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From Forgiveness to Healing; From Awe to Joy

By Cantor Jacqueline Rawiszer

I just recently returned from a vacation on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. My husband thought that the break might do us both good. I had just finished covering for my rabbinic partner’s six month sabbatical, Mitch was on the mend from treatment for prostate cancer, and we both were still reeling over the tragic loss of a young family member several months before.

We arrived at the time Hurricanes Iselle and Julio were on the radar. Not one to waste time, he made sure we embarked on the special journey he had always remembered: The Road to Hana. In the seven months since we were married we experienced switchbacks which seemed to resonate as we traversed the Hana Highway. The beauty and the joy of the scenery was balanced by the fear, uncertainty, and challenge of the road. No way around it but through it.

The journey of Tishrei takes us from awe to joy; from repentance and forgiveness to healing and wholeness, and ultimately to a spiritually deepened joy and love. As we begin traveling this road, there is hard work we must do on our own, certainly, but we never lose sight of the fact that whatever pain, heartbreak, challenge or obstacle that is all consuming – it is within the context of our relationship to the “other” and the “One” that truly counts.

“The most beautiful thing a man can do is forgive.” – Eleazar ben Judah

We are reminded of God’s compassion at this time of year when we recite the Thirteen Attributes (Midot).

“The Eternal One, the Eternal God is merciful and gracious, endlessly patient, loving, and true, showing mercy to thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and granting pardon” – Exodus 34:6-7
Although the text first appears in Torah after the sin of the Golden Calf, the rabbis later cut the text, focusing on the positive. This is the form we utilize within the context of the worship service. At a time of deep emotional anguish, the real or imagined hurts we experience skyrocket to a level of such intensity that one may find it impossible to process. If God can forgive, so can we. Following is an exquisite rendition of the prayer set to music by Max Helfman (1901-1963) and sung by Cantor Faith Steinsnyder and the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble:

Adonai Adonai  - Helfman

With the burden of resentment removed and our hearts open to healing, we begin to move forward and collectively offer thanks to God. The Hoda’ah (Thanksgiving) prayer in the Amidah, Modim Anachnu Lach, expresses our deep gratitude, as well as the repetition of the themes of compassion, mercy, and kindness. This is beautifully illustrated by the setting by Aminadav Aloni (1928-1999) and sung by Cantor Mikhail Manevich on the recording “The American Conference of Cantors at 50”:

Modim Anachnu Lach – Aloni

Our deep work has taken us to the spiritual pinnacle at the closing of the gates of the N’ilah and the expanse that opens before us is wide and filled with possibility. It is filled with hope and as we are commanded to experience the “elements of closeness, of love, and most importantly, integration. To use an example from nature, when we stand in awe of an ocean in a thunderstorm, we may feel inspired and uplifted, but we are most likely relating to that awesome sight from a distance. To plunge in and immerse in the water, we cannot stand there awe-struck, afraid of the might of the ocean. So, too, in our relationship with God. For this reason Tishrei gives us the days of Joy (Sukkot, Sh’mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah).” - Rabbi Simon Jacobson, 60 Days; A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays

We are now able to approach with strength found within ourselves, with our community, and with God. Beth Schafer’s infectious “Chazak” captures this well:

Chazak Chazak – Schafer

In alignment with the Union for Reform Judaism and Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ vision of “Catalyzing Congregational Change”, we find ourselves at a time when the need to adapt to the ever-changing fabric of affiliation and Jewish connection is first and foremost a function of relationship. Ultimately a relationship that grows and bears fruit for generations to come. Especially true is the need to connect with young families and “seekers” in ways which ring true and create avenues for that connection.

Since 2003, at Congregation of Reform Judaism in Orlando, my youth choir, ”Kol Tkvah”, has been singing certain songs during the High Holy Days that continue to remain in repertoire. Through the years I have made (and have tried to make) changes, to be sure. In many cases change is welcome and works beautifully. But sometimes the continuity can also catalyze a different kind of change. As the children have grown and have graduated to the Teen Ensemble, “Shir Joy”, or they have graduated High School and have returned to participate in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Family services, they pass the solos to younger members as a musical rite of passage. Hearing their voices and their request reminded me that the relational partnership in synagogue life is with members of all ages. In this age of online communities and cyber worship, the joy of communal worship together in a multigenerational setting may actually seem like a novel idea to some. Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben’s “Sing Along Song” continues to bring a smile to a new generation:

Sing Along Song – Reuben

As we embrace the year 5775 through the journey of Tishrei with a renewed relationship with yourself, others, and with God, I leave you with the words of Rabbi Naomi Levy:

“May God be with you, may health and strength sustain you, may you be a blessing to the world, and may blessings surround you, now and always. Amen.”

Cantor Jacqueline Rawiszer serves Congregation of Reform Judaism in Orlando as co-clergy with rabbinic colleague Rabbi Steven W. Engel. She strives to combine her two greatest passions, Judaism and music to create a vibrant and warm worship experience for all members of the CRJ family. She completed the cantorial certification program through Hebrew Union College - Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music in 2007. Cantor Jacki is a proud and active member of the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) and serves as Secretary. She serves on the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, the Community Council on Spirituality and Aging and is a graduate of the 2010 cohort of the Kellogg School of Management’s Program for Jewish leaders. To further inform her work in the area of chant as a healing modality, Cantor Jacki  completed the two year Kol Zimra program with Rabbi Shefa Gold in New Mexico in 2012.