Yes, the news is full of bomb threats and vandalism. In the United States, there are not many Jews alive who can remember a time when there was so much open anti-Semitism. This is exactly the sort of time for which Purim was made: it is when we feel most threatened that Purim comes to buck us up, to remind us that we’ve seen it all before.
Celebrate in spite of it all. That principle is at the heart of Jewish survival.
So here are some videos to help you get in the mood for the holiday. Enjoy!
And some fun traditional children’s songs, in Hebrew:
Sometimes it’s time for an update on an old tradition. I repost this because (1) Rabbi Fuchs wrote a swell update to an old seder favorite and (2) he models the way to respond to a reasonable request. So often we are tempted to get defensive when someone points out the flaws in a beloved tradition. Rabbi Fuchs demonstrates a better way. Enjoy!
Since I was a child, Chad Gadya has been one of my favorite parts of the Passover Seder. Its catchy melody and its underlying message always resonated with me.
Singing the song was such fun as we outdid each other to remember the words and sing them as quickly as possible until we came to the refrain, Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya, My father bought for two zuzim, Chad Gadya, Chad, Gadya.
The people of Israel were the Chad Gadya, Aramaic for the innocent little goat, devoured successively by one power after another. The ultimate hope of course is that one day the Eternal one would destroy “the Angel of Death” and the human propensity for conquest and violence. Israel would live in peace and harmony with her neighbors, and all would be right with the world.
The person who said that to me this past Shabbat evening was a woman I’ve known for a long time. She used to sit quietly during services, listening to the music but never participating except by tapping her toe or her fingertips. I noticed that she was singing, and asked her about it.
“I just get more out of it if I sing,” she said, “I can’t explain it.”
That’s my experience, too: I feel the service more deeply and I lose myself in it if I sing along. A lot of people don’t sing because they are insecure about their voices, and that’s a shame. Jewish prayer is a whole-body, whole-person experience, and the person who doesn’t sing misses out on a part of it. People don’t sing for a lot of reasons:
“I have a terrible singing voice” – The quality of your singing voice is not important. It might have been important in high school glee club, but it isn’t an issue for congregational singing. If you are really worried about it, sing softly, but sing.
“I don’t know the tunes” – The way most people learn the tunes is by singing along. Again, sing softly if you are unsure, but if you can sing with the car radio, you can sing along with “Adon Olam,” even if the tune is new to you.
“I don’t know the words.” – So don’t use the words! Sing “lai-lai-lai” or “dai-dai-dai” or whatever works for you. Again, if you sing along, you’ll learn the words faster. If you are self-conscious, sing softly.
“I’d rather listen to others sing.” – OK, sometimes when that’s what I need from the service, I just listen, too. But if that’s all I ever did, it would be like showing up to potluck suppers empty-handed time after time. Congregational singing is part of the service precisely because it lifts the spirit in a way that nothing else can; it is something we do for ourselves and for one another.
If you are worried about the etiquette of congregational singing, here are some tips:
Do sing, but don’t bellow. A nice rule of thumb is that you should be able to hear other people around you sing, too.
If you are unsure of words or tune, sing a bit more softly.
Sing with, not against the congregation. If you learned the tune a different way, that’s interesting but do not try to impose your will on others.
Sing with the congregation. If the cantor or soloist is singing alone, don’t chime in; it will look like you are showing off.
When human beings sing in a group, we join ourselves together at a deep level. We take breaths together, we move together, we almost become a new, larger being. Music is a mysterious and wonderful part of liturgy; it reaches parts of the human psyche that are otherwise difficult to touch. It is one of the oldest forms of Jewish worship:
Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Eternal, and spoke, saying: I will sing unto the Eternal, for God is highly exalted. – Exodus 15:1
Music transcends time; it is old and new. It stirs memory and emotion and it moves hearts. Do you sing in the service? Why or why not?
A friend of ours is getting ready to light Chanukah candles for the first time this year (two friends, actually, but only one is local). Since I’m in the business of guiding people through their Jewish journeys, it’s an extra privilege to help someone a friend to find the tools and learn the skills to lead a Jewish life. So, the very first thing I did was look to my calendar for when I could invite our Charlotte friend over to join us in lighting the Chanukah candles.
Alas, it seems that my family of four will only be together in our home for one night of all eight nights of Chanukah! And that one night is the SEVENTH night, which is not a great night to help someone kick off the holiday for the first time. While we negotiate our complicated schedules, I thought it would be best to…