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Jewish Sacred Harp

Christian Hymns Salve Jewish Soul: Ex-Yeshiva Girl Finds Comfort in Rootsy Sacred Harp Music

This is a spoken word radio piece – http://www.forward.com/workspace/assets/audio/BESHKIN_SACRED_HARP.mp3.

About a year-and-a-half ago, I went through a devastating breakup and, soon after, began a love affair with perhaps the strangest hobby an ex-yeshiva girl could imagine: Sacred Harp singing.

Surely, in 1759, when Joseph Hart wrote the words “Speak and let the worst be known, Speaking may relieve thee,” in the hymn that later became “The Grieved Soul,” he did not mean, “You may feel better if you call your Upper West Side therapist.” But that was what I heard. The song “Poland,” with the words “God of my life, look gently down, Behold the pains I feel,” was not really about a breakup. But from the depths of my grief, it sounded as if it was written just for me. After awhile, however, all this comfort I was taking in Sacred Harp music began to make me a little uncomfortable.

What was I doing? There is no doubt that I have managed to lose my place in the Jewish world, and each year it gets harder to return. I’m nearing 40. I don’t have kids. I always figured I would stake my claim somewhere in the Jewish community. Instead, here I was, singing about salvation in a dimly lit church, a few feet away from a granite bowl of holy water.

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