A decade ago, I received a gift from my mother: A set of "Amidah Meditation Cards," created by Rabbi Marcia Prager.
The Amidah prayer, where we stand and recite the liturgy silently, had always been a place where my mind wandered, where I felt unsure of what I was "supposed" to be doing, where I'd been self-conscious about when to sit down -- careful not to be the first or the last person standing.
So, I was grateful to receive this gift, a tangible way for me to interact with the prayer. As a tactile person, I loved being able to hold this thing in my hand.
And though there were 19 cards in the set, blessings for different intentions, I gravitated towards one card, and held it close: AVOT: "We call Upon Our Ancestors in Our Journey." Baruch Atah Adonay Mageyn Avraham V'ezrat Sarah.
It created an opening, I found a way into this prayer.
I say it everyday.
Over the past week, I've had conversations with some of you: All of us searching for ways to connect. And on Erev Rosh Hashanah, I, along with many of you, found another entry point, a way inside, an opening, at Nublu, a venerable music club still brimming with the grit and sounds of the Lower East Side.
Several attendees told me that it was their first time at a Because Jewish event, that they had come alone and did not know anyone. But by the end of the night they had felt connected, feeling a safeness created in the unfamiliar, and a comfort in interacting with everyone from Dan, to their seat neighbor, to Sydney Faith Rose who led us in meditation, to Jeremiah who led us in song and prayer, to interactions with the bartenders over Rosh Hashanah Appletinis.
A highlight of the night was the Amidah: A jazz interpretation of this "silent" prayer, with Dave Harrington on guitar, Jordan McLean on trumpet, and Amir Ziv on drums.
The sounds - the mirroring of the participants taking in the music and of the musicians themselves - communing - with their instruments and each other to create this music felt like a holy experience: a true heart-opening-entry-point.
Some of us cried.
And we prayed.
I'm reminded how it is often an ordinary space that allows people to walk in the door, to show up at all.
We're lucky to have two of our musicians: Jordan McLean and Dave Harrington share from their perspective:
"Having spent so much time over the years listening to and performing music at Nublu, it has become a very special place for me, a place where I've had so many unique and indelible musical experiences. But, just when you think that you've done every kind of gig under the sun, a friend calls and asks you to play an improvised meditation at his Rosh Hashanah services. It was really a magical experience to feel that room transform from a secular to a spiritual space - and to be a part of it. My favorite thing about being a New Yorker is that if you keep your mind and heart open and you say "Yes!" enough, you can be welcomed into so many different communities - and this night was definitely a prime example of that. It was an honor to be asked and thrill to be a part of that night of reflection and community. Shana Tova! -Dave Harrington
My constant striving in the realm of music is to activate a palpable energy. That energy can be felt as a spiritual feeling, a way to experience the 'now' in a more aware fashion, or simply as a hedonistic, joyful way of being present.The gathering for the first night of Rosh Hashanah combined all of these experiences for me. The combination of ritual & looseness, and of the disparate musical talent elevated those few hours to a profound place; one I was forced to reckon with in the moment and accept responsibility for my personal spiritual/vibrational condition. Can't wait for the next time! - Jordan McLean
Wishing everyone a sweet new year.