During Elul, I sing. We will hold a Slikhot singing night, and there will be songs of change and of growth, of love and of connection. We will honour the singers we love, and access hymns and songs of praise from at least two faiths. It is a time of year I believe in and prepare for, and I work hard to make sure the songs are up to date. There will be pop songs and folk songs, rounds and ballads. We have songs in 6 different languages (though most of them are in English) and we have people who like to sing come over and do so.
What will this year’s singing awaken? I don’t know. Maybe a new way of seeing an old concept, transformed though a tune and the words that say what I think and feel. Maybe a connection with someone who hears what she needs. Maybe, closeness and love. Maybe, joy and freedom. Maybe, the ability to cry about a grief, a release for an anger, a celebration. Poetry and song have always held magic for me – so much more than just words of prose. These are words meant to be repeated, with a cadence that makes remembering them easy and possible. These are magic spells, where each syllable has not only basic meaning but weight and texture, because there aren’t many of them. This is where I leave language behind and access an older way of learning, one that goes beyond words and into flows of sound that comfort or critique, console or confound. Singing is a way to add colour to black and white, to add depth to one-dimensional ideas.
It is not so much that singing about change answers questions. It doesn’t necessarily tell me how to do better career wise or what the kids would like for dinner. ( Pease porridge, hot? Alligator pie? ) It does ask some good ones. Do I love without barriers? Am I appreciating what I have today? Are there things I ask God to protect forever? How do I cope with tragedy? Can I walk through life, not blocked by fear? Will I do what God asks, even when it’s difficult? Can I embrace simplicity and t’shuva both? Do I work for peace? Can I be proud of myself even when the results are broken? Am I willing to try again? (By the way, fun game for family and friends…each of these questions refer to a song that I love and sing often. Can you name each one? If you win, I’ll think of an appropriate prize…a dedicated blog post? Or alternatively, no dedicated blog post ever? Bet you can’t get them all… 🙂
Like the routine and grounding of a morning schedule, the words in the song are there time after time. I find their sameness and simplicity comforting. Waking up is something we do daily after all, and it can be a routine. The questions they ask I hear in new ways every time. So, I have the lovely realization that the concept of awakening is something that breaks the cycle and routine of the everyday. Singing has both the routine and the awakening and that is pretty neat in my opinion.
And there are always new songs and stories brought by guests and loved ones; new magic spells that open doors to worlds where I haven’t been before; new questions that I have no answers to but that are wonderful and necessary to ask. There are many ways to have a Slikhot service, from none at all to formal, with appropriate readings and texts. I appreciate all the ways we can say, ‘oh, it’s time to wake up!’ For me, singing is key in this process. I use singing to help my little ones fall asleep every time I put them to bed. I use singing to celebrate family meal times as a special and connected time. I use singing to commemorate special occasions and transitions. On Slikhot, I use singing to awaken, not from a night’s sleep, but from a year’s everyday hassles, to growth and to realization that the world is a very amazing place, one I want to be wide a wake in.