Seasons, Cycles and Sounds

As soon as Labor Day is over, like many, I mourn the end of summer days and begrudgingly readjust my body and alarm clock to a new (and now that my eldest has started middle school) ungodly early wake up time for a fresh school year.

For those who are of the Jewish faith tradition, September is also the time to celebrate Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). This evening, Jews around the world will dust off Grandma’s china, slice apples and round shaped challah, both to be joyfully dipped in honey.

In doing so, we honor the cycle of seasons and set an intention for a sweet new year. With chicken soup full bellies, families will go to synagogue this evening, tomorrow and for some, Tuesday. Parents as hushed as their children, will wait for the clarion call of the shofar, heralding in a new year, a new era, or at the very least, the end of services.

I remember being that awe-struck child and I realize that despite the mass amount of changes and challenges I’ve had in my life and my spiritual career for the 27 years I have been singing in synagogues, there have been two constancies in my life – the first is the sound of the High Holy Days.

Regardless of whether I was singing in Malibu or Manhattan, Pittbsburgh or Greenwich and this year, White Plains, NY as Assistant Cantor for reform congregation, Kol Ami, the one thing that is familiar, resonant and unchanging is that I get to use my voice to hopefully uplift others through the transcendent power of music.

Truthfully, this is the only thing that keeps me from delving too deeply into sadness. Right now, on the eve of this New Year, I am missing the second constant to which I’ve always adhered my spiritual life; my biological family.

As clergy, I often miss opportunities to be with my loved ones in the traditional and certainly more leisurely ways. My partner shares this lament, because for him — the non-religious yin to my yang — the holidays are not at all about the liturgy or synagogue service schedules, but the holiday meal – roast chicken, a kugel and potato latkes like his grandmother used to make.

The fact that I have put him in charge of any such meal preparation and execution this year is as shocking to him as it is worrisome to me. In past years I’ve tried to do both – be a balabuste and a Cantor – and I end up tired, irritable and downright pissy. It’s just too stressful to balance prepping the brisket while rehearsing blessings in various keys and arrangements, depending on where I am singing that year.

But beyond the obvious fatigue factors, I miss being with my extended family. I miss my mothers, adopted sisters, siblings (two of whom have now moved all the way to Israel), my Dad, who is most often in Israel for the holidays, the plethora of nieces and nephews and this year, especially, my beloved Grandparents.

This is the second year since we do not have the Patriarch of our family, my maternal grandfather. An art marketing consultant, he shared an artistically wonderful life with my grandmother, herself a well-known poet and teacher with jet black hair, big rings and a penchant for show tunes.

They marked this season by sending out a holiday card, but not just any holiday card. Their card always had a stunning piece of artwork on the front – by one of my Grandfather’s clients – and the inside was an always perfectly resonant poem of my Grandmother’s.

Last August my Grandfather passed and I was still in shock as I prepared for the High Holy Days. Adding to that other challenges on the home front and between those two experiences, it was all I could do to keep my focus on singing my services for a congregation in Manhattan. Despite the liturgy prompting me to do so, the last thing I had time, emotional or spiritual space for, was to sit in reflection.

But now, as another season and full year cycle has passed, the loss of my grandfather is really hitting me. I miss my Grandparent’s card. This is what September’s song is for me – a statement of art that comes from the music of my soul and reflects the beauty, love and spirituality that has always surrounded, and inspired me.

So in honor of all things resonant of Goodness, Truth & Beauty (GeeTeeBee was also the name of my Grandfather’s company) I want to share a song for the season: Avinu Malkeinu (a live recording of mine from several years ago) and a poem of my Grandmother’s. Regardless of your faith or spiritual practice, may you and your family always be blessed with poetry and music to connect, inspire and remind you of the seasons, cycles and celebrations of your life.

And to that may we say, Amen.

Hear me, ye precious bones,
And hear me, Lord.
Thy seed is safe
Though I s was lost
And hardly knew the way,
Through desserts and wilderness,
Through pain and disbelief,
With a half forgotten promise
Ringing in my ears,
I found the lights of the Temple
In time to bring my children home.

© Florence Jeanne Goodman

[Photo credit: Jenny,]

3 Responses to Seasons, Cycles and Sounds
  1. Jenn Deutsch
    September 21, 2012 | 2:23 pm

    AHHH Shira your blog again is spot on. Shana tovah to you. I sat last sunday night with my congregation outside! Unusual I know, but awesome! We sang Dan Nichol’s Sweet as Honey and it sure was! I watched as we prayed my current and former students behind us playing and singing on the playground. I watched families with bellies full on blankets after their picnic dinners smiling and praying together. However, as rabbi started his sermon there was pointing above. A rainbow briefly appeared! Hashem really was there. My former student said, “the covenant a promise you see Hashem is here!” It was truly wonderful. I too think of my grammie and grampie at this time of year. I lost my grammie while we attended Rosh Hashanna services in 1988 and in 1990 as we put break the fast out the hospital called to tell us my grampie had died. I feel they must have been holy for Hashem to allow them to pass on such holy days. I send you a hug and I truly do understand. I also commend the clergy for all they do. With that Shira I promise to keep reading your blog. Please also take care of you.

  2. […] I realize that despite the mass amount of changes and challenges Iʼve had in my life and my spiritual career over the 27 years I have been singing in synagogues, there have been two constants in my life – the first of which is the sound of the High Holy Days. Click here to read more… […]

  3. Anonymous
    November 13, 2014 | 10:13 am

    Remarkable! It’s a genuinely amazing article. I have got much clearer
    ideas from this post.

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