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When Music Brings Awe: Singing with the Or Ami Chorale

At its root, Or Ami is a musical community. Between the inspiring music of our Grammy award-winning Cantor Doug Cotler, the uplifting and engaging sound of our Or Ami chorale, and the envelopingly enticing tunes of our Shabbat band Jewbacca, we sing our way through joyous celebrations, moments of sadness and everything in between. This past Friday night provided yet another example of the powerful centrality of music in our congregation. [View Michael Kaplan’s pictures of the Chorale and Installation. View Michael Kaplan’s Chorale Installation Music Video]

We gathered to celebrate Shabbat, worship the Holy One, and install our new Board and Officers. We schlepped nachas (shared joy) as one of our students prepared to become a Bar Mitzvah, shed tears as we welcomed some families back into the embraced of the congregation as they mourned the deaths of loved ones, and said prayers of healing for our loved ones undergoing surgery or struggling with illness. And we did it all within the caress of song and musical prayer. 
The Or Ami Chorale hails from the earliest days of the Congregation. Founded and led by the late Judith Berman, and now conducted by the talented Bettie Ross Blumer, the Chorale is as far removed from the 1950’s Temple Choir as today’s approachable clergy are from the rabbis on high from days of old. Said differently, this Chorale invites us in, makes us want to sing/pray along, and rocks to a melody and beat that might make the early Reformers turn in their graves, but brings us to a place of spiritual wholeness. 
At one moment they are drawing us close into Kabbalat Shabbat with songs that make us dance in our seats.  The next, they are the surreptitious niggun (lai-lai-lai) singing under the creative words of the Maariv Aravim prayer. Before we know it, the Chorale is settling us down with a beautiful rendition of L’dor Vador, marking the unbroken transmission of Jewish truths: that there is a praiseworthy Holy One, that we too can live holy lives. The message is emphasized again as they (we!) sing K’doshim T’hiyu, a flowing melody, written by a congregant-composer, which urges us to strive for holiness by living ethically.

Before, after and in between, we become lost – in the most spiritually satisfying way – in the masterful musical selections, prayer settings and original music of our own Cantor Doug Cotler. Yes, soloists inspired awe in us; the instrumentalists brought us stirring music. Then, the Chorale closes the service first with a rendition of Oseh Shalom so reminiscent of the best of Baptist choirs that some do a double-take to ensure that these are Jews rocking Judaism, then bringing us to our feet, swaying and singing to Cantor Cotler’s Adonai Oz.

Music speaks louder than words, I remember singing with other Jewish youth in the 1970’s and ’80’s. This past Shabbat evening at Or Ami, listening to and singing along with the Or Ami Chorale conducted by Bettiee and with our Cantor Doug Cotler, once again reinforced this universal truth.
Thank you to all who sang. You touched my soul; you lifted us up spiritually.  Thank you. 

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