I’m a regular shul-goer, leaving home with my husband and arriving at the start of the minyan. I even have a sort of reputation among my friends for my arrival time, which others call “early” and I refer to as “on-time.” [To my chagrin, when we hosted a future daughter-in-law on Shabbat for the first time, one of my friends actually advised me not to push her to leave so early for shul!] While my Young Israel minyan does not include any public roles for women, our seating area is a thrust balcony, providing an unobstructed view of the main sanctuary which promotes an inclusive feeling.
When COVID-19 struck, my husband and I, both in our early 70’s and one of us with a compromised immune system, started isolating early, and we continue to remain cautious in our interactions with others. We are used to davening every Friday night together – a practice that began during the first year of our marriage, almost 47 years ago. We enjoy singing a great deal. If I’m home alone Friday nights and on those rare Shabbat mornings that I don’t go to shul I daven aloud. I remember some of the nusach, but I often invent my own tunes for various prayers. Singing aloud helps me slow down and relish the words of the tefilot, especially those of pesukei d’zimrah.
Singing aloud helps me slow down and relish the words of the tefilot, especially those of pesukei d’zimrah.
So, when the Coronavirus and our new lifestyle took hold, I suddenly had a steady new davening partner – my husband. That first Shabbat, I actually felt that my private davening space had been invaded, but we quickly developed our own style together. Our Shabbat has become leisurely: we rise whenever, and after breakfast move to the main sanctuary — our dining room. The table is strewn with downloads of articles on the parsha, usually from Torah.com and Lehrhaus, in addition to the “The Jewish Study Bible”, the Artscroll “Chumash,” Ramban, “The Torah: A Woman’s Commentary,” Hirsch’s “The Pentateuch,” and “The Hebrew Bible” newly translated by Robert Alter. I have learned to accommodate my husband’s style of davening, and the portions that I usually sing aloud, he now joins. When he recalled the nusach from his father’s shul, we began singing it together. I am a full participant in the service, sometimes reading the Prayer for Israel or announcing the New Moon.
That fervent prayer, lifted in song, expresses almost a romantic desire for a past that is gone. And while we sang the words, we learned over centuries to replace a Temple-based service with the synagogue service we love so well.
While our new Shabbat is providing spiritual growth and sustenance, I pray that somehow our lives will return to normal, but, sadly, I don’t think it will. When I think this way, I call to mind the words we sing when returning the Torah to the Ark: “Hashivaynu Hashem, v’nashuva; Chadesh yomeynu ke’kedem.” We have endowed our prayers with a vision of how life once was, praying for the return of the Beit Ha’mikdash and the glory of the Davidic kingdom. That fervent prayer, lifted in song, expresses almost a romantic desire for a past that is gone. And while we sang the words, we learned over centuries to replace a Temple-based service with the synagogue service we love so well. Every branch of Judaism has reinvented itself in every age to respond to its milieu, while keeping intact the texts and the tenets and values we treasure.
What we want now is the reinstitution of our lives as we lived them not even a year ago. But it may be that we are in the midst of a major reinvention of Jewish worship practices. We can keep the memory as of old, but renew our lives in the coming months as we figure out our responses to a new normal and reconfigure how we pray in a changed world.
Dedi Firestone is a former children’s book publicist, arts administrator and grant writer. Her days are now spent with hobbies and projects too numerous to list and her nights streaming excellent TV; but her best times are with her grandchildren.
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