Another piece of writing inspired by Rabbi Jordan Braunig’s Elul writing prompts.
PROMPT 8: As we start this new week, I invite you to write that first blast of tekiah for yourself. Journal about a moment of joy and completeness and success from this past year. Is there a moment this year that you can put your finger on where you experienced a sense of wholeness? Sing the song of that moment!
I spent the week after Tisha b’Av — the first of the seven weeks of consolation — at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut. I was there to expand my learning about prayer leadership, through the DLTI (Davvenen Leadership Training Institute). This transformative week couldn’t have come at a better time. I arrived at the retreat badly in need of consolation, unsure of my future, afraid and alone. I knew that my job was ending. I knew that was the right thing. I had no idea what would be the next right thing, and that weighed on me.
I still don’t, by the way, but I feel much better.
Part of what helped was being at DLTI and having a safe environment in which to begin unpacking my conflicting ambitions, desires, hopes, dreams, fears, and practicalities. During that week, a purposeful prayer community developed. Though the people in our group came from many backgrounds and each had a different story and path, we shared a common purpose for the week: developing our skills in the leadership of prayer. We prayed together three times a day, studied the siddur, learned music both traditional and new, walked in the woods, talked, laughed, ate, stretched.
In the evenings, after the day’s planned curriculum concluded, a small group of us gathered in the lounge informally and sang late into the night. I called us the Shir Els, and nobody objected. There was some serious musical talent in the room, young people with guitars and songwriting credits and heart-stoppingly beautiful voices. First few days I barely opened my mouth.
But I grew.
On our last morning there, as we were waiting for a session to start, Joey Weisenberg’s Kol Haneshama was noodling around in my head. I started to sing. As I got into my groove, I caught the eye of someone across the room, who was singing too. We spurred each other on. A few more jumped in. The harmonies started to fill out — the two parts of the round intertwined like the strands of your grandmother’s challah. Rabbi Shawn Zevit found us on his guitar and kicked the groove even higher. Chairs became drums, the spaces between the seats somehow made room for the liveliest dancing this side of your wild cousin’s wedding. Clapping and dancing and singing. Pure joy.
That’s when I knew it was possible. That’s when I felt that whatever is unfolding will show me my path.