Friday, March 13, 2009

Still Waiting

Last night, Messiah came to Jerusalem, a performance of Handel's masterpiece by a fittingly humble contingent of Israel Philharmonic Orchestra players, under the direction of Helmuth Rilling, who brought his brilliant choir, G├Ąchinger Kantorei, from Stuttgart with him. The piece worked its usual magic, and as we approached the Hallelujah Chorus, the question crossed my mind:  Stand or not stand?

"The kingdom of this world,
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ:
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever."


I sat.

Standing at this climax has been a tradition since George II. Every musical impulse, every feeling of homage, suggested that I get to my feet. But this is Jerusalem, Israel, right? This is what we've been waiting for. Jews don't kneel (or so Menachem Begin said), and they don't stand for messianic preemptions. Anyway, it is simple courtesy. There are over a thousand people here in the hall. Why spoil the moment by calling attention to myself? If others don't stand and I do, I will be blocking somebody's view, right?

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man a few rows in front and well to the right, getting up. What was more, he was wearing a knitted yarmulke, you know, the usual sign of halakhic orthodoxy tinged with Zionist celebration. As the chorus gained power, and he noticed he was blocking others, he smoothly slipped out to the aisle and stood there quietly, his gaze forward, a rapt smile on his face. He must be from England, I told myself: standing was a little manifest demonstration of home sickness. 

As we were walking out, I approached this man, mostly to congratulate him on his little bravery. Envy, they say, is a secularist's faith. He shook my hand warmly, and said, in a heavy German accent, and without a trace of irony or reproach, "How can one not stand at such a moment?" There was a twinkling in his eye. And I thought, "We shall be changed."

Here is the chorus. You may stand if you wish.