“How does a Jewish woman sing songs praising Jesus?” is a question I am often asked. For me, it isn’t difficult. I believe that God has many names and there are many paths to God. For me, songs of praise, comfort, blessing and joy help me to be open to the unknown and the unknowable. Singing helps me to experience the presence of something other, regardless of the name that is given to God from that particular tradition.
Singing has always been a way for me to connect to God. When I was young, I sang in the choir at my church and found that certain hymns seemed to lift me outside myself. When I converted to Judaism, I found that many melodies touched my soul and quieted the noise in my head. I was fortunate to be part of a group of women that formed to sing Jewish music together. Twelve years later, we are still singing. I had attended concerts of the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir for many years, but the group was not accepting new members. When the choir opened up, I jumped at the chance to participate. That was nine years ago.
Gospel music is unabashedly joyous, grateful, rowdy and something I feel in my entire body. It has uncomplicated lyrics, which allow us to concentrate on the energy we are creating and experiencing. I often feel that God is in the room with us when we are singing at the top of our voices, clapping and swaying (not an easy thing to do-sing, clap and sway), and acknowledging that we are blessed to be living, that we are blessed to be singing together, that our gifts are not of our own making, and that we are thankful to our Creator for those gifts.
Jewish music is a bit more complex, with haunting melodies. The songs are about our foremothers and forefathers-Deborah, Sarah, Rebecca, Moses and Jacob. They are songs about our relationship to God, songs of healing, songs about our history and being in slavery in Egypt and about being free with the help of God-and we sing psalms. In these two places these two traditions of music intersect. Music based on the experience of slavery and music based on sacred texts. The experience of slavery is a common bond-although the Jewish experience is much farther removed-and some of the songs of both groups focus on that experience. For me, it is a reminder that whatever hardships we have, we can find comfort in community with the help of God. In each of these groups, I have found a community, a place of fun, beauty, fellowship, serenity and an amazing connection to God.
The Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir has its Christmas concert on Dec. 10, 2011, 4 p.m., at North Central University, Trask Word and Worship Center, 1410 Elliot Ave. S., Minneapolis. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors (62+) and children under 12. FFI: tccgospel.org
Mari Forbush works at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis and lives in Crystal.