High Holidays: Prayer with Cantor Abraham Lubin

BOB ABERNETHY: Next Wednesday evening begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar. Observant Jews spend all day Thursday in synagogue fasting and repenting. As the day ends, Jews believe God seals their fate for the coming year. The cantor, also known as the hazzan, leads the congregation in ancient, sung prayer, pleading for God’s forgiveness. We spoke with Cantor Abraham Lubin of Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Maryland, as he prepared for the high holidays.

CANTOR ABRAHAM LUBIN: One of the centerpieces of my work and every Hazzan, is to lead the Congregation in prayer. To hopefully inspire them in wanting to pray. To create a mood through the music, through the liturgy, through the intensity of your own input into the service — to create that kind of environment.

Rather than to try to change God, so to speak, prayer should change us, should make us better human beings, that is the ultimate purpose of prayer.

We are instructed to have what is known as “Heshbon Hanefesh,” to have an inventory of our soul. Kind of count those things that matter for our hearts, for our souls, for our conscience, and for our very life.

So we ask the question, these are fundamental questions of life. Who shall live, and who shall die as we usher in the New Year. Who shall be hungry, who shall be poor, and who shall be rich.

These are serious questions, we don’t know [the answers to them]. But the prayer ends on such a wonderful, hopeful note, it says that with repentance, with prayer and with good deeds, with righteousness, we can avert, God forbid, any decree that is not of a positive nature — and we are very positive and hopeful that the year will be a peaceful one, a year of harmony, of good health, a year of life, and that is what we wish everyone for the high holidays.