By Naomi Chasek-Macfoy for KidSpirit’s Beauty and the Senses issue
I am a Jew, by heritage and ethnicity. No one in my family is particularly religious; I don’t think any of us believe in God. We attend services for the two most important holidays, Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), and celebrate a handful of others at home.
Regardless, at 13, I did become a Bat Mitzvah (literally ‘daughter of the commandments’), a traditional Jewish coming-of-age ceremony and initiation into the adult community. I enjoy the intellectual aspects of Judaism — Torah study, vigorous discussion — but, at its heart, Judaism, to me, is a singing tradition. Prayers set to a revolving cast of generations-old melodies are essential to the core of religious practice, both in temple and the everyday. From the raucous merriment of weddings to the peaceful solemnity of commemorating the dead, in Judaism, singing figures importantly into every aspect of life. At temple, a Hazzan, or Cantor, often with special training and a status near the Rabbi’s in importance, leads the congregation in frequent musical prayer. Although I am not particularly religious, or even very spiritual, singing has helped forge some of my strongest ties to the faith.
Musical prayer is intensely spiritual . . .