Returning to the Fold


Needless to say, we were anxious to do whatever we could to ease this transition for our children. The obvious first step was to join a synagogue, where they would be reintroduced to our religious traditions and hopefully, find a whole new set of friends.

The nearest congregation was a small, Conservative one that had just hired its first female rabbi. She proved as welcoming to us as the congregation would prove to her (and nonjudgmental about our recent spiritual digression). So by the time of our eldest son’s bar mitzvah, three years later, he was well prepared, and we were reintegrated as a family into the Jewish community.

A few more years had passed when a friend mentioned that her synagogue was in a crisis. Their cantor had left, and the High Holidays were just around the corner. Did I happen to know of anyone who might be able to fill in?

Only months before, quite fortuitously, I had started taking voice lessons again! And this time, apparently, I did improve. Perhaps the long hiatus had allowed my voice to finally finish changing, my throat chakra to open or some anatomically unrelated karma to clear. However it happened, I soon found myself leading a 900-family congregation in prayer.

For the next six years, what was supposed to have been a one-time, High-Holiday appointment turned into every Saturday morning, holiday services, adult and children’s choir rehearsals and the occasional wedding or funeral. And though I’ve long since given up those nearly full-time cantorial responsibilities, I have continued to serve as a High Holiday cantor at one synagogue or another almost every year for the last two decades. It is a role in which I feel blessed and privileged to serve.

But is it presumptuous of me to stand before God as a shaliach tzibur (community spokesperson), having personally veered so substantially from the prescribed Jewish-religious path? I will leave that judgment to others, except to note that I have never concealed my history as a wandering Jew from the rabbis with whom I have worked, or anyone else for that matter.

But there was one awkward moment early in my tenure at that 900-family synagogue. It was the bat-mitzvah of a girl whose parents were pillars of the congregation. Looking down from the dais to where the family was seated, I spotted someone who had lived in the ashram during my days as a follower of Gurudeva Ji. After the service, we greeted each other and I learned that he was still somehow a follower of the guru. But before I got to hear more about that, the father of the bat mitzvah girl came rushing over, alarm written all over his face.

Now I may of course have been projecting. But my old friend and I both knew the source of the proud papa’s angst. The very last thing he wanted on this special family occasion was for his own, unchaperoned younger brother to be sharing any of his mishoogas … and with the Cantor, of all people!

So, accepting our karma, we smiled and shook hands. And with a respectful if strategic nod to the fast closing elder brother, I moved on to greet another group of congregants. 

For a video of the author at the above referenced synagogue, see below. 

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