From Jester To King LXXV
By Simon Barget
Well I used to sing in the choir with my father. Those days are gone, but the memories are fresh. There were all sorts of services in all sorts of rooms, all starting at different times, and you could go up and down the whole synagogue building till you found something that suited. There were services in every cranny, more services than people perhaps, but there was always a ready stream of people, every time you poked your head into one of the rooms, there was no shortage of people already there, how they got there you never knew, but they were there and that was sufficient and the important thing was that they were there and that the service had been able to run its course and you could be free to join even though you were a latecomer. I sometimes darted in one and then into another. Mostly no one would notice, but this was Passover time and the Grand Seder was on and we had all the family round at our house, my father’s parents and some of his mother’s family, and I do remember sitting on the sofa at home with my grandparents when someone who looked remarkably like my grandmother came up from behind, patted me on the shoulder and said, well who am I then? And I being one to not be easily duped thought hold on, she’s not my grandmother you can see it in the eyes, I believed and still do that the answer is there if you look closely enough, always there to be found, and I scrutinised my grandmother before going back to this doppelgaenger and said to the doppelgaenger, you’re not my grandmother, whereupon both smiled and the strange standing lady told me that she was my grandmother and the lady sitting down wasn’t, so she must have been the younger sister that looked almost identical to her. It didn’t feel right at all, I mean I still believe that the woman sitting down had been my grandmother since she had these sincere eyes whereas the standing lady had had an uncharacteristic glint.
We went back to shul and it was in full swing. I was late as usual but as I went from service to service, room to room, I had this sinking feeling that none of the services were for me, I thought that perhaps I should leave, perhaps I felt let down at the prospect of being passed over, at having to blend in, at the realisation that I made little if no difference to the congregants, but just as I was about to go I was sort of hustled back into one of the rooms I rarely went into, it was on one of the middle floors, unremarkable, not particularly awe-inspiring or suited to worship, but as I went in I noticed that there was a fairly heavy throng and they were concentrated around one of the lecterns to the right-hand side of the room. And as I go in I notice Philip Tscharovsky who never went to our shul there must have been an occasion, and he’d always been a hearty and inclusive sort of person, a geeing-up presence, and I can’t remember whether he actually said anything or even touched me, but he certainly beckoned me over and I immediately felt comfortable, and it was around the time in the service when it was to be chosen which song from the liturgy would be sung, and they chose the one that I knew as ‘Aneini beamet yeshecho’ although I’m not sure it’s called that, and I wish I could type the Hebrew for you, but anyway I was thinking that I did know the song, but that it wouldn’t necessarily be the one I’d have gone with. And I admit to being a little deflated, deflated I wouldn’t be able to play a major role in the singing, that I’d just be a bit-part, but I couldn’t have been more wrong because when we did start I sang in spite of myself, after all these years of absence, of not having Dad by my side I knew all the words backwards, the tune too, it was just all so natural to me, I sing with this gusto, and the throng come ever closer, surrounding me, engulfing me almost like I’m channelling God, my voice rises above the combined voice of the congregants, I can be heard above everyone, and it is a little alarming initially that I can so clearly be heard, but as I go on I gain confidence and they are magnetically drawn, and I sing high and strong like I’ve not done in ages, the breath comes with ease, and though I might have worried I’d not reach the high notes, I needn’t have done, and this was a piece that contained a whole swathe of them, and as I sang I experienced this great joy, this release, this liberation, this POWER, and the other men sang but you could see that they were with just with me, there was this tremendous uplifting energy in the room and you could really only hear me and me alone piercing the throng, not even Tscharowsky who had a great booming voice, and I wondered and wonder to this day if he had engineered the whole thing, because I wouldn’t put it past him.