Sunday, March 07, 2004

...and the whole megillah 

This morning I took part in something that, at least for my hometown, was somewhat unusual. A few months ago, several women who are members of my synagogue decided to organize a women's megillah reading. Such a thing has never been done in Ottawa, never mind in an Orthodox shul. To the best of my knowledge, there wasn't a whole lot of controversy surrounding the idea, but there are always a few who like to complain about such things. But the rabbi gave the group their blessing--provided, of course, that it was "by women for women" because having men around would defeat the whole purpose, after all. So the months slipped by and the entire Book of Esther was divided amongst about fifteen women of all ages. I was a last-minute substitute, as someone had to drop out. So while everyone else had months to prepare, I had two weeks--less, what with my trip to Toronto last week.

No sweat. I'm a professionally trained singer, after all.

But it was a totally different experience from learning an aria or lied or pop song. For one thing, the musical notation used for the megillah is different from that used for Torah or Haftorah reading (which no doubt brings back memories of Bar Mitzvah days for some of my readers) and is not based on any Western modes, for obvious reasons. I decided to learn my portion off a provided tape rather than learn the whole notation series and apply it, for time constraints. But it's still music, after all, and I wanted to make it sound good.

And in the end, I did, though I had one of those weird brain farts that made me forget about 1/3 of the "tune." But many years of training comes in handy, and my old reflexes kicked in--never let them show you forgot, and always, always keep going. Besides, it's more important to get the Hebrew pronunciation correct in such an instance, anyway, and much to my surprise, that pretty much stuck even as I made up notes to go along with the words.

The entire reading took about an hour and fifteen minutes. So many different women and different voices; some classically trained, like myself, others barely getting over the courage to sing in public. Sure, some went off-key or were too slow, but each individual meshed with another to form this beautiful, continuous melody as the story of Purim was recounted once again. Afterwards, we ate; it's what Jewish people really do best. And we breathed a huge sigh of relief that it was over, and exulted that we had accomplished something unique, something that even if it becomes a yearly tradition, will never quite be the same. Those who participate then will be more confident, more assertive, but like many things, it's never quite the same after the first time, when it's still very much a novelty, when a trail is being forged.

A girl I've known much of my life was visiting from Montreal and came to hear us, and she commented how it was amazing that she could be in her hometown and participate in such a thing. She'd lived in Israel, been to New York City, and never did, but could find a women's reading in the town of her birth. And so it was for the vast majority of women in attendance.

It's too early to say whether I'll take part in such a thing again next year, but wherever I am, I sure would like to. It was unique, it was affirming, and it was a hell of a lot of fun.

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