Monday, September 27, 2010

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Eli Litchman on Sukkot

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot!

Sukkot has another name in Hebrew, Z’man Simhataynu, the Time of Rejoicing. In ancient times, this harvest festival was the biggest holiday of the entire year in the Jewish calendar. There’s even a commandment in the Torah, “And you shall be glad on your holiday, and you shall be only joyful.” And in Jewish tradition, music plays a central role in any celebration or festival. It certainly did in this one.

When the temple stood in Jerusalem, the festival was highlighted by a water drawing festival, where Levites played on many musical instruments, including harps, lyres and trumpets. "Whoever has not seen the celebration of the water libation has never experienced the feeling of true joy.”

As many of you know, I am very into music and I enjoy playing it a lot. My favorite instrument is the saxophone, which I have been playing for over five years. The sax was not one of those biblical instruments. In fact, it’s very new. It was invented in 1841 by a man named Adolphe Sax.

Although it is not an ancient instrument, I feel that the saxophone is kind of a Jewish instrument in some ways. For one thing, it appears that Adolphe Sax was himself Jewish. He was also looking to create something that would be a combination of a powerful woodwind and an adaptive brass, bridging the middle ground between the two sections.

Jews have often been able to bridge different cultures. We’ve lived all over the world at all different times of history and we’ve been able to take a little from each culture we’ve experienced. Jews have also become very good at adapting to new environments.

Also, the sound of the saxophone is unique and different. It is perfect for jazz, and the Jewish form of jazz known as Klezmer, because it has a soulful sound. It can sound sad at times, but it also is heard often at joyous occasions like weddings – and has a sound that is very appealing to the human ear.

Plus, the saxophone can work well in any type of arrangement, either in classical or jazzy setting, either with other instruments or by itself. And one more thing. More than almost any other instrument, the saxophone lends itself to improvisation. The notes are on the page, but I’m also free to add in anything that I feel can be added in. At times I even create my own music and sounds. I just feel what I want to happen in the music, then I open my mouth, blow, and music comes out. It’s a great feeling to have total control over what comes out of the instrument, and yet there’s a mystery to it as well.

Growing up is like that. You have control over what you can do, but in the end, it’s a mystery as to what will happen.

As I continue to grow and get older, although many things will change, certain things will stay with me, including my saxophone and my Jewish studies. On this festival of rejoicing, I hope that through these tools and instruments, I’ll be able to spread happiness to the world.

For my mitzvah project I chose to collect and have repaired used instruments to donate to children who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to have the joy of music in their lives. My cousin Michael Simons has created a non-profit organization called Intonation Music Workshop which reaches out to inner city children through music, providing the instruments and the instruction as well as the opportunity to perform and develop a passion for music. To date I have collected ten alto saxophones, one tenor saxophone, one trumpet, two flutes, two violins, one accordion, one electric keyboard and one acoustic guitar for donation. You see some of these on the bima today and will see more of them at our celebration tonight. I still need to have these instruments repaired and transported to Chicago and welcome any donations.

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