Over the past two weeks, I had the privilege of traveling across the globe, touching down in different continents to perform at beautifully diverse venues. My trip began in Cape Town, South Africa, where I spent a Shabbat with the local Jewish community at the exquisite Garden’s Shul.
On Friday evening, we sat at the communal dinner with Chasidim, non-religious families, French families, and Jews from all walks of life. We did not share a common language. However, as soon as we started singing the traditional Shalom Aleychem melody, electricity filled the air. All those in attendance were suddenly transformed and united by the singing, which lasted until the early hours of the morning. We sat and sang beautiful age-old Shabbat melodies intertwined with Chasidic, Israeli, and Yiddish songs.
After a glorious Shabbat, I traveled to Johannesburg and then on to a two-day safari adventure. On a bus deep in the jungle–joined by those whom I had just met–we were once again united in song. We sang while watching the magnificent sunrise. We prayed together. We sat still in awe and trepidation as the lions–truly the kings of the jungle–walked past our open Jeeps. We could feel the breath of these magnificent animals as they came to explore us.
These were moments of such great intensity and connection with G-d’s beautiful universe and creation as well as one another. And there again, as we were pulling out of the wildlife reserve, we spontaneously broke out in song. We sang about our land and our people and referenced so many of King David’s exquisite words with melodies that we have come to know and cherish.
From there, I traveled to Spain’s Canary Islands to participate in a weekend getaway organized by KMR Tours. Before we knew it, Shabbat was upon us once again. I walked into the grand ballroom to lead the Friday evening service and witnessed a sea of Hasidic Jews wearing shtreimels, interspersed with less religious Jews who had also come to participate. Jews from Russia and Ukrainian refugees also joined us to be reinvigorated by the community.
I had an entire repertoire planned before I went up to lead services. But as I got to the beautiful words of Lecha Dodi, I decided to sing one of the most well-known melodies–one that I believed almost everyone in the room would know. Instantly, my voice was drowned out by the hundreds of other voices singing with great excitement and fervor. The singing culminated in dancing and the participation of almost everyone in the room, long after my planned service was to be finished.
The next day was equally infused with singing. As Shabbat drew to a close, in those few moments before the sun set (my most favorite part of Shabbat), the organizers asked me to lead a Kumzitz style of singing. Suddenly, people from tables across the dining room moved their chairs and joined us. Dozens of Jews from all across the world were once again singing and harmonizing together. It began with a traditional song, paying homage to the Hasidic traditions and the famous Shenker melodies. As I introduced plethora other melodies (among them Moditz, Israeli, Cantorial) people sang them with no less excitement.
I looked around the room and saw people deeply moved to tears. Suddenly, it hit me: what great power and impact the music of the soul has to unite and open the hearts of our people in every corner of G-d’s beautiful world.
As we enter the high holiday season–a time of great trepidation for some and deep introspection for others–I hope that each one of us has a “go-to” place to be inspired by and engaged by music. Music has an undeniable power to serve as the ultimate Uniter people, of extended family and friends, and of the Jewish nation regardless of what corner of the world they call home.