High Holy Days in Wichita

Sunday, October 16, 2011

shapeimage_2-1This was my 17th year as the rent-a-cantor for Congregation Emanu-El in Wichita Kansas. I love going there, and it feels like a home coming at this point. Even though I only see folks for several days a year, many of them are good friends and feel like family. It is amazing to watch the time pass from year to year: children grow up, older friends become more frail, jobs change, people move away, new members come.
The weather for Rosh Hashanah was beautiful: sunny, hot and dry. We have had so much rain in NJ, but Kansas has had terrible heat and drought all summer. I felt relaxed and in good voice for the first set of services. I have been singing this music for so long, some pieces, as much as 25 years, that a lot of the service just goes by itself. I still have to get in shape weeks before and build up my endurance to sing for several hours in a row. Tony, the faithful pianist for the temple, and I still rehearse every year, reviewing beginnings and endings of things. Once we got into the services though, it was particularly interesting this year to watch my voice happening by itself and just hang back and enjoy it.
Coming back a week later for Yom Kippur was a different story. The weather had turned cloudy and cool, and on Saturday they finally got a deluge of very needed rain. I felt fine traveling on Thursday, but woke up Friday feeling crummy. It was incredibly windy and everyone I talked to was complaining of allergies. I don’t think my pounding head was allergies – I had the beginning of a cold. Maybe I picked it up from one of my students in my first week of teaching. In any case, I took it easy all day. Thanks to auto pilot I sang fine Friday night, even though I felt like I was swimming upstream. The Yom Kippur service is about looking at the suffering of greed, hatred and delusion, after all. It was interesting to observe it all and not take it too personally.
The services on Saturday felt long, but they are long every year. I was actually more worried about kissing and shaking hands with everyone who came up to read the Torah than I was about singing. I didn’t want to spread my germs, but almost everyone was sniffling or coughing from some affliction. I wasn’t too juicy yet. I had a bottle of hand sanitizer near me and tried not to touch my face. I am always moved by the music and the texts of Yom Kippur, and so thankful to have an opportunity to participate by leading and singing. The congregation seems to appreciate what I have to offer – even sick – which is very gratifying.
Sunday was a 12 hour travel day to get from Wichita to Barre, MA, where I joined the last ISPP gathering at BCBS already in progress. Four of our group of 32 were missing the beginning of our final retreat in this year long integrated study and practice program at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. I had struggled to choose the best travel strategy, and eventually decided to fly back to Newark and then drive to Barre. The day was long, but went pretty smoothly. I was very tired, but so happy to arrive at the quiet and peaceful farm house. Singing Yom Kippur feels very much like a meditation retreat of sorts, spending 24 hours in a contemplative and concentrated state. It was actually fine to be sick for the rest of the retreat. I could rest in the calm and supportive environment of our sangha. It was sweet and sad to soak in the care and warmth of dear teachers and friends, knowing that this part of our time together is ending. It actually feels like that every year I leave Wichita after singing High Holy Days.


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