The Power of Our Voices

September 19, 20170 Comments


The room is tiny and clinical, the beautiful view of living trees seen from the window belie the end of life that is occurring in this room. My voice rises with the plaintive sound of Kol Nidre, sung only for the 99-year-old woman in this hospital room who has asked to hear it one more time. It is not Yom Kippur quite yet, and she may not make it to Yom Kippur. As I passed the nurses’ station, shofar in hand, I warned them that there would be a loud trumpet sound coming from Room 215. One blast of Tekiah Gedolah and my patient smiled and closed her eyes, transported to another place in time. Feeling the presence of others around me, I turned to see the hospital staff standing at the door watching. A nurse told me that other Jewish patients had heard the sound and asked if I would go to visit them. The kol d’mama dakah (the still, small voice) had awakened with the call.

For sixteen years, I was the sole spiritual leader of a synagogue in a Jewish assisted living facility, as well as its chaplain. The synagogue had a closed-circuit TV that was piped into the apartments so that those who could not attend services could still pray with me. When it came to High Holy Days, I made a point to visit each resident who could not come to synagogue to hear the raw sound of the shofar; I blew the shofar for them, and then I went to the local hospitals to do the same. I was taught to blow the shofar by a layperson who also visits the sick. This mitzvah is not reserved for clergy alone; being present for those who need us is a basic Jewish value. Now I have another part-time pulpit, I lead workshops, and I’m an on-call chaplain. I still go the hospitals with my shofar to visit Jewish patients who yearn for that connection. Year after year, one thing is certain: no matter who we are, God listens to our many voices, and the true power of our voices can be heard in who we are and what we do.

Published in Sacred Sounds, A Publication of the Cantors Assembly, Fall/High Holiday 2017

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