Faith in Fairfield / Let the music move you
Published 11:39 am, Monday, February 7, 2011
I recently attended a funeral where the music sung in the service brought tears to my eyes, so moving were the melodies and the voice that was singing them. That might seem par for the course for a member of clergy who feels the power of prayer. But I am a rabbi, and the experience I had was at a Catholic church, so the context was a little out of the ordinary for me. I've heard "On Eagles Wings" before and find it a beautiful hymn, but the power of music to focus in on the poignancy of loss juxtaposed with the spiritual awe that accompanies the feeling that the soul continues on its journey was especially evident to me that day. Just the day before, I had received the news of the death of a dear friend, and much beloved song-writer and inspiration to thousands in the Jewish community, Debbie Friedman.
Debbie and her music transformed Jewish worship over the past four decades, especially but not only in Reform Jewish communities. Beginning as a teenager song-leading in Jewish summer camps, Debbie started to write new melodies to traditional prayers in a folk style that enabled communities to become fully involved in the prayer experience again through participatory singing. Before long, as she engaged more deeply in the texts of our tradition, she began to transform prayers in ways that enabled more people to understand their meaning and feel their power. And the melodies that she wrote, and the powerful, yearning voice in which she sang them, opened the gateways to a renewed spiritual experience for thousands who experienced Debbie at concerts, healing services, workshops, Sabbath and festival worship.
And so it was, still reeling from the news of her death, that I was reminded of the power of voice and melody to unlock the deepest spiritual yearnings of the soul, while listening to "On Eagles Wings." The power of music to release those feelings crosses all faith and denominational lines.
Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, who lived in the late-18th century, taught that there are 10 "melodies" in the universe that, when vibrating in harmony with each other, have the power to bring complete healing to our world. So often, music has the power to bring us to tears -- we recognize our own fragility and brokenness that needs healing and, having broken open our hearts, the compassion needed to reach out flows more freely, enabling us to offer healing to others. As the psalmist teaches (in a line that Debbie set to a powerful melody), "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy."
At Congregation B'nai Israel, we are honoring Debbie's memory by celebrating her music with a song-session on Saturday, Feb. 12, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Led by a team of some of Connecticut's best song-leaders, and guest musicians from further afield, we are inviting everyone to join us as we sing our souls to God. We hope you can join us. But whatever your faith tradition, bring to mind a melody that moves you; find a time and a place to sing it with all your heart and let it enter your soul. May it bring you healing and inspiration, just as the music of Debbie Friedman did for so many thousands of people.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz, a Fairfield resident, is the associate rabbi at Congregation B'nai Israel, 2710 Park Ave., Bridgeport.
Born, raised and educated in London, England, she earned her BS and PhD from University College London before entering rabbinic school at the Leo Baeck College. She later transferred to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, where she was ordained in May 2006. She was called to the pulpit at B'nai Israel in July 2006. Gurevitz worked with teenage leaders of NFTY as program director of URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, N.Y., and served as a member of the management team and prayer leader at Elat Chayyim, a trans-denominational retreat center in upstate New York. She received numerous prizes and awards while in rabbinic school, and has worked in the field of social and environmental justice. Gurevitz has also published several papers in the field of ethics and environmental education.
E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She blogs at http://shmakoleinu-hearourvoices.blogspot.com; follow her on Twitter @RabbiGurevitz.