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Hineni. I am here. I am ready.

09/18/2019 03:23:09 PM


By Allison Berry

 As a child, my father-in-law attended the same Montreal congregation as singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. They only met a few times, but he is proud of the fact Cohen featured Congregation Shaar Hashalom’s children’s choir singing on his final album, “You Want it Darker.”

Much to my surprise, I caught a glimpse of the children’s choir and Cohen singing the song Hineni at Beit Hatfutsot – the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv this past February. The digital exhibit focused on Cohen’s music and particularly his relationship to the High Holidays.

The track, Hineni – Here I Am – is the answer Abraham, the first Jew, gave when God called out to him, asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It’s the reply Moses gives when God speaks to him through the burning bush. In the song, Cohen follows the plaintive cry, Hineni with the sung statement, “I’m ready, my Lord.” Some posit that the ailing Cohen was indicating in the way he knew best that he was ready to stand and face his own mortality. This idea paired with lyrics from one of his most famous pieces of music, Anthem, add to this texture. In this piece, with the High Holidays in mind, Cohen wrote, “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.”

In contemporary lyrics and liturgy, Leonard Cohen expresses the imperative of this time of the Jewish year: we do not have be perfect, and our offerings to God do not have to be perfect. As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah – it is because of the challenges we neither asked for or always wanted that we grow into the people we are meant to become. And when we do, we stand proud and tall as we too say, “Hineni.” I am here. I am ready. I crack open my heart and find the light shining in those cracks as I begin again.

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