On Sukkos

 Posted by on September 27, 2012
Sep 272012

A guy playing golf with Lulav and Esrog

Happy holidays, friends. If you get to play golf and be served five course meals and sit with your feet propped on a massage table, good for you. Holidays rock that way.

I built myself a small sukkah, this year as all years, a shrine to sweet childhood memories and an effort to pass those experiences on to my child. It’s beautiful, in a charming and cozy way. It’s a lot of work to set up and take down, but well worth the effort. Those who see me dragging the wooden panels across the yard call me a feminist, which makes my head swell way too big for the kosher part of the Sukkah. Building the sukkah is a tradition I couldn’t give up. I get a number of colored lights to blink away at night while we huddle with sweaters and our noses run.

Sukkos – the holiday of creativity and artistic expression on the panel walls – makes me reflect on my own artistic project; cartooning. I’ve made some progress with the craft of doodling itself, I think. I’m pretty okay at Photoshop now and I mostly only draw there. I’ve figured out how to use its great layering and pen tools too. I can still only do very basic drawings. Intricate settings stump me. I audited an art class in college, hoping to pick up some tips, but I just watched the most bizarre uses of paints instead. I myself never touched a canvas. One art student explained to me that her elaborate mysterious mush-mash of stuff and paint was a profound interpretation of an awesome dream she had with like, insight. Very nice, I said.

I’ll stick to this doodling thing, at home. And I’ll try not to do it asleep, dream awesomeness notwithstanding.

On Chazzonus

 Posted by on September 24, 2012
Sep 242012

A Chazan sings Hamelech on Yom Kippur

When I did my undergraduate college degree, a one-year process that took place when I lived in Kiryas Joel and which amounted to scraping together credits from any venue that awarded it without going to class, I found a guy in Israel — a doctor he said he was, a professor and rabbi too of course, who was accredited to award credits for cantorial performances, or, as he called it, chazzanos. It was obvious that his institution was not intended to train the next Rosenblatt, but rather – and unabashedly – it was for frum yinglech who could repeat any prayer by rote, not trope, and needed a few extra credits to become accountants. The doctor/professor/rabbi in possession of these credits seemed rather questionably trustworthy, but he convinced me that the program is perfectly easy and only marginally expensive, and I desperately needed easy. I was in. My assignment was to give an oral performance over skype. The doctor told me to prepare by learning to recite the megillah, eicha, kabalat Shabbat and high holiday prayers. All in all, it was familiar territory and obviously not difficult.

Actually, turned out it was.

There were challenges– big ones. For one, I can’t sing to save my life. Me in a torture chamber, they try to make me “sing”, I couldn’t even if I was about to have my eyes gauged out. All other challenges became irrelevant in the face of this one. Still, I desperately wanted those credits. Oh, how I languished over them. How I saw my expedited credentials through them!! A degree! The employability of more than a Monroe Satmar meidel! The possibility of standing on my own feet! I couldn’t give up.

I spent hours listening to the hamelech [def: the king] prayer piece from yom kippur, rewinding, forwarding, making notes, memorizing pauses. After some weeks I had gotten no better whatsoever. BUT I wasn’t giving up. I walked around the house singing and shrieking and hoping to awaken my musical mind. It was so damn frustrating. Finally I figured that while I couldn’t sing, I could at least write it down. So I wrote it down and sang from my writing. It looked something like this. Listen to the Hamelech, the emotional and evocative start of the Yom Kippur service:

Ha, ha, ha, haaaaa haaaaa, ha ha,


haaaaheeee hauuu eh

[emotional kvetch]


haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa [more kvetch]

ahhhhhh ahhhhhhhh



And so on for a while. At the end the “melech” was finally blurted out and a huge resuscitating breath was ingested to restore oxygen to the brain.

I took the exam on the scheduled day. I remember putting on the wig for the exam, nervous about actually performing a shtikl chazzones for a tiny audience. I was prompted with pieces, and I had to perform it. There was the hamelech, of course. It started out low, and in no time went higher and high and higher and shattered a few windows and traumatized a few Israelis. It was, if nothing else, cathartic. And it was nothing else. I got a C with a minus.

I was devastated. It didn’t feel very hahahaha then. I resigned all cantorial aspirations right then and there. I’ll rather listen to others do it and write more fruitful homework notes than a series of ha-s. I like to hum the eicha (lamentations) song especially in moments of sadness, but that’s as far as my own cantorialship goes.