Inspiration and distraction at High Holy Day services

By David Amos

David Amos

David Amos

SAN DIEGO –As we do every year, my wife and I sat at the synagogue in our preferred seat for the High Holidays services. As expected, we enjoyed the thought provoking words from our Rabbi, heard the pure and beautifully performed chants from our cantorial soloist, and greeted fellow congregants, many of whom we see only at this time of the year.

But, as we all know, this is a time when we gather to be inspired by prayers of repentance and introspection. A good shot of humility is always welcome.

This we do, but I am either cursed or blessed with a mind that hears a single word or melody, and I mentally explode into countless other thoughts, concepts, and tunes. There are many chants and songs that are unique for the High Holidays, and others we hear throughout the year. Some are delightful and fresh, and others are dreadfully repetitious. Some melodies are as comforting as meeting an old friend again, and others resemble a noodnick who you wish would go away.

The words in the prayer book is a subject in itself. The new High Holiday book that we now have at Tifereth Israel Synagogue has a treasury of marginal notations, with old stories that relate to that particular page or section, or modern thoughts of contemporary relevancy.

I find a lot of interest is in hearing the cantorial chants. Some are the exact tunes we have heard from our young years, others are variations of these melodies, and at times, we hear totally different ones which catch us off guard; they may be delightfully new, or as in classical music, or too unfamiliar for us to reach a comfort level on a first hearing.

As with music, the words that I read or hear also explode with at least half a dozen other meanings, sometimes in three different languages. Each word can be like a rainbow of colors, leading me into patterns of thought that would not happen otherwise.

One element is very difficult for me to tolerate: When the rabbi is speaking, I cling to every word he utters, someone in our proximity starts a social chat with his/her neighbor. This is not only impolite, but in my case (and I imagine that I’m not alone at this), when I hear two voices at the same time, I can not process either one. And this is most frustrating. A general advise of common courtesy: When at services, listen and do not converse. If people are hard of hearing, their voices may be louder than they realize, and really disturb others.

There is one situation which is very important to me during my time in synagogue during these solemn days of prayer and meditation: There are some unique moments of relaxation of the mind and body, where innovative ideas, music selections that come together as a concert, recording projects, guest soloists, and other such thoughts are fighting to escape and become reality. Sometimes, logistical puzzles that needed a simple solution evaded me until I experienced one of these inspirational outbursts.

It may be that I reach a level of relaxation that frees other parts of the brain to activate, and allows the fusion of ideas to meld. Maybe the brain becomes connected to a celestial WiFi and plugs into  HaShem! But, there is no question that the inspiration is there, and I hope that other fellow congregants experience some of these inspiring moments.

A similar but unrelated situation in which I found myself was being in what athletes call “The Zone.” It has happened to me only a few times, while conducting concerts or rehearsals. This is a state of mind where all of a sudden my mind went into a semi-trance, where I kept conducting, the music kept being played by the musicians, but I was physically not doing a thing, with my arms crossed, amusingly watching the whole process. In reality, my arms kept beating at exactly the right times, and the music kept progressing swimmingly. After a minute or so, I “snapped out of it,” kept conducting and apparently no one noticed it but I. There must have been some inspirationally inspired energy in all of this. I was conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony!

There are many different benefits that we derive from attending these wonderful services. I encourage you to attend, and who knows, you may have wondrous creative ideas and renewed inspiration in many areas.

Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra (TICO) and has guest conducted professional orchestras around the world.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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