This High Holy Day season was very special to me. It was a very exciting and very intense process of preparation. As Kol Nidre evening becomes Yom Kippur day, in these unprecedented circumstances, it was hard not being able to communicate with each other in a normal way. This High Holy Day season was especially challenging! But it does not mean that our virtual communications are not real, it just means it is different and unique.
First of all I would like to thank all the people who helped me immensely to make this High Holy Day season special. Special Todah Rabbah to my amazing colleagues, Rabbi Dan Feder, Rabbi Lisa Delson and Rabbi Liora Alban for supporting me in all of my new beginnings and being a part of the music videos. To create these videos and all rehearsals to bring our music to life took a whole village. Karen Wisialowski hired a streaming company, Simplified Streaming Solutions, who simplified our life by streaming seamlessly and smoothly. Because of them, our congregants were able to come together virtually during this High Holy Day by setting up a mobile studio in our beautiful sanctuary.
At the same time I was working with a professional sound engineer, Jacob Wasserman, who is an accomplished musician and a Jewish educator. He is the founder and CEO of JLW designs (a video and music company, based out of Chicago), specializing in virtual choir videos, helping countless synagogues to feel virtually close, while being able to be socially distant; and helped various communities to pray together virtually during this High Holy Day season.
It was very important for me to bring our congregants together and it was the most important goal of this High Holy Day season. Although singing together was impossible as being a very dangerous activity during this pandemic, we made sure that our community experience during this time was meaningful and creative. Of course it would not be happening without our virtual choirs, band, and Torah readers. I was thrilled to find so many talented people with a passion for music and the love to sing or play instruments!
There are not enough words in the world to describe my gratitude to the following people who made it all happen:
Sholom choir: Rabbi Dan Feder, Rabbi Lisa Delson, Rabbi Liora Alban, Brent Pliskow, Nathaniel Bergson-Michelson, Emily Jasinsky, Richard Postal, Lois Fried, Roberta Friedeberg, Rebecca Siler, Rio Spooner, Esther Hollander, Sandra Monasch and Simcha Collins.
Sholom ensemble: Mia Skolnick and Patrick Hagen, Rabbi Lisa Delson, Rabbi Liora Alban, Brent Pliskow, Nathaniel Bergson-Michelson, Emily Jasinsky and Richard Postal.
Sholom Youth choir: Noah Reddy, Allison Morganstern, Jenny Ross, Rachel Zussman, Eli Tzives, Halle Friedeberg, and Logan Turner.
PTS instrumentalists: Charles Calhoun (piano), Esther Hollander (flute, oboe, clarinet), Ben Haber (clarinet), Kymber Gillen (violin), Aharon Wheels Bolsta (drums), and Tim Wood (guitar).
Torah readers and blessers: Brody and Melinda Friedeberg, Bambi Feinberg, Anya and Gene Podkaminer, Erica Carmel, Sherri
& Scott Haber, Melodie & Ben Rubin, Nicole & Rob Salama, Val Langmuir, Alana and Betsy Rosen, Mary Ann Waterman, Arlene Rosenberg, Davina Drabkin, Nathaniel Bergson-Michaelson, and Noah Cohen.
Haftarah readers: Kim Oliff and Sarah Wisialowski.
Thank you all for putting your hearts and minds into the music of High Holy Days and for your unbelievable efforts in putting it all together and lending your personal talents. I am very impressed how fast we have become friends through our music collaborations!
Together with Rabbi Dan Feder, it was a great joy to officiate at my first PTS B’nai Mitzvah service of Brody Friedeberg, Rafael Steinberger, and Audrey Flagg and being able to see them coming up to the Torah! Mazal Tov to you and your families! I am so proud of all of you!
Of course, I could not have done anything without Beverly Rochelle, Shelly Smith, Lindley Rubero, Ayelet Shapiro, Allison Steckley, Karen Wisialowski and Mariano Sanchez (sorry if I forgot anyone) who were working behind the scenes and making everything happen so smoothly.
Now, it is time to tell you that I can’t wait to continue our journey through the year. Our next celebration is Simchat Torah: Just like the seven days of Sukkot and on Shemini Atzeret, on Simchat Torah people make Hakafot (walking and dancing in circles) around the bimah of the synagogue carrying Lulav and Etrog.
On Simchat Torah the Hakafot include special dancing with the Torah held up in the air. On the morning of Simchat Torah in Israel people join together and dance all the way through the city of Jerusalem to the Kotel (Western Wall). Led by scrolls of the orah, thousands of people, young and old, dance and sing their way in a procession that stretches for as the eye can see. So as we are racing this very moment in our community, let us celebrate our lives and count our many blessings at PTS.
This Simchat Torah is going to be a special one as we are putting together a Sholom Klezmer band that will include Laine Schlesinger (flute and piccolo), Esther Hollander (flute, oboe, clarinet), Ben Haber (clarinet), Kymber Gillen (violin), Aharon Wheels Bolsta (drums) and me (accordion). My personal tradition of Simchat Torah is that I play accordion in honor of my father (Zichrono l’vrachah – may his memory be for a blessing), who was a doctor, scientist and also taught himself to play ten different instruments including the accordion.
This tradition always reminds me that even in spite of all the odds that life may bring, Simchat Torah holiday commands us to stay happy. It also reminds me of one of the Israeli songs that we sing often: “Gesher Tzar Meod” (“The world is a narrow bridge…Let us walk through our lives and never be afraid”). As we enter the new season, let us not forget our past and be excited about our future. As we return the Torah to the ark, we sing: “Chadesh Yameinu K’Kedem” (“Renew our days as in the past”).
I am very excited about this year and very honored being a part of PTS! I can’t wait to see you all in person soon!
L’Shanah Tovah and G’mar Chatimah Tovah (Happy New Year and May you be inscribed in the book of life),