Sounding the Right Note
Chaim Gelfand is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program (Class 8). Chaim is the the School Rabbi for the two elementary schools of the Perelman Jewish Day School in suburban Philadelphia. Chaim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nearly 15 years ago, I sat in a crowded Jerusalem synagogue as the Kabbalat Shabbat service began. Studying in Israel that year, I’d prayed there with some regularity. Familiar with the melodies of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach being used, I added my voice to the chorus of college-age Americans visiting the congregation that night. It can be difficult to sift out specific components of communal singing, yet the second time the chorus to Carlebach’s Ki Va Mo’ed was used with Psalm 96, the prayer leader yelled, “Stop, stop, stop!” The energy and enthusiasm halted with a stick-in-the-bicycle-spokes suddenness. Irritated, he addressed the visitors: “You’re singing it all wrong. Reb Shlomo’s notes are G G E D and you’re all singing G F E D. If you’re going to sing it at all, sing it right.”
Was one note wrong? According to the sheet music, yes. Did it matter? Probably—sometimes there really is a “right way.” There’s also a right way to get messages across, without squelching the spirit. The wrong musical notes may have been sung, but the most discordant and painful to my ear was the one directed at the well-intentioned visitors that evening. That moment proved the message may be lost if the medium is inappropriate—a poignant lesson occurring during a year of study to practice as a educator. To this day, as I ply and refine my craft in the Jewish day school with both students and teachers, I strive to remember that it’s not just what I say, but how and when I say it.