was followed by the extra service. There's one on every Shabbat, New Moon and holiday. On the high holy days, they're very long indeed, but. What else did we have to do? The cantor, or chazzan, who leads Musaf is usually the "star" of the occasion. Shuls without a cantor will often hire one, and they will often do operatic turns with the tunes, putting on a real performance considering their lack of food and water.

Ours didn't do that. For which I am grateful, because I don't like that sort of davening. I prefer the simpler ba'al tefillah type of leading, which means he uses simple, familiar, singable tunes that get the congregation singing with him. Also, with ba'alei tefillah, it's not a performance. With good ones, you can tell they're praying and are taking their position as representative of the congregation, of those who cannot pray for themselves, seriously. My husband is one such, and he used to lead the morning services on the high holy days in our old synagogue.

Services, which began at 8AM, ended fairly early for Yom Kippur, at 1:30PM. This gave us a three hour break before the afternoon services. When I only had an hour or so, back in our old shul, I'd spend it there. No point in going home. We live a five minute walk away now, so we go home. And we read and we nap. Naps are good. They pass the time.

I got worried when we got back. See, it would be full dark at 7:20, but. There's a tendency to run out of service before you run out of holiday, and I was worried it would happen here, since the two final services - the afternoon service and Neilah, which only ever happens on Y"K - are short, even if we read the entire book of Jonah. Okay, we had a speech between the services and another brief appeal, but it was still worrisome.

Neilah is the final service. It's the last chance, before the day ends and the gates are closed. We stand, or try to stand throughout the last minutes. We're in desperation mode. And the prayers show it - final pleadings.

And then. The final shouts and the shofar blast - at the *dot* of 7:20 - and it was over. We had a fast evening service and a separation ceremony, and everyone went upstairs to have cake and orange juice. Except us, because we're not allowed either. Instead, Jonathan and I chugged (through straws) a can each of V8 juice, and I kept my friend Sharon company because she couldn't go upstairs anyway - she's in a wheelchair. She resented greatly that they didn't make arrangements for her and anyone else who couldn't use the stairs, such as an older couple. Someone gave her cake, and I helped her drink a cup of Pepsi, and we made arrangements for her and her husband to join us for dinner in our succah next Monday. I just hope it doesn't rain because then Wayne will have to carry her upstairs.

And that's it for Y"K.


Ours didn't do that. For which I am grateful, because I don't like that sort of davening. I prefer the simpler ba'al tefillah type of leading, which means he uses simple, familiar, singable tunes that get the congregation singing with him.

I hear you!!! This was part of my frustration this holiday. During my Shabbat Shuvah retreat, we used wonderful, easy, singable melodies and niggunim which either people already knew, or we could learn easily. So it was easy to davven with kavvanah, because the melodies were easy and uplifting, and because I can really pour my heart out when I'm singing.

In contrast, the cantor that my shul hired for Y"K was a little too frilly for my tastes, and she used a special High Holidays nusach that was unfamiliar to me and to most of the congregation (at least, that's my guess, based on how few people were singing along sometimes). So it felt more like listening to a performance, sometimes, than it did like services. And that made me sad.

I tried to remind myself that I shouldn't be so critical, especially on Yom Kippur; that I should try to appreciate the effort and learning that goes into becoming a cantor. But I was still frustrated, despite myself, because I really wanted to be singing...

I do not like "frilly".

There is a standard nusach for the High Holy Days, and it's lovely. And, in the right hands, it doesn't have to be familiar. I davened for years in a synagogue consisting largely of baalei tshuvah, people raised nonreligious (*not* Non-Orthodox, but with little or no background at all - like me, for example.)

If the cantor sings the nusach clearly and simply, and in a way that encourages singing along, one doesn't have to be familiar with the tune. If he (or she!) gets too frilly, can't even sing along with the most familiar stuff.

I found the term "grass roots" interesting when I was reading your LJ. I should have commented. Because, that's where I'm coming from in many respects. The services in the places I attend are led by unpaid members of the community (in fact, they pay to be members.) And each one brings his own style - one man is very punctilious with his language. He pronounces *ayins* (a letter usually thought of as *silent* or a carrier of vowels.) Others, such as my husband, are musical and like playing with tunes, putting odd ones in select places as the mood or strikes them. And some just concentrate on *speed*. (I'm not so fond of those. I'm already davening as fast as I can.)

I don't know if you've had a chance to experience an Orthodox service. They certainly aren't for everyone, and the mechitza can be very off-putting.

I haven't been to an Orthodox service since I was a kid. I remember finding the speed and relative disorganization of the service confusing (well, disorganization compared with what I was used to, which was at that point a pretty standard, cut-and-dried Conservative style of worship).

It would be interesting to visit an Orthodox service again, now that I have a clearer sense of the range of possible Judaisms. I could bring my Artscroll and maybe even follow along a little, although I'm sure I'd still be lost a lot! :-) As you say, I suspect that I would find the mechitza strange.

My Elat Chayyim experiences have been so meaningful, so uplifting, that I think I've found my spiritual home. I am already hoping to spend next Yom Kippur there. My little shul here suits me well for Shabbat, and for other festivals, but I'm just not in love with the way they handle the High Holidays. Usually services are led either by our rabbi (who I like very much; he has a fine singing voice) or by members of the congregation, and both of those options make me much happier than this particular cantor. (Unfortunately, the older members of the congregation seem to love her, so I suspect she'll be coming back next year... :P)

Artscroll has pretty rapidly become *the* Siddur in O shuls, and most services follow it pretty closely (and have bookshelves full of them, because it is standard.) Not that it's any different than any other O Ashkenazi siddur, but its stage directions and layout make it much clearer, and it has a decent translation.

You would not get lost. And if you did, you just have to ask the woman next to you, and she'll show you. :)

I always like hearing about your services, because my only extended Jewish experience has been in my Jewish Renewal congregation, which is *very* different. Among other things, no power on earth can stop us from singing along -- we sing along, or at least hum, with *Kol Nidre*, which the rabbi/cantor we had this year (our usual rabbi was at her other congregation in Philadelphia) had never encountered. Thank goodness this rabbi has a wonderful voice, truly stunning, but doesn't do the show-offy thing. Or she only did it as a descant or "decoration" on songs like Avinu Malkenu that we can carry on our own.

Interesting. Because, that's the way it's done in Orthodox synagogues - the cantor sings Kol Nidrei three times, each time louder, and the congregation always sings along. That's what the directions in Artscroll say.

I've only ever been in Orthodox synagogues for Kol Nidre. They don't sing along in the other movements? Hmmm.

I asked the Rabbi why the music for Kol Nidre is so very difficult, when I though we were all supposed to be singing along. She said that in the shuls she's been in, she's always seen it done as Solo for Cantor, with the congregation silent. Does your congregation use a simpler tune than the one I know, which is very demanding?

1. Great icon.

2. I don't know. I'm so totally inexperienced in this - before I became religious, my family did *nothing*. The first time I *ever* went to a kol nidre service, I'd been married for about six months, and I could barely, sort of, semi, not really, follow along in Hebrew. And I stayed with that congregation until we moved away in 2001 - *after* Yom Kippur because, well, we needed to spend the High Holy Days with people we knew and loved *that* year. So this is my second ever in a different synagogue. Plus. I'm tone deaf. :)

My husband is one such, and he used to lead the morning services on the high holy days in our old synagogue.
Several people, including the cantor we hire for the major services, mentioned yesterday that they missed him.

1. From waht I know the kittel represents two things (which are also represented by the Kohen Gadol wearing white). Firstly, they we should be like angels on this day, and angels are of course white. Secondly, that we are also buried in a kittel, and this day of judgment should remind us of the reckoning we face at the end.

2. My old shul in Jackson Heights had an old-fashioned chazan for over 50 years. I suspect that in his youth, he probably schlepped it out just a bit too much, but when I knew him, we kept things moving at the right pace. He used a very old-fashioned tune for Unesaneh Tokef (that one person hired to help with the services compared to something out of an old early talkie), and has some very pretty and unique melodies for parts of the services. He was a good man beyond that, and he was still able to do Mussaf, Kol Nidre and Neilah till he was nearly 80.

As for finishing on time, I think that every rabbi is conscious of the need to do so. In my old shul, which was an older congregation, the rabbi kept a very shrap eye on the clock. In my current shul, the rabbi leads Neilah himself, and can speed up or slow down the singing as needed.

My old shul had an interesting rotation of people hired to do whatever the chazan didn't, and we can boast having Lenny Solomon for four years and Rabbi Allen Schwartz of Ohav Zedek when he was still in college (his brother married a girl from Jackson Heights). Lenny did a very good service, but hoped someday to get to do mussaf. I wonder if he's gotten the chance since making aliyah.

My current shul had a great voice for its chief chazan, a congregant who did it for the cost of his seats and who had his own special niggunim. This year, though, he moved, and while the rabbi and two others filled in ably, I missed him. I suspect that the shul will start looking at its membership roster for someone to take over next year. (As the rabbi normally spots the shofar blower, he can't do mussaf when it's not shabbos.)

Our local Young Israel is large enough to support two minyanim on R"H and Y"K. The minyan in the main shul has a "real" chazan. The second minyan, the one in the social hall, is led by members of the congregation. It's the one I prefer.

And we got a longer break between Mussaf and Mincha (2 hours this year; enough to go home and take a slight nap) than the minyan in the main shul.

Thank you for posting this.

Our tastes in cantors match. I don't think I had previously heard the distinction described as chazan vs ba'al tefillah, but that seems a handy way to talk about it.

Another thing that makes Tisha b'Av harder than Yom Kippur is that you aren't spending the day in a like-minded community; you're out in the world. Or, at least around here nobody has all-day programming at the shul. (And really, that would be heard. You can't have a day of learning, for example, because the torah you can study on that day is greatly restricted.)

They do have days of learning where I am. These were especially useful before we got air conditioning. :)

They spoke on the Destruction, and the passages about it in the Talmud. They spoke on the need to eliminate loshon hara (gossip), which was the proximate cause of the Second Destruction. They studied the book of Lamentations. They went in depth in the kinnot, the hymns of mourning we say. They talked about repentence. And, after mincha, they spoke of hope and the coming of the Messiah (many traditions say that the Messiah will be/was born on Tisha B'Av. Consequently, many boys born that day are called "Menachim", or "Comforter".)

But I tend to spend the day in my bedroom being miserable.