I have written quite a few songs about God. As a Jewish Early Childhood educator, touring music specialist and composer, I sing these songs at synagogues across the country. Some of these songs were written during the years between 1995 – 2005, when I led Tot Shabbat worship services for young children and families at what was then Temple Sinai (now called Temple Emanuel Sinai) in Worcester.
I know you might think that I have a strong sense about God. After all, I write lots of songs about this subject. But the truth is, the songs I’ve written (and continue to write) about God and my experiences leading worship services were and continue to be a part of my journey, a part of my search to find God, or as I sometimes like to casually say, to figure out the whole God thing.
Growing up, I always had a strong sense of being Jewish. But despite that, we didn’t talk about God at home, we didn’t talk about praying at home, and we didn’t pray at home. We lived as cultural Jews, I became a Bat Mitzvah, I had a Confirmation, we observed the major holidays and I continued to do so as a young adult in my own home. I named my children at formal synagogue naming ceremonies, still, God did not have a place in my heart. It wasn’t until I began leading Tot Shabbat services in 1995, in Worcester, that I began to even explore my concept of God. If I was going to speak and sing about God, I felt that I should at least have an understanding about the subject.
As I reflect on this topic, I can say that there have been certain beacons along the way, little experiences that taught me alot as I traveled on my journey to find God.
Growing up, my God experiences were pretty much confined to temple services or religious school. I never thought about praying to God as something to do, outside of formal prayer in temple. I never thought about having faith in God. The first time I considered the idea of having faith in God was in the early 90’s when I became friends with someone who had a strong relationship with God, a strong sense of something larger than all of us, something that bound us all together. This was the first beacon.
And then there was that Yom Kippur sermon given by Rabbi Matthew Kraus at what was then Temple Emanuel in Worcester. He is an engaging and thoughtful speaker, but what I remember most was that he talked about how we all come to temple for High Holidays in our best clothing. And we’re always looking, albeit surreptitiously, at fellow congregants to see who is wearing what. “Look at her suit, it must have cost a fortune. Look at him, he definitely lost 50 pounds since last YK.” Rabbi Kraus suggested that instead, we think about how our behavior looks to God. Are we doing and acting our best in God’s eyes? Those words had a huge impact on me. This was beacon number two.
A third beacon came in the form of a child’s question. I was leading Tot Shabbat services and singing a repetitive chant-like song:
Listen, listen, listen to my heart songs. Listen, listen, listen to my heart songs. I will never forget You, I will never forsake You, I will never forget You, I will never forsake You.
We must have sung it about 5 times, when a kindergartener asked me the meaning of the word forsake. That was a special eye-opening moment for me. As an Early Childhood teacher, I knew that the repetition of those words was important. Kids thrive on repetition. It helps them learn. Helps them feel safe. What I hadn’t considered was that by singing the words over and over, this child could come to the realization that he didn’t know what that one word meant. AND he then had the courage to ask for clarification. Not only did I realize that I had chosen the right song and that it was okay to sing it over and over, but it also helped me think more deeply about the words of the song.
There have been other beacons, but for now, I will share the last and perhaps most meaningful one for me.
My mother, may she rest in peace, Mimi Ailetcher Bornstein, passed away on December 27, 2003. Mom and I never talked a whole lot about God. It’s not that it was taboo. We just didn’t talk about God. The August prior to her death, I had released a children’s recording called “Bring The Sabbath Home” (download or physical CD). One of my compositions included on the CD is called “Are You Listening, God?”.
My mother was in a lot of pain during her last few years. She told me that when she listened to this song, it helped ease her pain. It helped her deal with her situation. It gave her a forum in which she could talk to God. MY MOTHER TALKED TO GOD.
That was one of the most beautiful gifts my mother gave me. She taught me, in her last few months, that talking to God was okay, was legitimate, that I could have a relationship with God. By her talking to God, even if it was pleading with God to listen and help her through her pain, she modeled for me that it is never too late to talk with God, to search for and maybe even find God.
ARE YOU LISTENING GOD?
words & music by Ellen Allard
from Bring The Sabbath Home CD
Are you listening God? Are you really there?
Are you listening God? How will I know you care?
Are you listening God? When I say my prayers?
Are you listening God? Are you listening?
When I wake in the morning and my eyes open wide,
Are you all around? Are you deep inside? Chorus
When my day is long and I’ve much to do
Can you hear my voice when I talk to you? Chorus
When my head is on my pillow and I sleep through the night
Will you keep me safe? Keep me in your sight? Chorus
As I live my life each and every day
Will my faith in You help me find my way?
I am listening God and I know you’re there.
I am listening God and I know you care.
I am listening God when I say my prayers.
I am listening God, I am listening.
I am listening God, I am listening.