Monday, September 6, 2010

The Songs of the Season - Achot K'tanah and Leshono Toyvo

29 Elul 5770
Today is the last day of 5770 - a big year for me and my family.
This year is filled with precious memories of friends, family, celebrations, commemorations - and a lot of time spent on the 405!

Mostly, when I think over this last year, I am filled with gratitude.

When I asked Reb Mimi Feigelson about her Elul preparation this year - she asked me "If someone told you that you were about to die - would you spend your time apologizing to people or would you spend it expressing thanks and gratitude?" It is a good question. When I remember this past year - I know that I have a lot of work to do in expressing gratitude to so many people who made 5770 special for me.

I also have some people from which I must ask forgiveness - and that, for me, will start on Sunday - after Rosh Hashanah has worked its magic on me.

For a lot of people, 5770 has been a very hard year. I struggle to come up with words to describe how Haitians or Pakistanis will remember this time. There have also been some difficulties for me this year - though nothing on that scale. Establishing myself in a new city (even a new time zone) has had its challenges - and I hope to leave a lot of that difficulty in 5770 as I step proudly into 5771.

Download Cantor David Berger - Achot K'tanah And Leshono Toyvo

Our tradition gives us two pieces that help to bring in the new year - and I've put them together here. One comes from the Sephardic world, and the other is from the secular Yiddish tradition.

The first piece, Achot K'tanah - is recited in Sephardic communities around the world just before the Rosh Hashanah Evening Service begins. The melody I recorded here comes from Morocco (Casablanca, specifically).

The full piyut (liturgical poem) has many verses - each of which ends "May the year and its curses end" until the last verse which switches moods and proclaims "May the new year and its blessings begin."

I believe that we carry blessings with us throughout our lives. Sometimes we just have to think of a blessing we remember from the past and almost immediately the warmth carried in that blessing spreads over us.

Curses - on the other hand - we carry with until we can put them down. There is a famous rabbinic image of a person holding a gross bug in his hands going to the mikveh. He dunks in the water, still holding the bug, and it surprised when he comes out still carrying the impurity of that bug. How often do we hold onto the defiling elements in our lives and souls while we go through the steps to clean ourselves? Pretty much all the time - that's my experience anyway.

So this poem - Achot K'tanah reminds us that we are supposed to let go of the curses and leave them in the past - and get ready for the fresh spring of blessings coming our way.

The second piece - called Leshono Toyvo - with words by Sh. Tzesler and music by Yiddish musicologist Chanah Mlotek - tells us how to say "Shanah Tovah" (Happy New Year). The Yiddish words say "Mir bagrisn hoykh un klor" - "We send greetings - loud and clear." The song is exuberant and the directions are simple - when you say "Shanah Tovah" be unambiguous in your joy.

Know that you are wishing them a year of blessing, health and goodness - and that you have the power within you to bless. Each of has that power - to offer blessings to the people we love, loud and clear.

So tonight, at Rosh Hashanah services, we will sing both of these melodies together. We'll cast away the curses of the past year and prepare ourselves to receive the blessings coming towards us and then we'll open our voices, loud and clear, and wish everyone a "Shonoh Toyvo!"

Download Cantor David Berger - Achot K'tanah And Leshono Toyvo

Achot k’tanah t’filoteha
Orcha v’onah t’hiloteha
Eil na r’fa na l’machaloteha
Tichleh Shanah v’kil’loteha

Chizku v’gilu ki shod gamar
L’tzur hochilu b’rito shamar
Lachem v’ta’alu l’tziyon v’amar
Tacheil shanah uvirchoteha

Little sister [Israel] prepares her prayers and proclaims her praises.
Oh, God, please heal her ailments. Let the year and its curses be over.
Be strong and rejoice, for the plunder is ended.
Hope in the Rock and keep the covenant. You will ascend to Zion and God will say,
“Let the year and all its blessings begin!”

Mir bagrisn hoykh un klor
“L’shono Toyvo, a gut yor!”

Mir bagrisn un mir vinshn
Alle menshn hoykh un klor
L’shono Toyvo tikoseyvu!
A gut yor, a gut yor! (2x)

We send greetings, loud and clear “Happy New Year!”
We send greetings and wishes, loud and clear, to all people – “Happy New Year!”

L'shanah Tovah Tikateivu V'teichateimu.
May you be written and sealed for a sweet and wonderful New Year.
The Hazzan

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