Beyado Afkid Ruchi: In His hand, I entrust my spirit.
Ba'es ishan v'a-ira: When I sleep and when I wake.
V'im ruchi g'viati: And my soul shall remain with my body.
[Hashem] li v'lo ira: G‑d is with me and I am not afraid.
-Conclusion of Adon Olam
I was visiting a beloved friend in a Manhattan hospital when a nurse popped her head in the door and asked my friend, "Someone is here to sing for you, can she come in?" My friend perked up immediately and said, "Yes! Send her in."
I can never forget the terrible sights I saw. I decided then that visiting the wounded would be part of my recoveryIn walked Judy Buchman, holding a guitar. With a few deft strums, she brought light and joy into the hospital room, singing the song from the morning prayers, Adon Olam, and then some 1940s Yiddish radio classics. As my friend and I clapped and sang along with gusto, the reason for our being in that room receded into the background for a few minutes. On my way out, I saw that Judy was going in and out of other hospital rooms, singing for patients.
I had always known the importance of Bikkur Cholim, the mitzvah of visiting the sick. But I hadn't realized until that day how many different ways it can be done, and how all of our individual talents and abilities can be an integral part of the mitzvah as well....
When did you first begin to realize you had talent in singing? Which instruments did you play, and when did you become a performer?
My sister and I received piano and guitar lessons. (I also took clarinet lessons but wasn't very good at it.) I was active in choir and theater activities throughout high school.
I had always loved music and knew that it moved me. In junior high and high school I sang in the choir and was told I had a "good tone," but my voice was not really developed. I started to sing more and more and tried to develop a technique on my own.
After spending just one year at SUNY Stony Brook, I decided to go to Israel and enrolled in Tel Aviv University's Theater Department. I ended up staying in Israel for the next thirty years! It was at Tel Aviv University that I started studying voice very seriously and had wonderful teachers.
After completing my studies there, I really leaned more strongly towards music than theater, and enrolled in the Rubin Academy of Music, where I studied for one year. I sang in various productions throughout my college years in Tel Aviv, and when college ended, I sang at events. I later studied amateur choir conducting at Seminar Levinsky's Teachers College and sang with a professional choir in Tel Aviv.
How did your experience in Israel impact your music?
I slowly increased my repertoire and took part in jam sessions in Tel Aviv. In early summer of 2003, I attended a jam session in a restaurant located next to the American Embassy, frequented by American expatriates of all denominations and religious streams, as well as Europeans and Israelis.
On May 1, 2003, at 1:00 a.m., two suicide bombers of Pakistani origin holding British passports approached the restaurant. One bomber detonated his bomb outside the cafe, after the security guard did not let him in. (I later visited the security guard, who was wounded and in the hospital, and thanked him for his vigilance which saved my life.)
I was inside, but two musicians who had played with me had stepped outside for some fresh air, and were killed. In all, three people were killed and twenty two were wounded. Thank G‑d I was not injured physically, but I was witness to the gruesome sights one sees at such events, events that unfortunately occurred often in Israel at that time. I can never forget the terrible sights I saw. I decided then that visiting the wounded would be part of my recovery.
Did you use your G‑d-given gift to help others throughout your life, or is that a recent development?
As families sit for long hours by their loved one’s bedside, they are grateful for some relief and for something to lighten the atmosphereIt is very flattering to me that you call it a G‑d-given gift! Even though I was given a good musical ear and talent in singing and playing music, I had to study and work hard to develop those gifts.
I have always tried to help others in various ways throughout my life. I taught in elementary schools in Israel and volunteered after hours. If I see a stranger in the street who seems to be in distress, I stop and call for help. It's human nature to just keep walking.
However, working and raising a family (I have two grown sons) was time consuming, and finances were limited after I divorced. But I feel fortunate that now, as my children have grown up and become independent, I am finally able to give more and do more for others.
Last year, I decided to get more involved in volunteer work, and through the advice of a friend and fellow musician, Sheri Wagner, I joined Musicians On Call, a nonprofit organization designed to bring live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients in all types of healthcare facilities. Musicians On Call uses music to promote and complement the healing process for patients, their families and even the caregivers.
I also performed at Ronald MacDonald House (temporary home to families from all over the world, who have left their homes and traveled to strange cities primarily for pediatric cancer treatment), together with other Jews who want to help people who are going through a hard time, and I plan to do so more often.
How frequently do you visit a hospital and go room to room to play and sing for hospital patients?
I've done it several times over the past few months. I was there the night we met as a member of Musicians On Call.
Families and caregivers sometimes need distraction, cheering up and encouragement just as much as patients do, though in a different way. As families sit for long hours by their loved one's bedside, they are grateful for some relief and for something to lighten the atmosphere. Sometimes the people I visit engage me in conversation about their own musical talents and experiences and want to share. That too is a healing – or at least positive - experience, and I'm happy to participate.
How do you decide which songs to sing?
I have a large repertoire of songs in several languages and in different styles. I often ask patients what they feel like hearing, say, an upbeat tune, or something in a particular language. For Jewish patients, I love to do Adon Olam and Yerushalayim shel Zahav in particular. I know these songs will be appreciated, as they are spiritual and inspirational, but not at all depressing.
Any other songs?
If we and our children are healthy and we are able to pay our bills, we have so much more in life than so many others and can certainly find some time to give a small part of ourselvesI try to bring a little bit of humor – it's always good to get a laugh, or at least a smile. I played Bei Mir Bistu Shein for your friend and I saw she enjoyed it. Sometimes it's just a song with an upbeat rhythm that gets people rocking, swaying, clapping or drumming their fingers. It's not always the message of the song that matters, but rather the mood it sets. Our intention is to distract, to cheer up, and to encourage. I am aware of music's power in connecting people, how relaxing and/or uplifting it can be as it touches on very basic and instinctive aspects of human behavior. Crying babies are calmed by lullabies.
What kind of feedback do you get from patients and their families?
Usually positive and enthusiastic. I succeed most when I remember that it's all about the patient and the family – it's not about me and it's not about my "performance" per se. When I tune in to them and get them involved and even let them lead, I know I'm doing something right.
Why do you think some people relax and pamper themselves all evening, and some get up and do the difficult thing – go into hospitals and cheer up the sick? Why did you do it that evening?
I must say that since I do have a nine-to-five job as a patent prosecution secretary, I do relax sometimes and pamper myself!
Having survived a suicide bombing, having made it this far, and not wanting to dwell on those things that go wrong in life, I decided that I wanted to give something that I am capable of giving. I am not in a financial position to donate thousands of dollars to charities, but perhaps I can give the gift of music. If we and our children are healthy and we are able to pay our bills, we have so much more in life than so many others and can certainly find some time to give a small part of ourselves. My participation in Musicians On Call has helped me to do that.
Does visiting the sick and singing for them make you feel better, too?
Back in March, I visited my father in Florida and sat by his side in the hospital for a week. My father, who was in his eighties, had been on dialysis for over three years. His devoted wife and doctors took very good care of him and helped to maintain a stable situation, but as the body ages, dialysis becomes less effective, and his situation worsened over the last year.
The day before Passover began, I brought my guitar to his hospital room and started playing Dayenu (a song from the Passover Hagaddah that translates to "Enough!"). Here sat my father, this elderly man who could not walk, had had several mini-strokes and was receiving dialysis through a catheter in his neck. He was not all that mentally alert and did not speak much, but when I started playing Dayenu, suddenly he started singing along with me. I regret not having filmed this very special moment -- a moment that only strengthened my belief in the power of music to awaken what's deep inside the soul.
The last week of April, my father took a turn for the worse. His doctor said dialysis was no longer working, and my father was transferred into a hospice. I went back to Florida to spend a few more days with him, and then I had to return to New York.
I feel that showing compassion for others when they are suffering is as important as having or developing a talentI deliberated about going down once again a week later, because it was obvious that the end was near, but I could not really find the strength to fly down again, as I was distraught over his situation and also shaken up due to the bomb threat in Times Square on May 1.
Both my father's wife and my sister told me there was no need for me to come down again. The night I went to the hospital to play for your friend and the other patients had been scheduled two months in advance. That particular Thursday night was difficult for me – I was in New York; I knew then that my father was lying in the hospice in Florida with very little time left on this earth. I needed to do something -- so I kept my appointment at the hospital despite my sadness, hoping that I could help someone else, even if I couldn't do much for my father at that point. My father passed away one week later, on Friday, May 7, 2010. I have been told that whatever good I did visiting the sick and singing for them added merit to my father's eternal soul.
What message would you give TheJewishWoman.org readers?
Music is a tool that helps us communicate with each other, and brings people together. Melodies and rhythms touch us in a very basic, intuitive way. If your loved one is very ill, or just having some problems, music is soothing and engaging and a wonderful way to ease all kinds of pain. Just as we as Jews gain strength and connect with each other and with G‑d by praying together and singing together, it is an enriching experience to be in a choir or band that performs together, and if you can use it to help others, all the better.
I would also like to praise Chabad for its wonderful work around the world and the Chabad approach of embracing everyone from all different religious factions. I attended the Chabad Passover seder in Hallandale, Florida, while visiting my father this past Passover. I was glad to have somewhere to go where people were warm and friendly, and the seder was traditional.
In Exodus 3:16, it says kol chelev laShem, "All the fat of the sacrifice belongs to G‑d." We learn that this does not refer only to the physical fat of the cow, but to the talents that one has. The Torah enjoins us to serve G‑d through the "extras," the gifts He has given us. You certainly do that, Judy.
Meaning no disrespect, I could do without the extra fat!
Thank you so much for the compliment. That certainly is something to ponder.
I think one of the reasons my music helps people who are suffering is because we project positive energy when we do what we love. When we do what we love, however strenuous it may be (because all instruments, including the voice, need to be maintained), it does not feel like work and we experience true joy.
There is a tremendous amount of satisfaction in helping others. I feel that showing compassion for others when they are suffering is as important as having or developing a talent.The entertainment industry is highly superficial. Beauty and talent come first on the list of priorities, and compassion and kindness don't always count. What greater value can we attribute to art, any art form, in addition to it being a means to express oneself and to connect with others -- than to use it to alleviate the pain of another human being? I am an advocate of not only "art for art's sake" but also "art for healing's sake."