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Enter the Beloved

Enter the Beloved

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The chassidic masters tell us that the name “Elul” (the month before the High Holidays) is an acronym for ani l’dodi v’dodi li—“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” When the month of Elul approaches, its beautiful name always reminds me of how I would hear that verse from Song of Songs sung on Friday evenings at the Kol Shadai synagogue on Shimshon Street in Jerusalem. For many years before I married, I would go to this little Moroccan shul to welcome the Shabbat.

Feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland, with legs too long and hair too blond, I would come in time for the afternoon prayer, so that I could hear all of the Song of Songs sung during the pause before ushering in the Shabbat with the evening prayer. Although all Sephardi congregations chant Song of Songs on Friday evenings, this particular shul was blessed with wonderful voices. The little boys belted out, but didn’t yell. Their fathers had young deep bass resonating voices, and their grandfathers, mature sweet lilting voices. Usually Moroccans sing out their prayers in unison, but here, Song of Songs and Lechah Dodi on Friday evening were multiple solo performances. Whoever jumped in first sang a few lines, until someone else glided in.

For me, coming from Washington, D.C., where the synagogue members paid their cantor to allow their prayer to be as passive as possible, the spontaneity was wonderful. I felt I was wandering in the Sinai, with the voices of Kol Shadai blending with the minor keys of the wind and the desert.

The women’s gallery was an impromptu arrangement of simple old wooden benches lining the walls of a narrow room adjacent to the men’s section. We entered through a dark hallway with a few surprise stone steps. Nobody in Washington would accept such conditions, but here, old women who could hardly walk breezed their way in and out. The short older women who sat on long wooden benches with their hands cupped up to Heaven did not know how to read, but they knew the liturgy by heart. They were empowered to direct the music. When one of the men got carried away with his solo, trilling or holding a note too long, the women would laugh, Opera singer! pushing him off the stage.

I never learned the women’s names, but there were two whom I especially liked. One was salty, with diamond-cut eyes and gaunt cheeks. The other had high cheeks, like apples, gracing soft sweet eyes. When we rose to greet and bow to the Sabbath Queen at the end of Lechah Dodi, she would walk to the open doorway, bow with outstretched arms, and kiss the mezuzah. As the Divine Presence lingered, all worry and weekday strife would vanish.

Now that I am married, I bring in Shabbat at home. When I reach the last verse of Lechah Dodi, I open the door and kiss the mezuzah. It is a moment of love and peace.

G‑d is always with us, but we are not always with Him. A special day of the week, a special month of the year, enables us to come closer and to welcome in the divine. No matter the worry or strife, if we open the door, the Beloved will enter.

Ilana Attia is the managing editor of B’or Hatorah, “A Journal of Science, Art & Modern Life in the Light of the Torah.”
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Anonymous NY November 10, 2013

No need.to degrade another jew to lift another I was blessed to grow up in Brooklyn where being Jewish was hardly being in the minority. I've been to Shuls all over the world- Europe, Israel, s America- ashkenaz, sefardi, mizrachi- and I've especially appreciated the efforts and faith of those who had to work extra hard to maintain it. For Jews in NY and Israel it is easy and all we know. For others, it is harder and they should be praised for the strength of keeping traditions and faith in any way, not frowned upon. The Moroccan synagogue may be praised without putting down other Jews trying to live a Jewish life. Reply

Ilana Attia Jerusalem, Israel September 2, 2012

To Ellen Dear Ellen,
I am glad to hear that your shul experience is better that what I remember of my parents' Conservative synagogue in Washington. D.C. Maybe my childhood and adolescent shortcomings distorted my perception. If I misjudged the meditative intensity of the prayer of the congregants, then I owe every one of them a deep sincere apology. (For sure, though, the cantor received a salary.) Reply

Richard Boca Raton, FL/USA August 28, 2012

A response to Ellen I did not write the post which included the phrase, "where the congregants paid their cantor...", but would like to defend the phrase, by pointing out that cantors are paid, professional singers, i.e., people who are blessed with voices and vocal training that most of us do not have, Their training is intensive: Cantorial Schools are not a piece of cake. Cantors live a professional life playing second fiddle to rabbis some of whom are, themselves, truly second-rate. If a good Cantor/hazzan outshines the rabbi on any pulpit, it's not his fault. Reply

Barbara Radzevicius Gladsville, New South Wales August 28, 2012

Beauty in sounds of prayer I think we all are taken to another place especially in Elul. On Yom Kipper I go to the lovely Sefardi shul in Sydney to hear that special beauty when praying to Hashem. Reply

Naomi August 23, 2012

Shabbat singing What a beautiful memory, and how beautifully you wrote this piece! Seems as if it struck a chord with many, as it did with me. Before I married, I, too, lived in Jerusalem, in Kiryat Moshe, with a small Yemenite shul about three blocks away. Although I couldn't understand a word and didn't have the courage to enter, I would stand outside and let the chanting take me someplace within where I didn't need words. Their songs were love songs -- to G-d, to Jerusalem, to the Shabbat --the most beautiful I've ever heard. Thank you for reminding me of that magical time. Reply

Ellen August 23, 2012

Nice piece with one discordant note I liked reading this, but I wish you had not included the comment "where the synagogue members paid their cantor to allow their prayer to be as passive as possible." I grew up in a Reform synagogue, and I find that hurtful and offensive. That description is way off the mark. You tarnish all Jews when you describe some as paying others so they do not have to pray. Reply

Richard Boca Raton, FL/USA August 20, 2012

Enter The Beloved Your children will bless your name and memory, long after you have departed this earth. You are a wonderful, true, Jewish Wife and Mother...a true Woman Of The World! May the L--d shine His Light Upon You and Be Gracious Unto You!!! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma September 29, 2011

A Moroccan lullaby ELUL! This is simply, beautiful, and I am so glad I came to this lovely piece, now, on Rosh Hashona, after services and tashlicht. I went to the running brook in the woods, and cast my bread. I was thinking about the birds, and dropped bird seed along the path, as my cockatiel only eats the tiny seeds, leaving the sunflowers and other treats, and so the birds will have a small feast. I never worry about their finding these goodies, because I know it is G_d guiding them, just as G_d guides the butterflies, and the migrations of birds. We can find the science, but it's truly all G_d, and O the awe of it, the symphonic notes that do play, even in the silence, the heavy silence of this most humid New England evening.

Entrance is also "en trance" as in, feeling the music, this dance, something so beautiful and what opens to the open heart, in feeling the love of it, Dodi Li!

You took me to Morocco, to the synagogue, where the women sing, and to the beauty of moment, that endures. Thank You! Reply

Ilana Jerusalem, Israel December 7, 2010

for Dvorah Leah The way that Shir Ha'Shirim is song in the Moroccan and other Sefardi shuls is really more like chanting in a minor key than singing. Many of its verses have been put to music in all kinds of beautiful ways. An Internet search would probably find some of them. Reply

Anonymous December 7, 2010

Song of Songs Is there an actual melody of song for this? It would make reading this every Friday night more meaningful.

Thank You,
Dvorah Leah Reply

Haddass Washington , DC August 19, 2010

how amazing.... I live in Washington DC and go to Chabad shul American Friends of Lubavitch in Dupont Circle. My family lives in Jerusalem, in Shimshon str, just near this little shul and they go for shabbat and holidays. We celebrated two bar mitzvoth in the family there and my old uncle, aged 88 is still praying every erev shabbat, on Fridays evening with the minyan. In one second, while I read your post, I was with them again in this extraordinary place..... Reply

Carmel Auckland, New Zealand December 10, 2008

Enter The Beloved I had shivers too..and tears in my eyes..so very beautiful..thank you ;) Reply

Emil June 1, 2008

Born in Elul I thought that there can be only one Alice in Wonderland, but now I can see a sister!
Besides, sometimes Moroccans songs and trancelike rhythms can lead beyond the Wonderland. Be careful :)
Like your style meod. Thanks for beauty. Reply

Rachel August 28, 2007

musicality I had shivers reading this article (and it's a hot summer August day in Israel!)

Toda Reply