Shorashim Kol Nidre Choir

Comments before Kol Nidre, 12 October 2005

There’s a not insignificant problem with Yom Kippur. Every other holiday in the Jewish calendar has some national or historical reason, or excuse, to celebrate it. Sukkut, Pesah, Purim, Tisha B’Av. Rosh Hashana is one of four new years discussed in the Talmud, along with Tu B’shvat. This need to mark new years is apparently important to us, since most of us have six or seven that we observe, including birthdays, anniversaries, tax years, the school year, and what is obscurely called Sylvester.

And then we have Yom Kippur. Yes, it is for repentance, but the point of the day is that we should repent every day. We recall, with copious detail, the sacrifices of the temple, but few of us, in this room, certainly, long for a return to the temple service. We have our childhood memories of this day as well. But Yom Kippur is all about prayer, and you are not even supposed to eat or drink so we can concentrate on these prayers better.

So what do we do with this mahzor for the next twenty-five hours? During twenty four years as a davener I have learned that no one ever objects to the phrase "we will now skip to page such and such." But, of course, the easiest way out is to skip all of the pages. If you are here you’ve decided that that is not an option. But what do we do with the 550 pages between the covers of this book?

I have only a few suggestions to make, perhaps my own answers. This book is history. It is memory. It is community. It is group singing. It is tradition. What we have built, here at Shorashim, is a tradition based on the memory of everyone who has come here, bringing their own traditions. There is a generation of children for whom what we do here is Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana, Shabbat. Wherever they go they will compare what they see with what they grew up with, and, if my experience is any guide, they will have a deep nostalgia for what they remember. That’s what we have built together, as a community.

There is a point during Kol Nidre when, suddenly everyone remembers the melody and joins in. There’s nothing more beautiful than that. That is prayer: it is history, memory, poetry. It is what I wait for each year; that’s what makes the fast worthwhile. I said much the same thing last year, but, like Kol Nidre, I feel justified in saying it three times, so I’ll probably repeat it next year as well. The choir is not harmonizing my voice. It is harmonizing your voices.