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Rabbis find perfect pitch for Rosh Hashanah

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A video by the South African Rabbinical Association of 40 South African rabbonim and chazzanim singing Avinu Malkeinu is being shared around the world as a symbol of hope and harmony ahead of the high holy days, which so many people will celebrate alone or apart from one another this year.

The association’s chairperson, Rabbi Yossi Chaikin, told the SA Jewish Reportthat this Rosh Hashanah, it was really important to send out a message of unity and faith in the future.

“I think one of the things that have happened over lockdown is that there is an amazing spirit of achdut [unity] and of working together among all the rabbonim in the country. Physical, geographical boundaries have fallen away, ideologies have fallen away, and we are working together to inspire our community, to give it hope, and help everyone get through this difficult time.”

About a month ago, he got a message from Jonathan Birin of JB Recording Studios suggesting that they make a video of rabbonim and chazzanim singing together. Chaikin loved the idea, and they started working on it. He said the video includes rabbonim and chazzanim because they work together closely, and it “takes the concept of unity to a different level”. A message from Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein and the blowing of the shofar are intertwined with the music.

“It wasn’t very difficult to get everyone on board,” Chaikin said. He sent a message on the association’s WhatsApp group, and there was an immediate positive response. The participants were given instructions about singing to a backing track and recording it. Not every Orthodox rabbi or chazzan in the country took part. “It was open to all, but some were more reticent,” he said. He emphasises that Birin and JB Recording Studios didn’t just initiate the idea, they brought it to fruition.

“People have been so warm and encouraging. We’ve had many calls and messages,” said Chaikin. “The response exceeded my expectations. The video has had more than 20 000 views as we speak. I’m sure this will grow as we get closer to yom tov.”

Avinu Malkeinu was the song chosen because, said Chaikin, “There is no other song or prayer that is as symbolic of and synonymous with the period we are heading into, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s an easy tune, one that everyone relates to, and it conveys the dual messages of G-d being our father and our king, which is very much the relationship we are trying to strike with G-d over this time.

“At the height of the coronavirus surge back in July was the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz, and we say Avinu Malkeinu on fast days as well. So many lines of this prayer jumped out at me then: ‘Hashem withhold plagues from us; Hashem send us healing.’ The words jumped out of the pages of the siddur, as I’m sure they will from the pages of the machzor.

“We’re not wearing masks as we’re all in our own areas,” said Chaikin. “It’s fascinating to see how so many different people in different places are singing in perfect harmony.

“The message of unity and harmony conveyed to our community and the world is important, and we’re going to get through the difficult months that lie ahead by sticking together and caring for one another, which is one of the most important things that corona[virus] has taught us. The way we behave affects anybody around us, in our community and beyond. We should remember the songs, the laughter, the happiness, and the growth as we move into a year of only brochas.”

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