We are for each other


I write as the day ebbs into the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. In less than an hour I’ll head back into the city to join my brothers and sisters of Central Reform Temple (formerly Boston Jewish Spirit) for the beginning of their high holy days.

I began this morning in my usual spot near the front of that same sanctuary, for the beginning of the long and luxurious season of Bach cantatas. Emmanuel Music selected BWV 21, “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” to kick off their 42nd year in a row of offering a Bach Cantata at Emmanuel Church, in the worship context for which they were written.

By the time we got to the final chorus, with trumpets, timpani,  the 20 or so voices at full throttle, the orchestra laying down layer upon layer of beauty, I felt like I might just burst into flame. Goosebumps swarmed across my skin, my already spiky hair was standing on end and vibrating, and somewhere in there I think I had a hot flash or two. I know church can’t always be like that, but what a great way to start.

I haven’t written here in a while. Life has been so full on many levels. I’ve had a lot of writing demands both in my job and in my volunteer work. I have missed you, my small-and-mighty band of Crooked Liners. And fortunately the calendar has a way of bossing us into things whether we’re ready or not.

At the Jewish New Year
For more than five thousand years
This calm September day
With yellow in the leaf
Has lain in the kernel of Time
While the world outside the walls
Has had its turbulent say
And history like a long
Snake has crawled on its way
And is crawling onward still.
And we have little to tell
On this or any feast
Except of the terrible past.
Five thousand years are cast
Down before the wondering child
Who must expiate them all.

Some of us have replied
In the bitterness of youth
Or the qualms of middle-age:
“If Time is unsatisfied,
And all our fathers have suffered
Can never be enough,
Why, then, we choose to forget.
Let our forgetting begin
With those age-old arguments
In which their minds were wound
Like musty phylacteries;
And we choose to forget as well
Those cherished histories
That made our old men fond,
And already are strange to us.

“Or let us, being today
Too rational to cry out,
Or trample underfoot
What after all preserves
A certain savor yet–
Though torn up by the roots–
Let us make our compromise
With the terror and the guilt
And view as curious relics
Once found in daily use
The mythology, the names
That, however, Time has corrupted
Their ancient purity
Still burn like yellow flames,
But their fire is not for us.”

And yet, however, we choose
To deny or to remember,
Though on the calendars
We wake and suffer by,
This day is merely one
Of thirty in September–
In the kernel of the mind
The new year must renew
This day, as for our kind
Over five thousand years,
The task of being ourselves.
Whatever we strain to forget,
Our memory must be long.

May the taste of honey linger
Under the bitterest tongue.

by Adrienne Rich from COLLECTED EARLY POEMS, 1950-1970 (W.W. Norton & Co., 1993)

L’shanah Tovah, my friends! May you find sweetness on your tongue this year, in the most unusual and unforeseen circumstances. To paraphrase that great song, we are one person, we are two alone, we are three together, we are for each other.


6 responses to “We are for each other

  1. What an apt joining for the start of Rosh Hashanah–Joy Howard’s tribute to the beauty of Bach, gloriously presented, and Adrienne Rich’s majestic poem on the paradox of memory/forgetting. Strange, Rosh Hashanah had slipped my mind today, until Crooked Line straightened me out, but GOOD! Thanks, Joy!

  2. “The calendar has a way of bossing us into things, whether we’re ready or not”. So, so true.

  3. Joy, thank you for your words and pic. They so poignantly remind me that I couldn’t be in Boston today.

  4. Welcome Bach, as Pam said yesterday, and Welcome Back, Crooked Line!! I’ve missed you sorely and am delighted to have this wonderful piece on which to enter the New Year and another season at Emmanuel. Write on, write on in majesty!!! JO

  5. lovely clip at the end; really nice version of that song.

    (happy to see you here.)

  6. Thanks so much for this, Joy – good to have you back.

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