The other day, it came up in casual conversation that yes, in my younger days I was a member of a Jewish show choir. As a matter of fact, I was involved in two show choirs during my high school years: one through school, plus the aforementioned crew of lovely singing Jewish boys and girls, all of us aged roughly from 12-18. I was so totally Glee long before Glee ever happened. Oy.
And can I tell you something about my experience as part of a Jewish show choir? I might not have told you this then, but—I loved it. Sure, some performances consisted of singing at synagogues in front of kids around my age, which was pretty intimidating for a high school freshman. But, our group also got the chance to perform at one of my very favorite venues: nursing homes, senior citizen centers, you name it.
Ever since I sang with my fifth grade class ("Catch a Falling Star" is the tune that comes to mind) at a local nursing home, I've loved the opportunity to sing for others and see the smiles appear in the crowd. I'm terribly sentimental (ahem, I'm a sap). I know. It suits me.
I can vividly picture many Saturday mornings driving along 94 with my dad, being dropped off at performances all across the north of Chicago. At the time, I didn't think too much about my involvement in the choir, other than I loved to sing, I enjoyed meeting new people and it was an awesome outlet for my adorably hammy, expressive self.
More than 10 years later (gasp), I can look at my time spent singing songs about nearly every Jewish holiday, tunes about the Jewish people coming together after the Diaspora, celebrating Shabbat and the importance of the Shema and other integral prayers with a heaping helping of appreciation and pride. I've always been animated and had a flair for the dramatic, and I felt right at home with the Shining Lights. I might not have known it then, but those experiences consisted of some of the sweetest and most surprising ways I connected to Judaism in my younger years and helped shaped my thoughts and feelings about my religion today.
There's one connection that comes to mind that I will never forget. After one of our shows in the city, an elderly woman approached me and asked if I was Israeli, to which I replied, "I'm not, but my father is." Dad was hanging back after the show to shuttle me back to the north burbs, so I quickly asked him to chat with this woman.
As it turns out, she and he were born in the same town in Israel. She left Israel many years ago, after her son had been taken from her in an act of war. At that time, I knew about Israel, but the intricacies of the conflict were nothing I yet understood. As my Dad relayed this story to me I felt overwhelmed by a wave of sadness, but also felt an interesting sort of warmth in the connectedness of the moment. This woman had never met me, and I was somehow familiar to her. She had an innate feeling that our paths had somehow crossed, which was in some ways true. Now, that could be very far away from what she had in mind when she asked me offhand if was Israeli, but her friendly forwardness made an impression on me.
Growing up and learning about Judaism at Hebrew school, I always carried a sense of pride that my dad was from Israel. Growing up, I knew that my family had emigrated from Eastern Europe to Israel (and later to Canada). I knew that my grandfather fought in the war for independence. But what did I really know, about what he went through, what anyone went through? The older I got, the more interested in Israel I became.
I went on Birthright and I continued my Israeli education after the fact. My first job after college I worked for an organization in support of the Israeli Defense Force. I learned more than I could have ever imagined about the army, Israel and the spirit of those who fight for what they believe in. As I gathered trivial facts about army bases and brigades, as I spoke with many Israelis about their lives—from their mundane ups and downs to their defining triumphs and tragedies—my perspective broadened and my feelings for Israel strengthened.
I always assumed I joined that unique show choir on a lark, because it was another outlet to sing, dance and do all of those things I loved so dearly when I was younger. Now that I'm older, I realize how special it was to express my creativity in a way that both connected me to my religion and allowed me to share that connection with others. Perhaps it led me to discover more about myself, through my further learning beyond high school and through my first professional experience. Who knows? But after all of these years, I can hum a little tune, and it takes right back to that very certain time and place.