That idea is a woman’s spiritual edge over man.
I got a taste of that edge last Friday night at Temple Beth Am, where a packed house welcomed their new cantor, Magda Fishman, a soulful trumpet player who sings Shlomo Carlebach melodies like Billie Holliday sings the blues.
This was not my natural habitat. I pray in Orthodox shuls, so I’m clearly biased toward male cantors. Give me a Sephardic baritone with Ladino melodies and I’m in davening heaven. For me, the depth of a powerful male voice is like a surge of adrenaline. It charges me up. And it’s what I’m used to.
So, how do I explain that I was so moved on Friday night by a female cantor leading services on the rooftop of a Conservative synagogue?
I think it started with the amazing rooftop setting, which was like being immersed in a mikveh of Godly air. Instead of being distracted by memorial plaques or stained-glass artwork, I was distracted only by an endless sky and a whispering breeze.
Into this open-air setting landed Magda Fishman. With the Los Angeles sunset framing her angelic face, Fishman picked up her trumpet and played a slow and moving solo that opened the evening. Then we all sang “Shalom Aleichem.”
I confess — I felt a frisson of spirituality. I know “spirituality” is a nebulous term, so I’ll say it more clearly: I lost myself. I stopped thinking and started feeling. It helped that every time I looked up at Fishman, she also looked lost. Lost in her prayers, her melodies and the moment.
She was receiving from God as much as she was giving to us.
She read the opening words of the “Hashkiveinu” prayer — “Help us lie down, O Lord our God, in peace, and rise up, O our King, to life” — and spoke, in her subtle Israeli accent, about the simple gratitude we owe God for waking up each morning. She then sang part of the prayer in English, and it sounded as if she was in a blues club singing her own lyrics.