Book Serialization Part 8: Six People You Meet in Synagogue

Book Serialization Part 8:  Six People You Meet in Synagogue
For 2013. We present our book in serial format on our blog - God's Favorite Prayers...

The Performer’s Prayers

[toh-ruh, tawr-uh; Seph. Heb. toh-rah; Ashk. Heb. toh-ruh, toi-ruh]
–noun (sometimes lowercase)
1. the Pentateuch, being the first of the three Jewish divisions of the Old Testament. Compare Tanach.
2. a parchment scroll on which the Pentateuch is written, used in synagogue services.
3. the entire body of Jewish religious literature, law, and teaching as contained chiefly in the Old Testament and the Talmud.
4. law or instruction.

–noun Hebrew.
the three Jewish divisions of the Old Testament, comprising the Law or Torah, the Prophets or Neviim, and the Hagiographa or Ketuvim, taken as a whole.
—Random House Dictionary, 2010

Artist, Poet, Musician

antor Louis Danto was a happy hazzan. His chanting was upbeat and peppy. I often heard him chant the synagogue services at the Atlantic Beach Jewish Center when I was a child and teenager in the 1950s and 60s. Just by listening to him I knew then that Danto was a world-class singer, a tenor whose beautiful voice was trained and ethereal. And I could see that he comprehended and loved the words of the prayers and cherished their meanings. I did not know at the time that he had studied at Talmudic yeshivas and in musical conservatories in Europe, and that he had won prizes for his talents. I could not have known that he would go on to perform worldwide, to record many albums of Jewish songs, of folk, popular, romantic and operatic music.
As a boy in Atlantic Beach, I could not foretell that this leader of our prayers years hence would be celebrated for his unmatched graceful yet ornate bel canto artistry, for his classical vocalization and for his just plain beautiful singing. I did recognize that I loved his extraordinary rendition of the Shehecheyanu blessing after the Kiddush on a Yom Tov holiday. In it, we praise God for keeping us alive and bringing us to a special sacred time. His blessing rang out with such emotion and expressivity that it just lifted my soul. I can recall vividly—and to this day—Danto’s ringing repeated conclusion of the blessing, “Lazman hazeh, lazman hazeh…” which means, “…to this time, to this time.” And I’ve tried at every holiday to replicate the joy of that singing as best as I can in my own chanting of the same blessing.
Danto defined for me an ideal—how a formal davening should sound. Wow, he set the bar way high up! His lyrical singing always changed the very character of the sanctuary. From listening to him, I learned that a good hazzan like Danto creates a palpable focus, a presence, a joyous, numinous, holy quality in the house of prayer.
Not every congregation can be fortunate enough to have such a performer. Many synagogues still do have professional cantors who lead the services. However, many congregations these days send up basically untrained volunteers to lead the public prayers.
Whatever the style, at every service in an actual brick-and-mortar synagogue, Jewish prayer is an orchestrated performance, led by a leader and joined by a congregation. The synagogue members attending the service act at times as a performing chorus and at other times as a listening audience.
Now, for your information, I’m postulating in this book that we speak mostly about prayer in a synagogue. To be precise though, Judaism does not require that you attend a community synagogue to engage in sanctioned, legitimate, effective prayer. You can pray alone, at home, or anywhere clean and proper. When a solitary Jew recites the synagogue prayers in private, it still can be a complex and moving performance. But by him or herself, the individual at prayer must play all the parts that I will identify here, serving as the leader, the chorus and the audience.
And so, without further adieu, please allow me to more formally introduce to you my first archetype, the performer.
This persona is in parts an artist, a poet and a musician. Performers play several roles in the synagogue. These, enumerated below, are the major troupe members, the group of actors, the cast that you will find in the synagogue, and a capsule introduction to each of their roles.

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