Shana Tova blessings!
Its here, the New Year with changing light and leaves and honey and apples and, squash soup eaten together around the table.
This music is a gift for you, to accompany you through the last moments of the month of Elul and into the fall and 5777. To dwelling! L’chaim and Shana Tova!
I am deep in preparations for my most recent adventure, the creation of a totally new service for Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco, only this time it is the alternative to the alternative. I get to work with a great multi-instrumentalist Aharon Bolsta, the container is much less clear and the expectations are higher. 5777 is already off to a good challenge.
The service is called Renew Our Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Unbound.
Mark your calendars for November 12th when I will be opening for Noa (Achinoam Nini) together with Jaffa Road buddies Aaron Lightstone and Justin Gray. Justin and I will also be furthering the exploration of a duet begun in August when we play at the end of November in Toronto and in January in the Bahamas. I am in a variety of exciting conversations, jamming with artists I have wanted to play with for a long time. Although I am anxious to know what is next and to name it, I am letting it unfold and present itself in its time.
More meditation and prayer.
Three different kinds of sessions this fall, half day retreat, early morning sits and a Shabbat gathering for sharing new teachings, music and building community. See Upcoming Dates below for details.
Renew Our Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Unbound.
Congregation Beth Sholom, San Francisco
Monday, October 3rd and Wednesday, October 12
Register at the link above
Late Service: Kabbalat Shabbat
2 Lake Street, San Francisco
Friday, October 14
Free, no registration necessary
WELCOMING IN THE GUESTS: A half-day Sukkot Mindfulness Retreat at Bela Farm
In conjunction with Shoresh, at Bela Farm
Sunday, October 23
Facebook Event Page
National Film Board – Faith Project Virtual Classroom
Japanese Cultural Centre
6 Garamond Court, Toronto
Wednesday, October 26
Register here - Free
Koerner Hall, opening for Achinoam Nini
273 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Saturday, November 12
Morning mindfulness meditation and chanting practice
in preparation for Shabbat
Presented with and at Makom
402 College Street, Toronto
4 Friday mornings, November 19, November 25, December 2, December 9
Register by emailing Aviva - P.W.Y.C.
Welcoming in the Beloved, a Kabbalat Shabbat practice
In a private home in Toronto west end
Friday, November 19
6:30-8, potluck to follow
Register by emailing Aviva - Free
Beth Sholom Synagogue (upstairs)
1445 Eglinton West, Toronto
Saturday, November 26
Register by emailing Aviva - Free
Final celebration of Beit Zatoun with Maryem Tollar and friends
Duet with Justin Gray to start the evening
612 Markham Street, Toronto
Saturday, November 26,
Details to follow
Hearing the Heart’s Song: A Jewish Devotional Practice
670 Bloor Street West, Suite 300
Sunday, November 27
Beth Sholom Synagogue (upstairs)
1445 Eglinton West, Toronto
Saturday, December 10
Register by emailing Aviva - Free
Visit Aviva’s DATES page for the latest up-to-date information.
“Leave taking – home-leaving always precedes the Divine Encounter…”
— Rabbi Alan Lew, Be Still and Get Going pps.15
My sabbatical was a leaving home of sorts. For a time, I let go of much of what was familiar in my work life, releasing from the habitual practices, relationships and behaviours in order to stand back and reflect. I left the work I had been accustomed to with my congregations, with Jaffa Road, with my own music, teaching and vocal facilitation. From September 2015 through to March 1st 2016 I engaged in a learning intensive, challenge meeting, voice renovating, creative process uncovering time of pause and change.
The months since have been about integration of the learning, about inhabiting and clarification of plans for moving forward.
SEPTEMBER 2015 — MARCH 2016
18 days in San Francisco
Invited by my dear friend and colleague Rabbi Aubrey Glazer, I travel to San Francisco for High Holydays 5776 to lead services. I am to be the sub for Rabbi Dorothy Richman in the alternative service at Beth Sholom Conservative Congregation. I have had 8 weeks to put it all together, to relearn the traditional davening (prayer leading and modes) to collaborate with the team of lay leaders who volunteer with Dorothy each year and to find my creative voice for three major sections of our services. Great people, clear container, creative invitation in a way that is wholly challenging and still doable. This is the first time I will be leading the full High Holyday service by myself and the first time in a traditional context in ten years.
I love it! I feel stretched to my edges, which I needed. I spend time in the studio in Toronto with my friend, choreographer Meagan O’Shea exploring the physical and spiritual implications of prostration. I thrive in the creation aspects, in practicing more agility and generosity in collaboration and in the leadership of the epically long services themselves. I walk in the Presidio park daily, make fabulous new friends and spend precious visits with old ones. And, not surprisingly, I adore San Francisco.
Aviva at the Women of the Book exhibit in Israel
18 days in Israel
Two days after Yom Kippur, 11 years after the last time I was there, I fly to Israel. I arrive in time to rehearse with oud player Eran Zamir for the opening of my dear friend Shoshana Gugenheim’s exhibit of Women of the Book.
Israel smells like I remember, the warm wind carrying wafts of sulphur and petrol. I had forgotten the overwhelm of voices, smells and noise but I meet it again with sweet fondness, as with an old lover. I have been angry with this place for a long time and all the while, I have longed for it. While there, I celebrate Sukkot on moshav Aviezer, help lead services with Beit Tefilah Tel Aviv at the port, dance for hours with Nava Tehilah for Simchat Torah in Jerusalem, teach voice, visit family and friends from north to south, sit in on Yair Dalal’s 60th birthday concert, attend inspiring prayer services in Jerusalem for Shabbat, eat halvah and hummous and pomegranates off the trees.
I am older than when last here. I listen closely with ears more open and hear about the reality of life for some Israelis. I also have the rare opportunity to hear from some Palestinians, not enough but a start. Israel is a place that fills me up and breaks my heart simultaneously. I fall in love there, in large part because I feel my savta (my paternal grandmother) nearby, in the scents of the flowers and the food in the markets. I return home with an ache wondering when I will be able to go back and feeling further from answers about how to be involved in the change that needs to happen towards peace.
I return home for my niece Raphaela’s Bat Mitzvah. I am reminded how precious family celebrations are while everyone is healthy and present. I savour returning home and witnessing my family’s joy.
Guest Teaching at the Anthropology Department at York University
So much fun sitting in for an afternoon with 20 twenty year olds and leading them through a vocal adventure. In the beginning, they are shy. By the end we are standing in an intimate circle of song, gently letting our voices float along on our breaths, listening to the magic we never even knew we could make together.
“The students were incredibly moved by how much changed for them over the course of the two hours. It was an utterly beautiful experience and full of the kind of learning that can transform lives.” — Natasha Myers, Associate Professor, Anthropology, York University, Toronto
A Pause from the Public Ear
At the end of November, I begin 3 months out of the public ear, no performances, no teaching and no leading prayer. From November to December I take 6 weeks of voice classes. For the first time ever, I am able to put aside time to train my instrument intensively away from any pressure of product. I study three times a week in groups and privately with my teacher Fides Krucker returning to her studio after an extended absence.
Thus begin the renovations.
What is my voice?
What does it want to sing?
Creative Research in New York
I stay in New York for part of January, taking movement improvisation classes with Stephanie Skura and attending live art as an audience member and energizing prayer services as a congregant. Thrilling! I sit in on a Shabbat afternoon gathering in somebody’s living room where we accompany Shabbat in song as it slowly leaves, the room becoming dark, sitting silently in the resonating spaces between melodies. I wonder how to get this filled up spiritually on a regular basis in the life I have currently set up for myself back home in Toronto.
In January, I discover that the fatigue and coughing which has been plaguing me are caused by a small infection in my left lung. This colours the following six weeks of vocal training. Like with any injury, this infection serves to be a superb teacher.
Second Round of Six Weeks of Vocal Training
This time, I take a repertoire class, working on two of my all time favourite songs; Lilac Wine (written by James Shelton and made famous by both Jeff Buckley and Nina Simone) and Feeling Good (composed by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse and made famous by Nina Simone long before Michael Bublé). I attend these rep classes as well as group technique classes and privates. Sometimes I just lay my upper body on the baby grand with my pneumonia fatigue and make small amounts of sound. In this time of peeling back from the efforts of a decade of vocal push, I discover something wonderful, my voice.
The Entry from the Last Day of February
And so the magical adventure of sabbatical comes to a close and I try to figure out how to bring the lessons learned forward into the rush of daily life. I thought I’d have a slew of answers and, of course, I have come out with more questions. This seems to be the creative path, which, in truth, I am thrilled to be on. I went in to meet my voice, the one that isn’t on show or there to serve, but the one that is just for me. It wasn’t at all what I expected. It was the whole world.
The First Day Back in Front of Others
My first public voicing in three months.
March 1. I am honoured to be a guest artist at the Jewish and Muslim women’s study group where we are gathering for an eight-week course entitled Milk, Blood and Tears. My session is on tears. After the group has studied some texts from both Torah and Koran and had discussion I am invited to present something about my process, my work and my reflections on grief.
I am nervous. I feel raw exposing what I have uncovered in my private explorations. Accompanied by my vocal improvisations, this poem is what I share that day.
MARCH 2016 ONWARD
And Then Back into the Music
I launch into the creation of a new concert for the Atlanta progressive Mikvah: MaCom. I write my first spoken word poem set to water drum. It is inspired by K’anaan’s Watershed. (Listen to it here). Atlanta is another favourite community to return to. It has been two years since my last visit. I return with Aaron Lightstone as my Mikvah concert partner and after a couple of days we welcome the Jaffa Road crew to play together at the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival. We are loved up while in Atlanta, with pure southern hospitality.
Then on to California with Jaffa Road for my first trip along Highway 1 between San Francisco and L.A.
I turn 45 on our way home. On April 14th I cut my hair short, donate the 8-inch braid to the Cancer Foundation and play the final concert of the Jaffa Road tour in Richmond Hill. This concert is incredibly musically satisfying. It has within it some of my most musically thrilling explorations to date.
Passover in the Desert
I travel to the desert at the end of Passover for an adventure that I have been hearing and wondering about for two years. Four days to dwell in the desert outside Los Angeles, with a community of familiar strangers, singing the songs of our ancestors in melodies just composed, sleeping under the stars and turning to the mountain for guidance and answers.
Wilderness Torah is doing something right. I discover earth based Judaism that resonates in a way which allows my judgement to lie down and take a break. I discover a Jewish practice that is reintegrating the Feminine by the mere fact of being on the land. I discover the potency of sitting in a circle of women and girls, contained by the red tent. I am awed by the courage of the people who speak and share. I am horrified at the depths of suffering due to sexual violence. I weep by the mountain and its supple sturdiness reminds me of my own resilience. I do my first short Vision Quest, walking and sitting in the desert for three hours, asking for answers and finally surrendering to the stillness of listening. I begin to improvise, dancing on the hard packed sand in wide, open space. I hear myself declare how much I want to sing. I laugh out loud at the joy of it. I feel a rush of grief at what I assume is lost with this intention at the fore. I head home full to the brim, charged to move more bravely into decision making.
In June, I attend the first retreat for the Jewish Mindfulness meditation Teacher training with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. I find my way here because of my studies with Rabbi James Jacobson Maisels. In this realm my desires are to be part of a cohort, to study Torah and to deepen my meditation and prayer practices. But, still I stress about whether this is the right choice for time and money expenditure. The first training retreat (of 3 over 16 months) is at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Centre where I am accustomed to being when leading for the holiday of Shavuot. Each morning, as I walk from my cabin to the synagogue for morning sit I am greeted by a symphony of squeaks, squawks, buzzing, singing, higher singing, chirping, long, deep hoots, short staccato knocking, creaking, calling, waking up to life, all in one grand song. I hear the chorus of voices from the pond and the trees and the little mountain singing, ”Awaken Divine Ones, angels all, for today is a new, brilliant moment that has never happened before and never will again. Don’t miss it! Oh and don’t forget that there is no other voice like yours. You must lend it, bringing its special sound to this grand symphony. Without it the symphony will not be complete.” The teaching is potent and resonates deeply. The week is, as it was in the desert, completely transformative. I am in the right place.
I march forward with my studies, reading each month, meeting with my Hevruta partner Michal from D.C. to study the Chassidic teachings of Kedushat Levy as interpreted by Rabbi Jonathan Slater. I also have the pleasure of having Rabbi Sheila Weinberg as my mentor for the first six months. I savour each minute of our monthly check ins, walking together through my written reflection and teaching offering for that month, discussing how my practice is going and life in general. She is a font of wisdom shared with equal amounts of humour and compassion. I have yearned for this kind of interaction.
SAYING GOODBYE TO
On September 4th onstage at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Ashkenaz festival, I played my last gig with the full band. Read the full story here.
In 2002, I went for a lunch date that changed my life. Aubrey Glazer told me that Aaron Lightstone and I should meet. We sat down together and little did I know that together we would create a band that would become my musical home for over a decade. We began making music. I had no idea about any of it and no formal notion about how to sing. Aaron introduced me to Yasmin Levy and Ladino music… ears, heart and mind expansion/explosion. Along the way, we met some more music making mates, we formed a band with a name, we got a new name and we met some other music making mates. We travelled from Igloolik to New York, and from Sao Paulo to Alaska. We showed up for two Juno Award nominations and a Canadian Folk Music Award. People got married and had babies. There was sweetness and laughter, frustration and working it out, exquisite highway rides and mostly yummy food.
I grew up in this project and these guys have been my musical family. And you, friends have supported us and me so much as we figured out the art and the business both. It has been a delight and an honour to be a part of it. On September 4th onstage at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Ashkenaz festival, I played my last gig with the full band.
There is no crisis, it is just time to grow. There will be much more music for everyone, of course and Aaron will keep you posted on Jaffa Road going forward. It is indeed a beautiful time of celebration, full of the hard truth of letting go, tears, love and joy about what mystery the future holds for us all. My heart is full if not a little tender. With deep gratitude to the seven gentlemen who have been my brothers in this walk, accompanying me in my learning and growing and shining. With profound thanks to each of you who came out to concerts in the cold, the heat, the bars, the rain, the late, the early, while we were figuring it out and being there for the moments of stunning revelation. A huge hug to you all and a shout out to this fine universe for the adventure that has been and all that lies ahead.