Cantor’s Column – November 2017


Cantor Ilan Davidson

Prior to this year’s High Holy Days, my dear friend and colleague, Cantor Yonah Kliger, posted this profound teaching, attributed to Rabbi David Stern: “I am Nachshon’s swim instructor and I am not happy. We had trained so hard—breast stroke, crawl, butterfly…ready to lead the swim to freedom. And then, just as it was time to lift his feet from the sea floor for the first perfect flutter kick, the waters parted, and he walked his way toward promise. Just like a cantor at the high holidays, impeccably prepared, ready to lead our people’s crossing with thrash and splash or the precision of perfect strokes. But then, in moments of unexpected grace, we sense the blessing that comes from beyond ourselves and the waters we had trained so hard to master simply part and we are crossing with them, jubilant, without a flutter or a kick.”

As I reflect on these Holy Days, from Selihot through Simhat Torah, I am humbled by the grace with which our community blessed and was blessed. All of the preparation and all of the “rehearsal” leading up to the Holy Days only creates the safety net to rely upon should something unexpected arise. However, the “magic” of the services comes from our hearts and souls joining together. Before each service, as I address our choir, I always tell them the same thing, “you have leaned the notes, words, and rhythms…we have worked on the musicality of your performance. Now, as you prepare for this service, none of that really matters any more. All that matters now is that you go into the sanctuary and pray.”

Indeed, as Rabbi Stern’s teaching suggests, it’s not in technical perfection that these prayer moments happen. It’s in the power, grace, and sanctity of our prayer, when all of us come together and surrender ourselves to the experience of power, grace, and sanctity of prayer. Together, we created the highest of Holy Days.

May we continue to experience the miracles of the Divine throughout this year’s services, programs, and communal moments at Temple Beth El.