Last Saturday was Yom Kippur, and just like every year, I co-led the 3 1/2 hour service with another lay leader at my synagogue.
Neither of us is a rabbi, or a cantor, but every year we get to “play one on TV” for the crowd who shows up for High Holy Days.
Because that’s the relationship that most American Jews have with synagogues: they show up once a year for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (collectively known as the High Holy Days).
And that has become my own relationship with my synagogue: I show up and lead services.
Usually I get together with my co-leader a few weeks in advance to go over the service, plan out who’s going to do what, put sticky notes in my book, remind myself of the melodies, and basically rehearse.
But this year there was no meeting with my co-leader. She was busy, as always, and when she emailed to try to schedule a meeting I was at my Create & Incubate Retreat. And then I was at a conference.
And although the dates for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have, quite literally, been on the calendar for millennia, I was so preoccupied with all the mishegas of my own little life that, well, I just never got around to rehearsing on my own.
And guess what? The parts that I’m weakest on, I made a royal mess of.
One spot in particular, in the Yom Kippur afternoon service, I chant the Haftarah after the Torah portion is chanted. It’s the custom in my synagogue that we do this in English, rather than in Hebrew, using the traditional cantillation melodies — the trope. So because it’s in English, even though I screwed up the trope in several places, there’s not really a right or wrong way to do it anyway, so my screw-ups weren’t a big deal.
Maybe three people in the room would have even noticed.
But after the Haftarah, there are traditional blessings that get chanted in Hebrew. And I’ve always felt a bit weak on those. And guess what? I didn’t practice, so the very last blessing? I just completely bombed.
As in full-stop, deer in the headlights, brain fart, mangled.
In actor parlance, I went up.
I felt my face get hot — I’m sure I looked like a roasted beet — and I actually apologized.
Then I painfully stumbled my through, like a hog-tied zombie.
It was bad.
That was the afternoon. Before that, the 3 1/2 hour morning service as a whole didn’t flow nearly as smoothly as it should have, because my co-leader prints out these “running sheets” — spreadsheets with who does what — and instead of transferring that information onto sticky notes into my book, which is what I’ve always done in the past, this year I decided to try it her way, with the running sheet.
So any time there was a new anything, I had to keep referring to the running sheet.
“Turn to page 33 in the supplement,” or “Would somebody like to read the middle paragraph on page 126 in the machzor?” or “Let’s sing together at the top of page 45.”
I didn’t know if my co-leader was supposed to be the person taking charge, or if I was supposed to be the person taking charge, unless I consulted the running sheet. But that meant taking my eyes off the book.
And of course there’s not just one book, there’s also a supplement. And an extra song sheet.
So it gets really confusing!
And since my co-leader was the one who had made all the decisions about who was doing what, it was all inside her brain. But it wasn’t inside my brain.
And of course, we hadn’t met to go over the service as we usually do!
The upshot was that all of this referring back and forth from book to spreadsheet to supplement to spreadsheet made for a clunky, gap-filled service.
I did not like it.
All of this could have been easily resolved if we had simply met in advance to go over the services, as we’ve done every other year. But we didn’t.
And we didn’t because I was waiting for my co-leader to reach out to me. Very stubbornly, I might add. With a sort of attitude of, “If you want my help, then you’re going to have to ask. And if you wait until it’s too late, then too bad — I’m busy.”
And that’s what happened. She waited until the last minute to reach out to me, then wanted to get together when I was away at my Create & Incubate Retreat, and then when I was away at a conference.
And when she wanted to a do a brand new song, and get together on Thursday, after I’d just flown home from Philadelphia on Wednesday (when Yom Kippur was starting on Friday), I put my foot down and said “no.”
(Yay me! I set a boundary!)
But in the middle of the Yom Kippur service on Saturday, I realized that my attitude of waiting for her to reach out to me to schedule a get-together to go over the service is extremely tight and stingy.
And I realized that not meeting with her in advance contributed to my feeling like I was phoning it in, which I did not like one bit. Even if nobody else perceived my performance that way, my inner perception felt that way, and it did not feel good. That was not a feeling I wanted to replicate ever again.
If I am going to lead services, I don’t want to bring my B game — even if my B game is as good as someone else’s A game! (Which it may or may not be — I’m just sayin’.) I want to bring my A game.
And that means feeling prepared.
That means taking the time that I need to rehearse in advance.
That means meeting with my co-leader not just a few days or a week before the service, scrambling to squeeze an appointment into my busy schedule (which is how it’s happened up till now), but at least a month beforehand, and getting that appointment on the calendar well in advance.
And if my co-leader wants to add a new song to the mix, none of this last minute stuff! I need at least two months advance notice for a new song!
So I made those my requirements for engagement going forward. If they want me to continue to help leading services, I am more than happy to do so, as long as these requirements are met.
I drew a line in the sand.
I set boundaries, folks!
And guess what? My co-leader was delighted! She said it would force her to be more organized, which would be good for her!
She immediately looked at the calendar for next year, asked what my August was like. I said I’ll be in Paris the second half of the month, at the Applied Improvisation Network conference, so we booked a meeting for the first Sunday in August.
Look at us, planning a year in advance!
I’ll get sticky notes in my book, the way I like, so all of the stage directions are right where I can easily refer to them, rather than having to look back and forth from book to spreadsheet and back.
And because we’ll be meeting a month beforehand, I’ll get started early on reviewing the melodies, and reminding myself which parts of the service are my weak spots and need work, and I’ll have four weeks to work on them, rather than a hopeless, last-minute cram the night before, like this year.
That feels so good!
It feels generous, rather than stingy.
I’m actually looking forward to next year rather than resenting it. I realized my resentment was my lack of boundaries, as resentment so often is.
Resentment is anger at myself, misdirected at YOU through the lens of victimhood.
The Golden Formula
Meanwhile, remember that awful moment up on the bima, when I mangled the blessing after the Haftarah because wasn’t prepared?
Oh, that was painful, yes, but here’s the beautiful thing. I noticed that the shame and humiliation dissipated within a few minutes.
In fact, it wasn’t true shame at all. As Brené Brown explains:
Humiliation = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.
I was annoyed at myself for being so underprepared (and I also realized after I sat down that I could have chosen to do the blessings after the Haftarah in English. I could have made it a teaching moment — “We chant the Haftarah in English, but we never look at the blessings in English, so let’s do that today!” Nobody would have even known that my Hebrew was weak. They would have just thought, “Huh, that was new and different!”)
So there were a couple of ways I was annoyed at myself: I screwed up the blessing because I hadn’t rehearsed, and I didn’t think to do the blessing in English.
But I knew that beating myself up about it was not useful.
Hey, people just got to see me being human! How cool is that?
And my big mess-up taught me, in no uncertain terms that I never want to experience that again.
So this whole thing is a fabulous case study example of my Golden Formula in action:
Self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good.
Self-awareness = I noticed my stingy feeling, not feeling prepared, the internal feeling of “phoning it in,” massively messing up and how that feels, and also realizing — doh! — that I could always at anytime choose to read or chant in English.
Self-compassion = responding with self-forgiveness, self-kindness, and generosity. Asking, “What’s the most loving, open-hearted way to respond here?” Setting boundaries, for one! Getting really clear that yes, I’d love to participate, but these are my requirements for participation.
(Tip: it may sound counter-intuitive, but setting boundaries is always the most loving, open-hearted way to respond!)
When you can approach every situation with this kind of learning mindset, even a not-so-awesome experience can become awesome because of what you get out of it in the end.
This year’s High Holy Days services were not my best in terms of the performance I delivered, but in terms of overall gifts? Of what I gained from them? I’d say they were off the charts.
When my mom lost her Fitbit, bought a new one, then found the old one, she gave the old one to me as an early birthday present, and I have to say, I absolutely love it!
Not only does it track steps (probably not totally accurately, but hey, it lets me know how much movement I’m getting today compared to yesterday, which is what matters), it also tracks my sleep, and it connects to my iPhone to let me know when texts and phone calls are coming in.
This is supremely helpful, since I tend to get distracted and miss important messages. And I can just set my phone to “Do Not Disturb” mode if I don’t want my wrist vibrating.
I had a Fitbit Zip before, but this is a great upgrade.
I was concerned it wouldn’t work with my treadmill desk, since I’m usually typing while I walk, but it captures all my typing steps just the same way my Zip did, plus it has all sorts of other awesome features, and because I wear it on my wrist, I don’t have to worry about it falling into the toilet (as my Zip has been known to do…) Highly recommended!
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