Congregation Emanu-El announces happily that Shefa Siegel, our cantorial soloist for the Jewish New Years from 2014-2016, will join us for the 2018 High Holy Day services. Shefa mixes the traditional modes, or nusaḥim, of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with the songs of Leonard Cohen, the melodies of Shlomo Carlebach, Persian classical music, and original compositions. He approaches prayer as devotional storytelling, using nusaḥ, liturgical poetry, and song to create sacred experience.
Song, especially our old sacred modes, springs from the spirit more ancient than law or scripture. Before any revelation of holy writ, Sinai still in the distance, the Israelites learned the Song of the Sea while travelling across the ocean floor, where music has its source. And long after all wisdom goes into oblivion, there still will be song, for in the beginning was not the word, but a melody.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we go on a pilgrimage of the imagination. We chant our way to places marked by the sacred exploits of ancestors before following the pure sound of the shofar to the origin in a blinding moment of union.
Prayer may no longer spring so naturally or easily out of daily life, but the key to unlocking its sacred experience is nothing more complicated than sincerity. Each prayer has its own mode, nusaḥ, whose arabesques transfigure liturgical poetry from words on a page to worlds appearing like islands on the sea. Just as a navigator knows that if you see the image of the island in your mind, you will never be lost, prayer uses these old modes to know ourselves, by remembering how we got here. “You’d sing,” Leonard Cohen writes. “You’d sing, not for yourself, but to make a self.”
Rabbi Harry and Aaron Severs, our Gabbai, will from time to time call out page numbers from the Maḥzor, the High Holy Day prayer book. This does not mean that you, as a participant, need to jump to the page. If you are reading or studying a part of the Maḥzor that speaks to you then by all means, stay where you are. If you are connecting to the music and the vibe in the synagogue and want to put down the prayer book that is a great thing to do as well. Tfilah(”prayer” in Hebrew) is about being reflective and connecting to the Transcendent. In Yiddish the word davennen holds the word divine within it. Prayer can be about allowing ourselves at a soul level to connect to Divine Source. Using the music and the beautiful light in our sanctuary as a place of meditation can be a powerful and renewing exercise.
Before various prayer segments of the service Rabbi Harry will give a short teaching about the intentions of the prayers, deconstructing the technology of the liturgy, teasing out what the liturgy is trying to accomplish.
We are excited to connect with everyone this upcoming holiday season and we look forward to davening and learning together.
Shana Tovah u’Metukah
Rabbi Harry & Shefa Siegel
PS: The editorial staff did not appreciate that the Rabbi was making a play on words with respect Shefa’s name, which means abundance in Hebrew … so we corrected the article title to a literal translation. We have returned the title to the Rabbi’s intent – the return of a plentiful vocal experience aka “Shefa”.