The Arty Semite

Kol Nidre in Memories and Dreams

By Jeremiah Lockwood

  • Print
  • Share Share
Wiki Commons
‘Jews Praying In The Synagogue On Yom Kippur’ by Maurycy Gottlieb (1878).

I’ve been spending the morning pacing around the house singing Kol Nidre while my two-year-old son Jacob toddles about playing with his toys. Just like every year, it seems, the High Holidays arrive to find my life in a startling upheaval of activity, with the world swinging back into movement after the sultry months of summer. And it seems that every year I wait until the day before erev Yom Kippur to practice Kol Nidre. I have just a few hours before I will be singing it again for the expectant Jews, their viscera open in that particular way that Yom Kipur operates on the Jewish psyche.

For me, my morning wandering about the house while my little boy plays, enjoying the sound of the Kol Nidre melody and pleasurably flexing the muscles of my voice, is a richer experience than I will have tonight, davening in front of the congregation. The human experience is so infinitely variable and fragile. Once you bring a room full of people into the mix it even the most nostalgic and intimate experience can become vulgarized and frail.

Generally speaking, I tend to think of Jewish musical culture as being in a period of decadence, with many musicians lacking an intimate knowledge of the tradition. This seems to be especially the case with liturgical music. Cantors are trained in a university environment where they are not necessarily exposed to the older generation of artists, thus breaking the chain of oral transmission that is so essential to the preservation of a folk idiom. Kol Nidre is more than just a series of notes; it is a sense of style, a turn of phrase, and a certain dream-like gesture.

I have the palest of hopes that I can tap into those intangible qualities when I sing, even when I am away from the safety of my family and my dreams about the past. My grandfather, Cantor Jacob Konigsberg, had a little joke with the prayer that precedes Kol Nidre, in which the cantor begs for permission to sing in the company of sinners. When he came to the words “with sinners” the first time he would point at the congregation. The second time he would point at me, or whoever was next to him, and the third time he would point at himself. It’s a good memory, one of playfulness even in the context of something extremely serious. Perhaps it’s that comfort within the spiritual tradition, to the degree of being able to play around the perimeter, that I so sorely miss. It’s strange, but the only Jewish world in which I feel fully comfortable at this point in my life is the realm of my imagination.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Liturgy, Kol Nidre, Jeremiah Lockwood, Jacob Konigsberg, Hazanus, Yom Kippur

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.