A Musical Miracle of Faith

Alexander Wilson and Clea Friend perform Kol Nidre

Professor Joe Goldblatt

As a small boy mama took my tiny hand and led me into the great synagogue to join 1000 others in annually asking God for forgiveness for our sins. When the first notes of the ancient sacred hymn Kol Nidre were played from the pulpit, the sombre musical melody floated over our heads and perhaps deeply into our souls and we were spiritually transformed by the beauty of this sombre introduction to our annual Day of Atonement.

The annual Jewish tradition of seeking forgiveness may date back to the time at Mount Sinai when Moses received the ten commandments from the almighty and upon giving them to the Jewish people he noticed that they had begun to worship an idol of a golden calf rather than solely believe in the one invisible God.  Moses was so upset that he crashed the tablets and upon receiving an apology from his people and their promise to reject false idols, the almighty sent a second set of tablets and for five thousand years they have served as the guiding philosophy for many Jews all over the world.

Two very talented, professional, highly experienced, and well regarded musicians, with only a few days notice, agreed this week to perform the most sacred song of the Jewish year for a very special service.  They were performing for a new Jewish community known as Abraham and Sarah’s Tent whose purpose was to bring the high holy day services through Zoom to folk who because of chronic illness, disability, physical distance from a synagogue, or other reasons could not travel to hear Kol Nidre in person at a traditional venue.

Rabbi Judith Levitt, the service leader said “We were especially looking through our new project Abraham and Sarah’s Tent to welcome those still shielding from Covid, are housebound, elderly, or indeed anyone who happens to fall ill over the High Holy Days. We also want to invite small communities with no one to lead their services or simply those people who don’t have access to a physical community.”   

I asked Rabbi Levitt if she would like some help in identifying musicians to perform thecritically important Kol Nidre musical introduction to encourage our atonement.

Receiving her blessing, I sent emails to a half dozen musical artists and held little hope that within a few days I would find qualified musicians who were willing to help us.  However, the miracle of faith demonstrated that during this holiest time of the Jewish year, providence is possible.  One of my friends is a world renowned producer of cultural festivals and through her contacts she invited the cellist Clea Friend and the pianist Alexander Taylor to share their talents with us.

Clea performs with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and has given concerts in the Balkans, Lebanon, and most recently Ukraine.  Alexander is a multi – award winning pianist who is currently Director of Artistic Planning for the Oslo, Norway Philharmonic Orchestra.  

A few days after sending my email cry for help I opened an email from Clea and witnessed the beautiful performance of Kol Nidre that she and Alexander performed in the Stockbridge Church Music Hub that had provided a complimentary venue for the recording and Colin Clark was the audio engineer.  To my knowledge none of these folk are Jewish.  They all provided their services pro – bono to help our service succeed.  Indeed, although they are not Jewish they share our values of charity, justice, and equality.  Therefore, I wept uncontrollably with gratitude and joy as I listened to the first notes of music.

Perhaps I now have another reason to seek forgiveness during our days of repentance.  Similar to my ancestors, I too am sorry for doubting that that a super power might come to my aid to bring the glorious melody of Kol Nidre to those who otherwise would not be able experience this sacred music.  Therefore, just as my ancestors did 5000 years ago, I have now learned to try harder to cast away my false doubts and embrace true hope due to the generosity of three music makers who do not necessarily share my faith but whose talents have helped many others including me to deepen our spiritual well – being during the time we Jews describe as our Days of Awe. This year, Kol Nidre will indeed be truly awesome.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh Scotland and Chair of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association.

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