If ever a community needed to come together, it was then.
Exactly four weeks before, Israel had experienced the worst attack on the country since its 1948 founding and the worst single-day massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Even the most self-conscious among us closed our eyes and chanted wordless niggunim for long minutes—at the Friday night service, again on Saturday morning, and then, with instruments and amplification, on Saturday night where, guided by the soothing voices and superlative playing of the members of Jacob’s Ladder and their sterling band leader, Ariel Wyner, we were helped through our collective grief and allowed, too, moments of joy. Our gratitude—for the music, the warmth of Ariel and his bandmates Sofia Chiarandini and G Rockwell, the room, and each other—spilled out freely. Who can bear to be alone at times like these?
Yet the timing of the musical weekend wasn’t a given. The Walnut Street Minyan members who stumbled across CJP’s Community Impact grants in early February 2023—while the renovation of our building at 858 Walnut St. was still underway and members were anxiously awaiting both its completion and multiple city approvals—had less than three weeks to submit an application. But for what kind of programming? There had been talk for a year within our newly constituted community about wanting more spirited singing, more spiritually (for lack of a better word) infused tefillah; people had been sharing anecdotes about Jewish music workshops they’d been to and minyanim on the West Coast known for their vocals. Why not focus, then, on music? We quickly reached out to the vastly talented band Jacob’s Ladder, put together a proposal, and sent it in. Two months later, at the end of April, we got word that we’d been approved. Excellent. We could hold a rich and joyful Shabbat of sound in our newly renovated space for our newly reconstituted community, along with neighbors and guests who wished to join us.
But when? We could have proceeded to arrange the program right away, immediately after our move into the renovated space, which also occurred in April. After all, why not celebrate our new home? But the schedule seemed too crowded, then summer came, then the chagim. So, we’d wait. Would people be as motivated to come together in the fall after the initial thrill of finally getting our own place? Would others in the area join us? Would a date in November be the best use of the resources, energy, money, opportunity?
We all know the answers. You needn’t have gone to Jewish summer camp to have been moved by the communal Havdalah that began the Saturday night concert on Nov. 4. This was no ordinary Havdalah and no ordinary motzei Shabbat. We’d all been stunned and shaken by the news out of Israel and had spent weeks, like Jews across the world, glued to the news, asking after loved ones in Israel, volunteering however we could, our hearts and minds 5,000 miles away.
There’s an intimacy that happens when people make music together. Ask any band. And that intimacy ripples out to those who sing along, whether in consonance with the voices or the instruments. You merge and blend; invisible walls come down. It’s risky. Emotions are bared; we’re vulnerable. Couple that with tefillah, where we try to move beyond the material world in front of us, beyond the rote, and the risk is even greater. Then add the terrible pain and uncertainty and fear around this devastating war, fear for our families and friends in Israel and for the country itself. And for the fate of the Jewish people.
Being together in times like this helps. Talking, emailing, reading each other’s suggested articles: all good. Words are good. Words help.
But sometimes music is better. At a live-streamed concert of the Israel Philharmonic on Oct. 22, two weeks after the start of the war, performed in an empty auditorium where the orchestra played to the faces of the hostages whose photos were placed in the first rows of seats, the conductor, Lahav Shani, introduced Beethoven’s “Eroica Symphony” by saying this: “In Beethoven, there is room for lament, grief and loss, alongside hope, heroism, inner strength and fortitude. His message is one of brotherhood and solidarity. And solidarity is the source of our strength.”
How fortunate we were—and are—to have had the opportunity to come together in community for comfort and consolation in these times.
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