South Charlotte

High Holy Day Choir lifts up prayers through music and song

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 31 people from different faiths and backgrounds come together at Shalom Park to help lift up the prayers of the Temple Beth El congregation through music and song. This High Holy Day Choir is an integral part of Temple Beth El's High Holy Day services.

The Jewish High Holy Days started with Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 28 and end with Yom Kippur on Oct. 8.

"Our primary purpose is to lift the worship of people in the congregation," said Lynne Cojac, 61, who has been singing with the choir since 1987.

The choir leadership includes Temple Beth El's two Cantors Andy Bernard and Mary Thomas, choir director John Blizzard and accompanist Bill Ward. Cojac and Marian Brawer also help with communications and organization.

"Without the adult choir, we would not be able to conduct these most sacred services with the majesty and grandeur that is appropriate," said Thomas, 30, assistant cantor.

The choir members come from various backgrounds. Some have young families and others have grown children. Most do not have musical professions.

Marian Brawer is an IT project manager. Jean Moats is a librarian. Jeffrey Myers is a research and development manager. Michael Norman is a retired pediatrician. They come together to enhance the quality of the High Holy Day services for others and for themselves.

Marsha Stickler, 63, a choir member for 12 years, loves the music and the camaraderie.

"I feel that my relationship with God through prayer is enhanced when I sing," said Norman, 72.

"I appreciate the meaning of the High Holy Days and the associated liturgy much more deeply because I sing in the choir," said Brawer.

Not everyone in the choir is Jewish, so learning to sing in Hebrew can be a challenge.

Anna Gosnell, alto section leader, learned to sing the transliterations (English spellings of the Hebrew) with the support of Bernard and other choir members. Gosnell, 48, has been singing with the choir for 10 years.

"It has become a highlight of my fall," said Gosnell.

This is Mark Boyd's first year singing with the choir as the Bass Section leader.

"Although I am Episcopalian, I find the High Holy Days to be days full of the story of our shared human experiences in the face of a loving and compassionate God," said Boyd, 53.

Twenty-year choir member Moira Quinn is a convert to Judaism. She loves songs with rich harmonies and beautiful texts. Quinn is a soloist in the Yih'yu L'Ratzon, a song that prays that our words and the meditations in our hearts will be acceptable to the Lord. She also loves the Shalom Rav and Sim Shalom.

"Those songs are all about finding peace in the world and shelter from life's storms," said Quinn, 56.

Gosnell has been inspired by the rabbinical sermons.

"Just being able to worship with others of another faith has been a wonderful time of growth," said Gosnell. "After my sister passed away in 2007, I was hardly able to sing the Oseh Shalom without crying."

The Oseh Shalom is sung after the Kaddish, a prayer for those who have passed.

Singing for multiple services is not without its challenges.

"Staying really rested and healthy (is) tough," said Quinn.

It takes a lot of energy, stamina and endurance to sing their best for all of the services especially when they are fasting for Yom Kippur.

"You don't sit with your family (during services), and you can't eat dinner with them either," said Cojac. So Cojac makes a point of getting her family together a week before the holidays to celebrate with a nice dinner.

For Lesley Cohen Ringley, "... the spiritual fulfillment (of singing in the choir) is worth it all."