a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Yom Kippur-The Best Holiday Yet?

Posted on: September 30, 2013

I know what you’re thinking. How can Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, the day of chest thumping, the day of the endless synagogue service, the day with out food, without water where we dress in the same sack cloths we should be buried in, how can that day be the best holiday yet?

Two Words (that are a name) Joey.Weisenberg

Joey Weisenberg, the Music Director for Kane Street Synagogue, holds a High Holiday Service on Bergen street, a few blocks away from the main service and sanctuary. I showed up rather early for Kol Nidre to the school that would substitute as a synagogue for the next 26 hours because I knew that in order to get seats I’d need to be there early. When I arrived, a Spanish man, his son and his Jewish wife were also in the lobby of the school. They were guests and wanted to know where service was and when it would start. We chit-chatted and I mentioned that it was my first time at Kol Nidre at Kane Street and the Spanish gentlemen commented, “We’re both new to this, as non-Jews!”

“I’m Jewish,” I corrected politely. “The lesson is that you can’t make assumptions.”

He didn’t ask any more “how” questions and instead asked what should he expect-it was his first Kol Nidre. I told him that while I’d never experienced Kol Nidre at Kane Street, I was sure based on Joey ‘s Friday night Shabbat services, that it would be amazing. And I was right.

It was good that I showed up a half hour early because as service started it was standing room only and the ruach, the spirit, in the place was palpable. The hour and a half  (or more) Kol Nidre service seemed to float by as if floating on an ocean. The familiar High Holiday niggunim rushed through my body and my body swayed involuntarily. As I prayed the communal prayer of confession of sins I didn’t feel as though I was simply repeating meaningless words, I felt them.

Now, Mirs and I have an agreement. I don’t pressure her to do Jewish and she’s promised to do Jewish when we have children. It’s an agreement that works for both of us, but after Kol Nidre I couldn’t help myself.

“You’re going to love it,” I promised her. “Don’t just come for the shofar at the end, come for at least an hour or so.”

She then recounted the Yom Kippurs of her childhood. She’d look down the pew at her family members, many of them reading books they’d brought in or sleeping out of boredom. We’d been to CBST’s massive HH services at the Javit’s Center and, frankly, they weren’t much better. You can’t get that holiness in a convention center with over 1700 Jews, you just can’t.

Instead, you take about 100+ Jews and you squeeze them into a school that serves as a shul and that is how you make the holiness of Yom Kippur something you actually enjoy.

Joey doesn’t lead service in a way that a cantor or a choir does, there’s not observing service with Joey you must participate and that participation results in voices blending, ebbing and flowing in seemingly simple, yet complex melodies that send chills through my body just thinking of it. It was those melodies, those old sad Yom Kippur melodies, combined with the enthusiasm and commitment to taking Judaism by the reigns it’s pure magic.

I didn’t realize that I was fasting, I wasn’t skipping ahead to see how many pages remained in the machzor and I didn’t care when or if it was almost over. By the time the sun started to dip down in the sky the ruach in the building was on 10. The congregants that pushed in to gather around the bima in the center of the space started swaying and jumping and dancing until the shofar sounded.


I felt alive.

1 Response to "Yom Kippur-The Best Holiday Yet?"

[…] just that it’s not quite the same without our song director. I’ve written about Joey a few times and I’d be lying if I said that he wasn’t the reason I joined the shul. […]

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