Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Search For Kol Nidre

If you haven't had the awesome experience of Kol Nidre Op. 47 then you won't know what I mean when I say that Yom Kippur seems less complete without it.  My holiday with my family was wonderful, don't get me wrong, but I found myself yearning for that special service. My Ima and I always hold hands during the wonderful interlude of the cello, swaying slowly with our eyes closed. When we open them, they are often filled with tears and we are uplifted for a sweet new year. This time I didn't have Ima or the curly haired cellist or the matzah ball soup and brisket we eat every year before fast. One week after a unique and delightful Rosh Hashanah experience with family, I was left during the Days of Awe searching for something more. I found it in Jerusalem.

A day before Yom Kippur, Jerusalem was overtaken by a special energy. Crowds and crowds piled into the Old City. Chickens were squawking everywhere, feathers flying up into the air as they were being swung over people's heads. Coins jingled into the hands of tzedakah seekers.  The curious mixture of Arab bread and popcorn wafted through the carnival-like atmosphere near the kotel. There were concerts, שנה טובה (shana tova) signs flying past on every bus, and general good humor. My friend and I were wandering through the streets when we suddenly noticed a young man standing there with a violin. We walked up and he asked if he could take a request. I said to play whatever he wanted and was instantly awed when he jumped into a thrilling classical rendition. Godfrey couldn't have been older than 18 or 19 with wavy sandy brown hair and a kind, lopsided smile. When he talked about his music a light lit up in his eyes. He told me he had recently moved to Israel to attend the Jerusalem Music Conservatory and was playing in the street for fun. As we talked, I felt an instant connection, like I was supposed to have met him. I thanked him and we walked away.

We were about a block away when an idea came to me--maybe he could play me Kol Nidre! I asked my friend if we could turn back and ran back over. He smiled and put his bow to the strings:

After that, the night continued to get even better. We wandered through the narrow cobblestone streets of Nachlaot, past ancient shudders painted turquoise, homes piled on top of one another, their Jerusalem stone decorated here and there by uplifting artwork. You could hear crickets and strings of music floating through windows. The sizzle of the sun had cooled and there was an almost damp calm to the air. Some stars peaked out beyond the balconies, with their white linens flowing in the breeze. We turned a corner and stumbled upon a group of teenagers singing beautiful songs to a guitar and clarinet. They moved back and forth in one large rhythmic circle, girls seated on one side, boys on the other. It was funny to me that the guitarist looked exactly like any song-leader at any camp or retreat I had ever gone to in the States. He was a little heavyset, curly hair stuck out above his ears, and he had a goofy laugh. There were also night tours coming all through the area, of Israelis who came during selichot to get a little taste of the rich history of these stones. We tagged along and had a ball. Later that night, we pulled the sofa onto my balcony and relaxed with tea, grapes, and the stars.

That was just an introduction to what was to come...

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