Yesterday was the first of my two “dress rehearsals.” Well, no dress, not even my tallit, but I ran through the entire service on the bima with Rabbi Chester – basically, me reading and chanting my sections of the service and him saying “la la la” in his typical joking way whenever the cantor or congregation was supposed to chime in.
It went really smoothly. The sanctuary’s acoustics for speaking are great. (Even better than singing in the shower!) And I know my Torah and haftarah chanting down pat: The only glitch was a brief moment of total brain collapse when I couldn’t remember which of the many baruch atah adonai melodies to use for the haftarah blessings.
I wasn’t sure that I’d really need one dress rehearsal, let alone two. I mean, I’m not 13! But there’s a bunch of minor maneuvering that it’s helpful to practice. (Where on the podium do I stash my speech? Which mike to use when I turn to face the ark?)
More significantly, the rehearsal was worthwhile as a way to get used to being on the bima.
I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking over the years in bookstores, classrooms, and big auditoriums. But the sanctuary felt grander – the stained glass windows, the eternal lamp, the knowledge that people had filled this room every Shabbat for 80 years and other similar rooms for 2,000 years.
It echoed, both literally and figuratively.
I wasn’t really able to take all of that in, though. I was too busy trying not to lose my place in the Torah scroll, groping for the right haftarah blessing melody. I didn’t look up from the prayerbook for the first two-thirds of the rehearsal – and I’m someone who knows that you need to look at the audience when giving a speech.
It was basic let’s-get-through-this survival mode. It was like a wedding where the bride and groom are so keyed up with nervous excitement that they don’t remember any of their conversations with guests. And they never get a chance to taste their cake.
By the time I got to my d’var Torah, I started to relax. And giving a sermon is so much easier than chanting Torah and haftarah – it’s in English!
I suspect that the second rehearsal next week will allow me to loosen up further. I’ll be able to let go and open myself up more to the power of the tradition.
By the time of my actual Bat Mitzvah service, I’ll have a better chance of enjoying the (metaphorical) cake.
For me, at least, the rehearsals aren’t about getting it right – they’re about having the time and opportunity to realize what I’m doing and what it means.