What Services Mean to Me

Frank Gent


Fifteen years ago I was living in Israel, in the small northern Galilee town of Ma'alot. I was the volunteer Borough Engineer, designing pavements, parking lots, council stores and recreation grounds during the week, and at weekends celebrating Shabbat. We were surrounded by small synagogues, stiblech, and Friday evening we would hear the sounds of Shir haShirim coming in different directions through our open windows. I would walk to the Shmaya Cohen synagogue, named after a soldier killed in the Yom Kippur War, and located in the room where the children were murdered in the Ma'alot massacre. I would sit with the congregation, overwhelmed by the religiosity of the experience, the intensity of the singing, transported by the strains of Lecha Dodi and the poignancy of the evening prayer, ma'ariv ma'aravim. I went up to Jerusalem for Shavu'ot, literally, for we walked all night up through the hills and then marched through the city, past the prime minister and the people. And on Tish'a B'Av I went to the Western Wall, prayed, and, sitting on the ground, joined in the chanting of Eicha. Back in Ma'alot that Autumn we stayed up late for an open-air concert by the holy Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, zichrono livracha. He was late, very late, and I was tired and irritated, but when he arrived I was again transported. He did not have a great voice, but he had love and charisma. Ever since then his songs have put me back in touch with that deep spirituality that I experienced in Eretz Yisra'el, and which I miss so much. I shall be playing a short recording of some of his music in the shul between Mincha and Ma'ariv on August 5th, by way of a meditation before Tish'a b'Av. Here are some of the words of that meditation:

"I'm still crying for the last High Priest

I'm still crying for Rabbi Akiva

I'm still crying after the people who were killed and burnt in market places during the Spanish Inquisition

I'm still crying after every Jew of the Six Million

I'm still crying after every soldier who was killed in the Holy Land

Does it really matter if it happened yesterday or two thousand years ago? I miss them. We need them. The passage we're singing it says: 'Al ele ani bokhia', this is why I'm crying, and I'll never stop crying, because those people, who could give me back my soul, are not with me."

Rabbi Carlebach knew about us here in Exeter, and there was once a possibility he would come to us. Sadly, it was not to be. But we can share his spirituality through the music he left behind. Come along on Tish'a b'Av and grieve for what has been lost in the search for Shalom.