Praying With Our Feet

I am new to Long Island, having moved here this past July.

This week, I learned a difficult statistic: the breast cancer incidence rate on Long Island is approximately 18% higher than the statewide average.

Even after a $30 million multi-year study showed that environmental factors don’t contribute to this increased cancer rate, the statistics don’t make sense. Some postulate that perhaps Long Island has a higher percentage of Ashkenazi , Jewish, affluent, female residents: a population known to have a higher rate of breast cancer than other populations. There are still no answers.

More funds are needed for more research: research not just for “why”, but research for a cure, so women can be healed and lead full, healthy and long lives.

For the past 21 years, the community in Stony Brook has been coming together to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research through its annual Ward Melville Heritage Organization “Walk for Beauty”. During this time, this walk has raised over $1.275 million for Stony Brook Hospital Breast Cancer Research, plus donated thousands of wigs and prostheses to those in need.

This past weekend, many of my congregants from Temple Isaiah (Stony Brook) and I participated in this “Walk for Beauty”.

Part of the Temple Isaiah, Stony Brook, contingent
Part of the Temple Isaiah, Stony Brook, contingent

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stated, when he marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, in Selma for voting rights in 1965, that he felt as if his legs were praying. He believed his march for social justice was a day of sanctification, filled with spiritual significance.

We, too, felt as if our communal “Walk for Beauty” was a day of sanctification. We felt the spiritual significance of coming together for this particular cause:

  • We walked with friends and family who were in the middle of treatment;
  • We walked with friends and family who finished treatment and who were “survivors”;
  • We walked with loved ones in our hearts, with names on our backs, on our arms, on our chests – of those who now live on only in our hearts and minds and memories;
  • We walked as one community: babies, children, teens, young adults, middle-aged and seniors, men and women;
  • We walked in silence at times, we walked in laughter, we walked in tears, we walked in joy;
  • We all walked together- our feet praying for a cure, praying for healing and wholeness and strength;

As we prayed with our feet, my heart was offering this prayer, for the health care workers, the researchers, those who are ill and their loved ones:

Heal Us Now
(Music and English Text: Leon Sher, 2002 Hebrew Text: Healing Liturgy, Numbers 12:13, Pslams:145:18, 85:10)

R’faeinu Adonai v’neirafeh, hoshi-einu v’nivasheah. El karov, l’chol korav, ach karov, li-reav, yishoh.
 Heal us Adonai, and we shall be healed. Save us and we shall be saved. God is close to all who call out to God. Surely, help is near to all who call out to God. 

We pray for healing of the body. We pray for healing of the soul. For strength of flesh and mind and spirit. We pray to once again be whole.

El na, r’fa na lah, r’fuat hanefesh, u’r’fuat ha-guf, r’fua sh’leimah. 
Oh God, please heal us now; healing of the soul and healing of the body, a complete healing. 

Shiru L’Adonai Shir Chadash – Sing Unto the Eternal A New Song

“Music makes pictures and often tells stories, all of it magic, all of it true.” (John Denver)

Music has been an integral part of my life since I was very young. My paternal grandmother was a concert pianist. She met my grandfather, who was a cellist, when they were both playing in the same quartet.

My father inherited his parents’ love of music and talent. Like his father, he too played the cello. And he also had perfect pitch. While we were young, my dad would sing to us on car rides, teaching us all of Tom Leher’s songs that he learned as a camp counselor (not always appropriate for young children, e.g. – “The Old Dope Peddler”). He introduced us to Alan Sherman’s “Peter and the Commissar” with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. He was always singing.

Album cover, Allan Sherman, Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops: Peter and the Commissar
Album cover – Allan Sherman, Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops: Peter and the Commissar

My mother played first violin in the Rhode Island Youth Symphony Orchestra while she was in High School. She too was multi-talented. She played piano, accordion, recorder, and a few other instruments. She was a classical music aficionado. And she taught music at our Hebrew Day school.

I was thrilled when I attended Shabbat services at my new congregation this past July and saw that everyone – of all ages – took rhythm instruments to enhance the musical experience of the service.

Music has played an important role in our Jewish worship experience since biblical times. From the portable mishkan – Tabernacle (or sanctuary) in the wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem, music was used as a way to praise and glorify God.

King David made sure that the musicians and choirs were paid salaries, furnished with homes and well taken care of. He understood that a world without music was a world without color, a world without joy, a world without warmth and a world without spirit.

Psalm 150, verses 3-6 states:

Praise the Eternal with blasts of the shofar. Praise the Eternal with harp and lyre. Praise the Eternal with timbral and dance. Praise the Eternal with lute and pipe. Praise the Eternal resounding with cymbals. Praise the Eternal with loud crashing cymbals.

 My friend Mattan Klein has made it his life’s work to “praise the Eternal” with all different types of music. His father, Dr. Rabbi Michael Klein, z”l, was the Dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem campus while I was a first year rabbinic student.

While his father immersed himself in the ancient texts of our people, Mattan’s entire life is dedicated to bringing those texts to life through the beauty of music. He is the Ensemble Instructor at a high school for the arts in Israel, he is the Band Leader for three separate groups: 4 Flute Flight, Seeds of Sun and Mattan Klein Quintet. Like King David, Mattan plays music in both the secular and religious arenas. He played a beautiful flute tribute at Ariel Sharon’s funeral last year.

Perhaps what I find most inspirational about his work, is how he influences and inspires others, especially the next generation. Two years ago, his then-eight-year-old daughter Avigail was at one of her father’s performances and drew the following picture afterward:

Avigail Klein's view of her father's band "Seeds of Sun" performing
Avigail Klein’s view of her father’s band “Seeds of Sun” performing

Avigail placed herself playing flute with the band in the bottom right-hand corner. This was her dream: to play flute in her father’s band, surrounded by beautiful music! She just started taking flute lessons a few weeks ago. What she envisioned two years ago can soon be sustained and fulfilled.

To me, Abigail’s musical notes surrounding each and every musician not only symbolize the music they are playing. They symbolize an important lesson for each of us: when each of us joins together to “play our own instrument” in concert with others, we create a beautiful symphony. When we join our voices together, no matter if we are playing actual music, working together on behalf of social justice or some other common goal, we become bathed in music and beauty. It doesn’t matter what instrument we play, what note we sing, or even if we just listen.

Each of us has a song to sing. Each of us has the ability to hear the song of others around us. Shiru l’Adonai shir chadash – sing unto the Eternal a new song. Shiru l’Adonai kol ha-aretz – sing unto the Eternal all the earth. (Psalm 96:1).

(A video sample of Mattan Klein playing some of his beautiful music):