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Simhah: The Happiness We Make by Sharing

A Passover Message from Rabbi Dov Gartenberg 

Passover 5784

Since Purim ended, I have been busy with Passover caroling, no kidding. If you have been reading the SWF eblasts, you will know that I have teamed up with musicians to sing Passover melodies to folks around New Mexico. We have called it the Passover Caroling Project. Another way to describe this is “Personalized Passover Singalongs”. 

Here is an example of one of our singalongs. Randi Thompson, an accordionist, and I went to visit Diane Chodorow who recently lost her husband, Alan. Here is a video of us singing with Diane, who in her prime was a singer-songwriter of Jewish music. 

Diane was overjoyed by the singing as we were. As we sang together, I recalled a verse from Psalm 30. 

הָפַ֣כְתָּ מִסְפְּדִי֮ לְמָח֢וֹל לִ֥֫י פִּתַּ֥חְתָּ שַׂקִּ֑י וַֽתְּאַזְּרֵ֥נִי שִׂמְחָֽה׃  

You turned my lament into dancing, you undid my sackcloth and girded me with joy (simhah). 



The picture above is Irma, 94 years old, who lives in a senior living facility in Albuquerque. Also pictured is Randi, my accordionist partner and myself. I did not know Irma, but a friend of hers, who I did know, asked if we could do “Passover Caroling” with her. She had moved to her residence 7 years ago from out of state but had never received a visit from a rabbi since she had moved to town. She felt isolated and alone. We met her in the lobby and began singing Passover melodies while other people gathered around to enjoy the songs, with Irma in the center. Irma came to tears as we sang Mah Nishtanah and Dayeinu, songs she led when she was a small child.  

All the Passover caroling visits were like this: Expressions of joy, tears, excitement, and gratitude, fond memories. I love the songs of Passover. For years, I thought that bringing these songs to people prior to the Seders could be special. Indeed, it was. I was deeply inspired by these visits as well. With the encouragement of many, we are beginning to think of an ongoing Shabbat with Friends program of “Shabbat Caroling”.  While I imagine we’ll come up with another name, the idea is to cultivate a singing/musical group of volunteers who would bring personalized singalongs of Shabbat music to people before the onset of Shabbat. We would visit shut-ins, people in homes or hospital rooms, mourners, but also anyone who wants a dose of joy to help launch their Shabbat. The people who join us will have an opportunity to learn the treasury of beautiful Shabbat melodies and niggunim and to experience the special joy of sharing them with others.  

Every good Jewish community has some form of Hesed (Caring) group that organizes gemilut hasadim, (traditional acts of lovingkindness), to help its members in need. Singing the songs of Shabbat and conveying the joy of our holy day as a gomel hesed (an act of lovingkindness) will be the signature and commitment of communal kindness of Shabbat with Friends. Tell me if you are interested in participating in this.  

Jonathan Sacks, z’al, one of the most important Jewish philosophers of our times, observes a truth about acts of lovingkindness-gemilut hasadim. “Jewish ethical life is a form of celebration. Doing good is not painful, a matter of dour duty and a chastising conscience. There is a Hebrew word, a key term of the Bible, for which there is no precise English translation: simhah, usually translated as ‘joy.’ What it really means is the happiness we share, or better still, the happiness we make by sharing.” (To Heal a Fractured World, Location 99) 

May your Passover Seders capture this Jewish understanding of happiness and may you find joy and comfort with family and friends as we gather in gratitude, hope, and song.  

Hag Sameah,  

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg,  

Convener, Shabbat with Friends NM 

I want to thank the people who donated to Shabbat with Friends to support this project: Mike Makoid in memory of the parents of his wife, Bette Evans, Morris and Stella Novit, of blessed memory; Rick and Karen Hammer, in memory of Alan Chodorow, of blessed memory; and Shera Farkas, in memory of her husband Richard Farkas, of blessed memory and her parents, Morris and Margot Giloni, of blessed memory. 

A big thank you to accordionist, Randi Thompson, for donating her time to join me in bringing joy to folks in the weeks before Pesah. I am sure that the Chaim Parchi Chad Gadya is ringing in her ears!  

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