Puttin’ On the Ritz by
(303 Stories)

Prompted By Finding Your Tribe

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B’nai Israel Choir 2011

At different times in my life, I have had different “tribes.” In college it was the friends I made in Comstock Hall, my freshman dorm. (See Love That Dirty Water.) In law school it was my intramural basketball team (See Law school and basketball.) When my children were small it was the mothers’ groups and babysitting co-ops. But for the last twenty-two years it has been the choir at my synagogue. The Featured Image is a picture of the choir in 2011. Alas, since that time, three of the people pictured have gone to the great choir loft in the sky, but it’s still one of my favorite pictures of the choir.

At different times in my life, I have had different "tribes," but for the last 22 years it has been the choir at my synagogue.

I’m not religious. I never go to services unless the choir is singing. This amounts to all the High Holy Day services (one on S’lichot, two on Rosh Hashanah and five on Yom Kippur – a very intense 2 ½ weeks), plus only four or five other services during the course of the year. But we generally have something we are preparing for, whether sacred or secular, so it is a rare Wednesday night that we don’t have rehearsal.

I joined the choir in January 1998, right after my older daughter’s bat mitzvah, because I got to know the cantor while he was preparing her to read Torah, and he invited me to come. Twenty-two years makes me a relative newbie, there are many choir members who have been there much longer than I have. The size of the choir varies over the course of the year. We have our greatest numbers in the summer and early autumn, because everyone wants to sing for the High Holy Days, which are generally in September. At that time of year, we have as many as 40 people. At other times we can be as few as 20. But there are some of us who sing consistently all year round. And the alto section (of which I am the section leader) has the greatest number of year-round singers.

Here we are at one of our usual Wednesday night rehearsals last year or the year before. This is obviously in the wintertime, because people are wearing sweaters, and also there aren’t that many of us. The alto section, which is really my tribe more than the rest of the choir, is the nine women in the front three rows on the right side of the picture. And the first altos, who are the inner circle of my tribe, are the two women on either side of me and the one directly in front of me. (I’m in the purple sweater in the third row, in case you can’t tell.) I wanted to get a picture of just the four of us to use in this story, and was planning to ask someone to take that picture this past Wednesday night at rehearsal, but the rehearsal was cancelled — along with all future rehearsals and performances for the foreseeable future — because of the corona virus!**

With these three women — Jan, Eileen, and Ema — I have gone through many life cycle events, both happy and sad, in the last 22 years. When Ema became pregnant, we all rejoiced and enjoyed watching her belly grow, and then seeing that baby develop into the college student she now is. My own baby, Molly, was already 18 months old when I met them, but they remember her as a toddler who demanded to sit with the choir during services and had to be carried out by her father. They came to Ben’s bar mitzvah in 2001, and eight years later to Molly’s bat mitzvah. They were there to support me after my mother’s death, and hugged me when I teared up during the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, when we were singing the service at the time of her yahrzeit (the anniversary of her death).

When Jan’s husband of 42 years died in 2013, we were there for her too. Right at that time, the choir was planning a cabaret featuring music by various Jewish composers, with a mixture of choral numbers, solos, and small groups. I wanted to do the Irving Berlin song “Sisters” but of course needed another person to do it with. Jan was not planning to participate in the cabaret, because she was feeling too sad. I coaxed her into singing with me, and it was just what she needed to cheer her up. Here is a picture of us in the similar long dresses that we coincidentally had, sparkly on top and solid on the bottom. Hers was purple and mine was blue. She went online and found boas to match our dresses and ordered them for us. Our performance was fabulous as we swished our boas around and sang about being such devoted sisters. Ever since that time we have referred to each other as “my choir sister.” I feel the same kind of sisterly bond with Eileen and Ema too.

Eileen drives me to and from choir practice every week because she doesn’t want me walking in the dark, even though I only live a block from the temple. And she has a Tesla, so it’s a pretty sweet one-block ride! It gives us a chance to discuss choir-related issues both before and after rehearsal.

For the past month we have been rehearsing for another cabaret, entitled Puttin’ on the Ritz, which was to have been performed three weeks from now, on April 4th. However, it has been postponed indefinitely because of the corona virus (see footnote below). I am sad that we are not doing the cabaret, and even sadder that I will not be seeing my tribe on Wednesday nights for a while.

**Note: We are planning to have a prompt on Epidemics and Pandemics. I wanted to slide it in for next week, ahead of Vacation From Hell, Nicknames, and Close Calls, because I feel like it’s all that I’m thinking about these days, so I might as well be writing about it. My co-admins thought that it might be better to write about it later, when the current crisis is over and we have some perspective on it. However, if you would rather have that prompt sooner, feel free to so indicate in the comments.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    What a terrific story, Suzy, as you have truly found your “tribe” in the choir. And I love that you even have a “sub-tribe” among the altos. (I’ve always preferred their sexy lower voices to the chirping sopranos. )

    What is particularly great is that you have not only well described the choir but captured beautifully the camaraderie — in both joy and sadness – that infuses it. The part about singing “Sisters” with Jan is truly moving, and so glad you had the picture, too.

    And love the idea of a one block ride in a Tesla!

    Finally, for what it’s worth, I’m with those who want a little more perspective before writing about the coronavirus. Plus, we’re all too busy buying toilet paper and trying to find hand sanitizer right now, right?

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you, John, glad you liked it. There’s actually a video of the “Sisters” performance that I considered including, but when I watched it again I saw all the mistakes, so I didn’t.

      And thanks for your thoughts about coronavirus. I don’t understand the rush on toilet paper, when this is a disease of the lungs, not the digestive system. Seems like it should really be a rush on cough medicine (esp. the kind with codeine)!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, we are in the same tribe and the same boat, as you will read. I remember when you did your last cabaret and posted a photo of you looking fantastic with that feather boa, though I don’t think I knew you were singing “Sisters”, great choice!

    The pandemic is still wreaking havoc with our lives right now. Grocery stores picked clean, going to a restaurant (which my husband wants to do tonight) may be hazardous. My son in London works for a division of Google, which has canceled all travel and ordered workers to work from home for the foreseeable future. He is begging me not to go to my gym and thinks we would be safer on Martha’s Vineyard (but supplies are even harder to get there). My daughter is in San Jose, a hot zone, and is in near collapse. We have canceled all travel plans, so won’t see either in the next two months (though had plans to see both). The Boston Marathon has been postponed (for the first time EVER) to next September, but to the one Monday I will be off the Vineyard, the day chorus practice resumes, so it messes up my day royally, as I am a virtual shut-in that day, living a block from the course.

    So there is a lot to say, but I would prefer to be on the other end of the curve before we write about it. Everything is changing too rapidly right now and fear and the unknown are too prevalent.

    • Suzy says:

      Betsy, I love your same tribe and same boat comment! The performance of “Sisters” that I write about was in 2013, way before I knew you. The picture you remember is from another cabaret we did in 2019, that was all Gershwin, where I sang “Embraceable You” as a solo with boa (yes, the same boa) and long white gloves.

  3. Oh dear Suzy, I’ve been hearing your writing voice in your stories and I’ve heard your speaking voice on the phone, but would love to hear what I’m sure is your beautiful alto!

    When I do make that California trip, please sing to me!

  4. Oh my gosh, I adore this story, Suzy! I love your photos — and clearly purple is YOUR color! You nailed the concept of tribe with your tales of inner circles and sisterhoods. The story about Jan really got me — how fortunate she was to have her “sister” to cheer her up, and how fortuitous that you two had the perfect matching dresses! The “great choir loft in the sky” is a phrase that really moved me…it could be the basis of a poem, or better yet, a song. And I really like how you tied in your song title with the story in that last paragraph, although of course I’m so sorry you won’t have the pleasure of seeing your tribe for a while.

    I’ve written to you about my thoughts on a pandemic prompt so I won’t elaborate on them here, only to say that this morning’s stories were a sight for sore eyes.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you so much, Barbara! Didn’t notice before I read your comment, but I AM in purple in two out of the three pictures, even though taken several years apart. Now if only Jan and I had switched dresses so that I could have been in purple for that one too. But I love my dark blue gown, and it was much easier to find shoes to match that color!

  5. Marian says:

    Suzy, although I can’t sing a note, I love the more intimate tribe that you found in the choir. You’ll see in my story the mutual support with kaddish that I received, so a lot of parallels there. Our synagogue is small but we do have mini-tribes (the Torah studiers, singers, and socializers), which makes it really fun.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    How lucky you are, Suzy, to have found the larger tribe of the choir and your tribe-within-a-tribe of the first altos and your three special friends. As I get older, I really appreciate my closest girlfriends. As a woman without sisters, I have been blessed with several through the years, especially now when three of us meet for coffee every week to offer our love, support, and sage advice. I have also maintained special relationships with some women from my preschool and my sometimes illustrator and always dear friend in retirement. I loved your photos, especially the one with Jan. I could really relate to your experience and wish I could follow your amazing example to help my Chavurah friend who was recently widowed.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, I am lucky, although I rarely get together with two of them outside of choir. I taught Jan to play mah jongg, so now she is part of that group too (which is a fun group of women, but not a tribe imo), and I see her on Monday afternoons as well as Wednesday evenings.

  7. I loved to follow all the tribalizing you practiced as you traipsed from one chapter of your life to another. And then your sub-tribes, the altos and the really heavy-duty altos. But what a perfect life element for a tribe to gather around — music. The pictures are great, too, including one where everybody else is peering at the sheet music and you’re watching the conductor. Undoubtedly you have great powers of memory or remarkable peripheral vision but that makes you the leader of the alto pack, vrooom, vrooom, vrooom. Oh, and then there’s the twelve tribes of Israel and those pesky Philistines. Can’t forget them!

  8. Oh, and yes, I would vote for writing to the pandemic as a current event. Definitely.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comments, Charlie, and for your vote on writing a pandemic story now. I am still hoping to make that happen, especially now that our esteemed Governor Newsom has told all seniors to stay home. If we can’t go anywhere, we might as well write about it!

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