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"I C U"

Cantor Adam Kahan

April 29, 2022

Back when I was studying to be a cantor, I hit a stretch of time that was probably the most challenging that I have been through. Without dramatically laying out all the twists and turns, I will share that our daughter had just been born, my father had just received his terminal ALS diagnosis, and I was in the most grueling year of my studies while also serving as the cantorial soloist at a 900 family synagogue. I was, as it were, in beyond my capacities. After six months of trying to keep up, with little sleep and constant adrenaline, my body gave out a bit and I ended up in the hospital with what seemed to be a staph infection in my system. I felt scared. I felt low. Thank God for family and friends and people to listen and support.

During that time, I had a cantorial coach, through the program, with whom I would meet weekly to study chazzanut, or the traditional chanting of the prayers. Cantor Josh Breitzer, a gifted musician and kind soul, would provide me insights on the music, but also would kindly listen to what was going on in my world.  At the end of one of those sessions -I believe after I had just gone to the ICU at the hospital to see my father after a very scary moment in his illness - Cantor Breitzer said the following words to me. “Well, Adam, just know that I’m standing in your corner and cheering you on.”  Man, that was exactly what I needed to hear, and how I needed to be received. In that moment, in those words, I felt gotten and I felt seen. I have never forgotten the power of that moment, or those words.

A few weeks ago, I was studying with one of our students who is preparing to become a Bat Mitzvah. Studying with her is truly a joy.  As we ran through some of the prayers, we stopped by the Shema, and I noted a common teaching on that prayer’s first line of Hebrew…that if you look at first word, “Shema”, you will see the last letter of that word is written bigger than the rest of the word.  Similarly, if you look at the last word of that line “Echad”, you will see that it’s last letter is also enlarged.  Why? Thanks for asking. Those two enlarged letters, an Ayin and a Dalet, can be put together to make the Hebrew word “Eid” which translates to “witness”.  It is taught that when we say Shema, and say that “God is One”, we are standing as witness to God. My student really thought that was cool, and I agree wholeheartedly. 

What is it to be a witness to God?  Well, one could say that without human beings, there is nothing that can attest to God’s existence.  Sure, there would be an Earth, and a Universe without mankind present, and science would support the notion that this was the case for most of time. As far as we know, though, if humans didn’t exist, no one can affirm that God exists.  Following the logic of the oft-used phrase, “If a tree falls in a forest….,” if nothing exists to affirm God’s existence, then God ceases to exist. 

Now, let’s pause to say that we all will likely have a different interpretation of what this God is, of whom I speak…but whatever that phrase means to you, your reception of it, and the space you hold for it, gives it a reality in this world, in as far as you carry it. We bear witness to God, and therefor, God’s existence has grounding and presence. We are truly the partners of God.  

Often it is taught that we are created, “B’tzelem Elohim”, “In God’s image.”  In this way we are not only created in God’s image, we are part of the image of God…it’s appearance in this world.  This week’s Torah portion, part of what is often a combined portion of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, has the beautiful words, “You shall be holy, for I, Adonai, your God, am holy.”  

We are holy (Kadosh) because God is holy. We are the partners with that holiness.  That word for holy, in Hebrew, is related to the word for “unique” or “special”.  Each one of us has our own journey, our own experiences, our own victories, and our own challenges. None are the same. Each is unique, and each is holy in its own way. If it is important for me to stand as witness to God, each time I say Shema, it is at least equally important that I stand as witness to God’s partner, you…and him…and her…and to have others witness me. 

I have learned during this pandemic that one of the most important things I can say is “I see you.” During the isolation of the last few years, many have understandably struggled with the lack of normal contact, and without their usual supports for being received.  Let us all keep looking to find the holiness in each other. Let us each look to see what is special and unique in the people we know, and keep letting them know that we see them. 

As we round into this Shabbat, and we prepare to read from our Torah, we have five women who are being called to the Torah as B’not Mitzvah. At 10am on Saturday morning, I hope you will consider being with us in the sanctuary as each one shares about their journey, their embracing of Torah, and their momentous journey across the threshold of this moment. I hope you can help us celebrate their holiness. I hope you have moments to celebrate others’ in your life….and most certainly, I hope that you have moments when you feel gotten, seen, loved and supported.  

Know this….and I feel comfortable speaking on behalf of our whole community and leadership….We’re standing in your corner, cheering you on.    

Go get ‘em,

Cantor Adam


Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyar 5784