Paula Jacobs

Music for My Soul during the Global Pandemic

As I write this piece, it’s the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Elul, the period of introspection and self-reflection before the High Holidays. Like every other morning this month, I begin the day by tuning into my cantor’s High Holiday melody of the day, which includes an inspirational teaching and his singing of the daily melody (sometimes with his musical family as an added bonus), and culminating with the blast of the shofar.

In today’s video, the cantor reminds us that the 25th day of Elul represents the date for the beginning of creation, according to some Talmudic sources. And as I listen to his rendition of the Hassidic Kaddish by Yossele Rosenblatt, I am reminded how different High Holidays will be this year.

After six months of social isolation, there’s so much I continue to miss – visits with family and friends, schmoozing at Shabbat Kiddush, theatre performances, travel, and even running into a supermarket just to pick up a single grocery item.

This month though, upon waking each day, after reaching for my first cup of coffee, I eagerly anticipate the High Holiday melody of the day. “L’David Ori, God is My Light,” “Aleinu,” “V’Al Kulam,” “Areshet Sefetainu” are some of my favorites. And as I hear these tunes and the wakeup call of the shofar, my soul is uplifted, and find comfort and healing.  And I begin the day by temporarily trying to erase the sadness of the raging pandemic and the profound loss we feel this High Holiday season.

Indeed it’s the music that continues to refresh my soul. It’s the voices of the iconic Israeli singers Arik Einstein z”l  and Chava Alberstein as I listen to them singing “P’gisha l’Eyn Ketz” (Unending Meeting), the poem by Israeli poet, Natan Alterman z”l, whose 50th yahrzeit we marked this year.

It’s also the music that I have heard in the poetic sounds and expressions while studying the words of Alterman’s lyric poetry with Israeli scholar and educator, Rachel Korazim. It’s also the beautiful music accompanying Alterman’s, “Od Hozer Ha-Nigun (The Melody Returns), and other poems that our class has heard by the many talented musicians who have performed for our Zoom class as part of a project to support Israeli musical performers while the pandemic wreaks havoc on their livelihood.

“The psalm reads: For singing to our God is good. [Psalm 147:1] It is good if man can so bring it about that God sings within him,” writes Martin Buber in Ten Rungs: Hasidic Sayings.

As Jews around the world prepare to enter 5781 amidst this time of profound loss and sadness, I hope that the sound of the shofar will be our wakeup call to listen to the music, hear its call, and sing as the psalmist says. And so as we raise up our voices and uplift our souls, I fervently hope that each of us may do our part to bring healing, comfort, and transformation for a better tomorrow.

About the Author
Paula Jacobs is a Boston area writer. She has published in a variety of digital and print publications including Tablet Magazine, the Forward, and The Jerusalem Post.
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