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IN AND OUT OF THE SHADOW OF MY FATHER

In and out of the Shadow of my Father

My father had a dramatic pitch-perfect baritone singing voice. He never performed professionally, but at Temple Israel, in Brookline, Mass., he once sang Kol Nidre, the iconic prayer chanted on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

At home, my father practiced incessantly to fulfill this great honor. I heard every stirring, uplifting note of his rendition of the famous melody. And I anticipated being in the congregation when he sang Kol Nidre. But an hour before the ceremony, my father regretfully told me that I couldn’t attend. He didn’t say why. I never questioned my father’s motive: that’s not how our family operated.  Shocked, heartbroken, and resentful, I went to my room and moped. I knew that my father would enthrall the congregants. I fervently wished that I could have been there to witness his rousing success. After a while, I got reconciled to my banishment and patiently waited for my father to come home.

When my father arrived, he was elated. He said that many people in the congregation were so moved by his incomparable singing that they were weeping in the aisles. I was happy for him, but I still nursed my disappointment.

 

Between that time and until my father died long afterward, I never confronted him about why he did not allow me to be at the temple that night. Was I afraid to find out, or was he afraid to tell me the reason? Did he think that I wouldn’t appreciate the significance of the occasion? Or perhaps he wanted to spare me; for if he sang poorly, I’d have to share in his humiliation. I’ll never know. All I can do is speculate. I regretted his decision, and I equally regretted my inaction.

Years later, when I was a lay leader at Temple B’nai Sholem in New Bern, NC, I was asked to sing a modified version of the Kol Nidre. Although unlike my father I didn’t have much of a cantorial voice, I accepted.

I practiced faithfully for a couple of weeks before Yom Kippur. Everyone in my family encouraged me. At home, my delivery was fitful, but soon I gained enough momentum to do a creditable job in preparation for my debut.

My young son knew that my father left me at home while he sang Kol Nidre at the temple; he wanted to make sure that I would take him to the High Holy Day service. I vowed that I would. And I kept my promise.

At the service itself, I was inspired: my father would have been proud. My intonation was flawless, and I navigated those troublesome high notes with finesse.

After the service, one of my friends approached me and proclaimed that I had an operatic voice. Other congregants were a little teary eyed as they shook my hand. Wow! But I was moved the most when my son embraced me and simply said, “Good Work, Dad.”

To some degree, I may have imitated my father’s singing prowess, but I did not follow the dismissive way he treated me. I vowed that I would never put my son in that painful position; and when I had the honor to sing Kol Nidre in front of my own congregation, I kept my word.

If my son ever has the opportunity to sing Kol Nidre at his hometown temple, I hope that he will follow my legacy with his sons. In this instance, although my son’s grandfather didn’t know best, my son’s father did know best.

 

 

schlomo
Newbie

It is very disappointing that you did not get to hear your father in temple. Kudos to you for accepting the challenge in your own time. Also for teaching your son the gift of inclusion. Another lesson would be that when there is a troublesome heart to express that worry or trouble is ok. Sadly you never knew why your father did what he did. Hopefully your son or even yourself has learned to express feelings no matter how hard it can sometimes be. Blessings to you and yours.

 

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