Thursday, October 06, 2011

Paul Shapiro's Midnight Minyan as Tree of Life

Yom Kippur freaks me out every single year. I start dreading it the second Tisha B'Av ends with my terror escalating by the time Rosh Hashana rolls around. It's not just that I am a terrible faster with unstable blood sugar, constant thirst, a caffeine addiction and a thyroid condition; it's the prospect of being imprisoned within a 25-hour-long cell of prayer, devotion and Jewish community that gets to me.

When I think of my ideal Yom Kippur it involves being in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or outdoors in a beautiful natural setting. I envision spending the day reading, sitting under a leafy tree and thinking deep or random thoughts, focusing on God, eternity, my soul, my life and how to be a better person.

There was a year, maybe two decades ago, that HOBB and I hosted a home Kol Nidre service in our beloved Westchester home on Aberfoyle Road in New Rochelle. The year in question, Yom Kippur came "early," that is to say it was summery and I wore a white linen dress. Our friends gathered with us on the floor of our living room. To begin, we played Ernst Bloch's "Kol Nidre." We read from our machzorim and spoke about repentance and forgiveness.

The experience was memorable, beautiful, perfect.

These days, the daunting institutional structure of Judaism is too much with me. Synagogues seem to separate me from my soul and the outdoors, where I long to be. Sitting in shul I long for escape.

And it's not that prayer doesn't speak to me; it's that long distance davening wears me out -- the thick siddur, the myriad pages to leaf through, the standing and sitting and ark opening and closing and silent and responsive reading, on and on for hours on end.

I have written in the past about having DADD -- Davening Attention Deficit Disorder.

The quantity of the prayer and possibly its structured, codified, canonized nature tends to dismay and alienate me. I know it can be otherwise.

Which brings me to the remarkable surprise of last night at the Sixth Street Shul and Paul Shapiro's Midnight Minyan which performed the most marvelous, maniacal, jazz-infused renditions of original music inspired by Jewish chants, melodies and prayer.

The pic above was taken by my friend Ricky Orbach, the formidable Kohane of Newark.

Riffing on the Jewish liturgical archive -- including "Etz Chaim He," the blessings before the Haftorah, the "Ashamnu" and Fiddler's "To Life - L'Chaim!" -- Paul Shapiro and his guys put on a show that was staggeringly, transcendently fantastic.

It was cool. It had swing. It blew my mind. It sparked my soul. It made me dance in my seat. It made me smile and wish for more.

From now until Yom Kippur, I will be listening to Paul Shapiro's mad music again and again, seeking shelter beneath the leafy canopy of his meshuga melodies, knowing them to be a manifestation of the Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life.

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