YOM KIPPUR IN LONDON
“ How does the Creator…” – a very mild voice of a child was trying to make its way to the serious and beloved man at the pulpit some 25+ metres from him in overpacked huge and beautiful the Main Hall of the Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London during the second day of the Yom Kippur service there this year. ”Yes, young gentleman, yes-yes, do ask your question please,”- Lord Rabbi Sacks responded with wonderful precision: no patronising smile, no sugar-like playing with an 8-year old kid.
The Q&A session on Yom Kippur at this exceptional synagogue and so very good community is a peak of the program, and everybody is in. Rabbi Sacks was absolutely serious: “Please, young man, continue”. The boy, obviously being encouraged, has collected himself and asked his sentence in full: “How does the Creator hears someone who is speaking to Him in a low voice?..” What a wonderful question, I thought.
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When we have got the invitation to attend Yom Kippur services and to spend time together with our dear friends in London , we knew that we would be privileged to hear great recitals and pearls of wisdom. And although we are regulars at this enlightening establishment of Jewish life in the heart of Mayfair, it was our first Yom Kippur there. It turned to be the best one that we have ever had. Why?
Because of its wholesomeness, infused with great talent, and because of the truly special atmosphere of friendliness and attention unlimited, to every single person there.
My heart started to pump in a higher rhythm when I saw scores of people, men in a shining white kippot and well dressed women moving to the doors of the Western Marble Arch Synagogue just before the Kol Nidrei. There was a wonderful ceremoniality in the way in which people looked like and how they behaved. The uplifting was in the air literally – and no one glanced to one’s phone, so refreshingly. It was our Jewish Holiest Day, and the people around us on the busy streets in the heart of London were looking at us with respect. This is what I saw with my own eyes.
Which does not overturn the facts of sad reality, when prior the High Holidays, the WMA Board had decided, with a heavy heart, and still be fully in doubt, to take off the sign-board in front of beautiful and exceptional building indicating the synagogue there and informing on the times of the services. Jews of London today do have so many growing reasons to be worried for their safety. But the British Jews are not an easy prey to any bully, there should be no mistake about it.
One could be assured about it once more hearing the answer and seeing the resolve of Lord Rabbi Sacks during the Q&A session on Yom Kippur. To the question on how British Jewry should behave in the case of the vile anti-Semite Corbyn and his clique coming to power. Being addressing people in the synagogue where he was the Head Rabbi during so many years and where he still be the Spiritual Leader of the congregation, Rabbi Sacks was at home. It was very mild and cosy conversation with people he knew so well for many years. And yet, at that moment, Lord Rabbi has become a different person. His voice became steel. His determination was absolute. “In the case it would happen – he said to all of us with viable force – we are not going anywhere. We will stay, and we will fight”. And then this polite, attentive, and kind person did repeat it again, with yet higher determination and resolve: “We will stay, and we will fight”. Everyone in the audience got the message. And did share it.
Even in the current absence of usual sign on the WMA synagogue, the huge and impressive monument to Raoul Wallenberg staying in front of this very synagogue, does indicate it well enough. From the dear friends from the Wallenberg family, I know how much they appreciate that very monument to Raoul.
In the further noble move, the WMA leadership and Board undertook quite a job to rename the part of Great Cumberland Place which is indispensable name to Mayfair, to Raoul Wallenberg Place a few years ago. Lionel Rosenfeld was beaming with light and love when he was telling us on the news a few years back – and I still remember that smile of this exceptional man.
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Lionel, the Senior Rabbi of the Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London, is known for his huge talent as a cantor. No wonder, as he is from five generations of talented Jerusalemite cantors family, and his son Tomer continues the silver thread in the seventh generation. As well, as the rest of the big Rosenfeld family, with all their men and boys are singing along with their father, father-in-law and grandfather. All of them are ever welcome addition to fantastic Shabbaton Choir, the internationally celebrated gem of a synagogue music in which Lionel has put thirty years of his life.
Kol Nidrei in the Rosenfeld’s arrangement sung by Shabbaton Choir and his family members, did not ‘just’ tuned a full-house congregation into a unique sensation of utterly personal communication with the High. It uplifted our souls in tremendous act of mercy.
My dear friend who is attending the Yom Kippur service at the WMA specifically, as many Jewish Londoners from different congregations do for years, have told me: “That unbelievable Yom Kippur service has kept me for the entire year”. There is one thing to hear what your friend is telling, and there is another to experience the phenomenon itself. Never in my life did I attend such unbelievable service as the Yom Kippur conducted by the Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and cantor Senior Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld this October in London. Beautiful, attentive, tactful, emotional, but perfectly balanced, dignified, deep, intelligent, thoughtful, and exceptionally fine. But most of all, immensely talented.
We are thinking often on why it is said in the Talmud that the Creator most of all loves His children’s singing? Why is the act of human singing is regarded as the highest one by the Creator? As the most accomplished among our creative appeals? I was driven by the curiosity to get to the bottom of this for a long time, until I have got it in a crystal clarity: the Creator values our song the most because to sing one needs courage, additionally to all other prerequisites in expression of our thoughts and hopes.
We all know many wonderful people, absolutely sincere in their belief who simply are either shy, or modest, or just introvert by character, and who could think and speak, ‘in a low voice’ to the Creator, and do it with all devotion but who lack the courage to let their songs to go aloud, to fly high. One does need a certain and definite courage to sing. It is not just a musical talent. It is a character’s impulse, and in fact, it is not that simple, thing to do, especially to do it well. The Creator not just loud, He loved King David for both David’s sincerity and his ability to say – to sing it – loudly. The Creator values our song to Him not only for its content or melody, but he embraces the courage of one who dares and overcomes natural for many people barrier to convey whatever we would like to say to Him loudly enough.
My maternal grandmother Adel Chigrinsky was organically talented musically. She sung all her -very difficult – life, from morning to evening, while cooking, cleaning, serving the table, baking, washing the dishes, and in her spare moments of reflections. I honestly cannot imagine what a Jew I would become without permanent tunes of my grandma’s. I think, much less sensitive to the core of our people.
And how immensely lucky we all, several hundreds of people who attended the Yom Kippur service at the WMA Synagogue in London were to be led in our everybody’s private conversation with the High by that superbly fine singing soul’s monologue performed by Lionel Rosenfeld and everybody singing with him during those two days of the October 8th and 9th this year. I cannot stop to think all the time after that service about correlation between the complexity and finesse of one’s character, and the way that person expresses himself in that ‘sing it all’ revelation of our all’ pains, worries and expectations before the ultimate Source of Hope.
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The beauty of life is in its inter-connections, very often not demonstrative ones. So very often the name and words of Leonard Cohen did appear during the Yom Kippur services at the WMA synagogue in London this year, in the sermons delivered by Lord Rabbi Sacks, a devoted and very knowledgeable fan of Cohen; in reminiscences during his Q&A session; and as a surprise gift to all attending in the last part of the Neila service which was sang on a new music, Leonard Cohen’s immortal Let It Be Your Will song arranged anew by Lionel Rosenfeld.
Leonard Cohen was present with all of us in the completely full Main Hall of the synagogue, and we all were reminded and did remember, among many other things mentioned, his so very special You Want It Darker song ( see my essay on the matter) , the title song of his last recorded album which he did with extremely able Choir of Shaar Hashomayim Congregation in Montreal, the home of the oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in Montreal and the largest Jewish traditional synagogue in Canada.
People who did fill the WMA hall were following Rabbi Sacks’ loving tribute to Leonard Cohen, and as if living again every Hineinu word that Cohen was not even singing, but breathing it out along with mighty, energetic, and so very understanding and supportive Choir of Shaar Hashomayim just shortly before his passing.
Together with Rabbi Rosenfeld, Rabbi Sacks was enlightened every time with a cheerful smile when the Shaar Hashomayim Choir and congregation in Canada was mentioned. Why it this? Because another great cantor of our time Stephen Glasser who was long and eminent leader of that great Canadian Jewish Choir was the person who started the Shabbaton Choir in London together with Rabbi Rosenfeld over thirty years ago, and the two of them worked together for several years to lay the foundation of this fine musical institution. Not only fine one, but the institution with a loving heart and quite courageous character, about which I will be only happy to write more.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J68P9aorGoEw9aorThe two-days Yom Kippur service at the WMA Synagogue in London was approaching its conclusion. Nobody was over-tired, as far as I could tell. Very few of us took rather short breaks. Who would like to lose a minute of such special atmosphere? And such interesting, not trivial things to be heard.
“You, young gentleman, is a very exceptional man , asking a question like that. And you will grow up as an exceptional individual, too. We should make and keep a vacancy for you here, in this Schul. I will tell you how the Creator hears when a person addresses to him in a low voice. Creator sees everything and everyone – but you know that, right?” – The boy was nodding assuredly. – “ I will tell you that Creator, in fact, does hear those who are addressing him in a small voice better than He does it when people are screaming to Him. Do you want to know why?” – The boy was nodding further on being absolutely absorbed in his very personal dialogue with Lord Rabbi in a presence of good 750+ people. They were alone at the moment. ‘Creator hears those who are speaking in a low voice better because He, the Creator, He sees inside a human being, not outside him. Inside, He sees and understands everything much much better. Do you understand now, young man?” – Lord Rabbi addressed the boy with full respect. And in a strong voice, a shy two minutes ago child said: “I do”.
This is how our Talking to the High transforms into our Speaking with the High – and for me and my husband, the whole experience of that exquisite Yom Kippur in London has become a very precious treasure.