Listening to my teacher and mentor, Elie Wiesel is always a privilege, enlightening, uplifting and moving.
Just hearing his voice can put me in a place of learning with an appreciation for his masterful teaching. The words that pour out are soothing and healing. I always feel moved and humbled when I have the opportunity to learn from him.
These are some of the teachings I came away with at his most recent lecture, Return to the Akeda- Why I Love Isaac.
Life is not made of years but moments. Isaac lived a unique moment in history, a solitary moment. There has been much written about Abraham, but not enough about Isaac. Although it’s called, Akeidat Yitzchak, it’s centered on Abraham. Midrash helps us in our quest for learning, our quest for study. Midrash, from the word, Lid’rosh, to study and extract hidden meanings- it can take centuries to search out these hidden meanings. Learning carries it’s own rewards.
Isaac- what do we know about him? He was almost sacrificed, he almost died and was saved by the voice of an angel. We read about Abraham but not his son’s unspeakable suffering.
Elie Wiesel loves Isaac- he suffered so much, he was used by the Almighty… why did his son have to experience fear and trembling? Can a being be used as a means? Why was the son’s fate also tested? Who is the central figure, Abraham or Isaac? It seems unjust to Elie Wiesel if Abraham and G-d had a problem, why should Isaac pay the price of proving loyalty?
Is Isaac the first survivor? Abraham returned from Mount Moriah alone- he left Isaac there? Imagine his loneliness! The relationship is not recorded of Isaac and Abraham as they got older. Isaac was 37 at the Akeidah- he must have been spoiled by his mother, his father traveled a lot. Finally he had a special moment with his father, they walked together, yachdav- to bring a sacrifice together. Isaac was promised an adventure with his father, walking 3 days and 3 nights in silence. Isaac’s curiosity turned into anguish. They were walking to Mount Moriah to bring an offering to G-d- does Isaac know the tragic truth? They both build an alter, Isaac carries the wood, but where is the sacrificial lamb?
“ G-d will show it to us”. An angel puts his hand on Abraham, “ Al tishlach yad’cha -do not lay a hand on the lad “
Why has Elie Wiesel chosen to return to the Akeidah 4-5 times in lectures?
The mystery of the Akeidah still resonates.
The story of Abraham has faith and drama. G-d calls out to Abraham and he answers, “ hineni here I am”.
What is Isaac’s hope? Born on Pesach at noon to two old parents. Laughter is his name- the midrash says all were laughing when Isaac was born, mother, father and G-d.
Until the age of 37 Isaac lived in Bersheeva. After the Akeidah there is no mention of them speaking to each other, father and son. When Abraham eulogized Sarah, he must have seen Isaac- it was never mentioned if they spoke.
At the Akeidah, Isaac said, “ father”
Abraham answered, “ hineni b’ni” here I am , my son
Isaac- “ where is the lamb?”
Abraham says, “ G-d will show it to us”
The knife is absent in his question. At 37 could he not comprehend the situation? He was called, “ hana’ar” the young.. what was he? Did he become young, weak and fragile? Did he age backwards?
In Elie Wiesel’s life he once met a Jewish journalist from London. In the early 1940’s he had to write an article that included reports of the death camps in Poland. He spent hours trying to find the words to describe it- he was only allowed 300 words for his article. He looked in the mirror and did not recognize himself- his black hair had turned white.
The Akeidah fascinates Elie Wiesel even more than Mt. Sinai. It haunts his entire existence. The relationship between father and son as they walk towards the pivotal moment in their relationship, and in Jewish history. Elie Wiesel feels closer to Isaac- it’s possible Jewish history is a series of sequels of the Mt. Moriah experience. Every generation has it’s own Abraham- Why doesn’t the text evoke Isaac’s feelings?
The Talmudic universe tries to show all possibilities. Why did G-d wait so long for Abraham to be tested ?
Isaac is a victim- at 37 he could have fought back- he respected his father, perhaps the son felt he shouldn’t stop his father. Is this the first act of martyrdom?
We who believe in His Torah choose life, not death-
Uvacharta bachayim- we must choose the living.
Isaac’s life was a near tragedy. How did Isaac react?
What could have been the happiest moment in is life turned dark and cruel. Did Isaac plead?
Avi, Avi, the text says. In Amsterdam there is a Rembrandt painting of Abraham looking angry- at G-d?
Was his love of G-d in conflict with his love of his son?
What was he thinking? Isaac must have felt alone and abandoned by his father and by G-d.
Is Abraham also testing G-d? daring him?
What does Isaac think or feel?
He had such love for his father until the last moment-
Did father and son ever speak again?
“ Now I know you are a G-d fearing man” , G-d says. G-d knows now? The questions still burns like an open wound.
Maybe it was a test and G-d didn’t want him to kill Isaac, to see if he loved him enough.
Isaac waited three years before going to meet and marry Rebecca. The text says he looked like he was from another universe. He belongs to the past and future of our people, his faith was tested. During the darkest of dark periods in our history father and son walked together in death and were separated. As the first survivor of burnt offerings of our people consumed in fire, we remember Isaac as one who has seen the fire.
We love Isaac for what he did with his memories. He got married, he had children, and he composed prayers.
In a memoir found in the mountains, a Sondercommando wrote, “ Will I ever be able to laugh again?”
Is it up to us, his heirs and successors to answer?
Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray Congregation Shir Shalom 46 Peaceable Street Ridgefield, CT 06877 203-438-5609 (study) 203-482-1726 (cell)
In telling her story of living history and astonishing discovery, Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray brings to life the love and faithfulness of holocaust survivors and the generations who remember them. People of faith will be embraced by Cantor Debbie’s generous spirit, learn first hand about the important of remembrance and rekindle their hope for a peaceful world.
Reverend Marc Delcuze
I am almost without words to say how much I enjoyed your concert at Beth El on Saturday night. You are so multi-talented and you have a beautiful radiant quality that truly glows and really touched me. I was impressed with your story telling and also with the way you shared your personal experiences and your family with us. I hope I have the opportunity to see you and hear you again! WOW-thank you !
Finding Family Through Song”- A Story – The presentation given by Cantor Katchko-Gray of Temple Shearith Israel of Ridgefield, CT on Thursday October 29th, 2009 was a remarkable presentation. This was an inspiring and moving story of music, faith and family beautifully told. We think it was definately one of the very best programs that the Mary Brewster Fund has offered!
If a teacher had but one student- you- it would be Dayenu!……your songs bring joy to my heart!
We are all indebted to Deborah Katchko Gray for this new publication which will preserve her grandfather’s music, complete with modern innovations, for generations to come to grateful practitioners of the art of HAZZANUT.
Hazzan Jacob Ben Zion Mendelson
Impressively eclectic, Deborah Katchko – another pioneer female cantor puts a refreshing, colorful spin on quintessentially Jewish songs and stories. Drawing upon Middle East rock, Country Western and traditional and contemporary Jewish melodies, Katchko’s powerful voice can sound both sensual and spiritual.
I’ve listened to a lot of traditional Jewish holiday song recordings and most, for one reason or another should not have been made. But, this one is significantly different. First, Deborah Katchko has a warm, rich voice. Second, she sings honestly. What do I mean? There are no tricks to this recording, just Deborah and her guitar and she’s making music. Third, she includes 25 ethnic songs full of information and history. This is a Hanukkah gift for the entire family.
If your tastes run to such classics as Yerushalayim Shel Zahav and you enjoy everything from Sephardic to Yiddish to contemporary pop, Katchko’s soprano renditions and acoustic rhythms are the perfect musical menu for you. Her inspiring version of , ” The Place Where I Belong” will have you singing along.
Thank YOU Cantor Debbie!
You were a tremendous part of the event. Your guitar was very exciting and your song selections so uplifting. The moms loved your performance…It was a truly fun and inspiring time with you in the Sukkah.
Director Women’s Philanthropy / Program Manager, PJ Library / UJA Greenwich, CT
Cantor-in-Residence – Wonderful Musical Weekend!
We were fortunate to have Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray at Temple B’nai Abraham as our Cantor-In-Residence for a wonderful musical weekend. Debbie led some of our services, had us singing new songs and melodies, and taught some wonderful holiday song parodies to our students, who then performed them for us at a Sunday Brunch. Oh…and we learned about her Cantorial heritage and heard some real Gems of her Grandfather’s Music. It was a homecoming of sorts as years ago, she became a Bat Mitzvah at our synagogue and her father had been one of our Cantors. Debbie connected with our members, young and old, and two of our students even asked after her Friday evening service if we could do this every month.
Rabbi Michael G. Kohn
Temple B’nai Abraham / Meriden, CT
Katchko-Gray can reproduce “ that old sound” by calling on melodies she received personally in true oral tradition.
Scales Out of Shul May 2007
Nurturing our family’s Jewish identity is an art, rather than a science. Fortunately people like Deborah Katchko can help. Her three cds offer a rich array of traditional and contemporary Jewish music suffused with her warm and welcoming spirit.
Jewish Woman Magazine
I find you to be a first-rate hazzan and a consummate artist…your cds are a shining example of what we should aim to emulate.
Cantor Pinchas Spiro (of blessed memory)
Just this morning, we were privileged to have our colleague, Deborah Katchko-Gray, as our guest artist/scholar at my temple in Amenia, New York. In addition to her co-officiation with me at the worship service, she presented the program, “Gems of my Grandfather: Music, Ideas, and Visions of Cantor Adolph Katchko,.” as part of our adult education. Although almost all of us have been deeply influenced by the music of Adolph Katchko, Deborah added a dimension of insight, examples I have never heard before, and even a duet of “Adonai Malach” which was truly inspiring. I would wholeheartedly urge you to consider Deborah as a scholar-in-residence or a guest lecturer. The congregation could not have been more moved or appreciative of this excellent program.
Rabbi/Cantor Jon Haddon
Hazzan Deborah Katchko-Gray supported by flutist Mattan Klein and Seeds of Sun…just rocked the house and blew the roof off of Beth Judah for almost two hours. A mix between Mid-East, Israeli, Jewish pop, cantorial, Yiddish and kid-family friendly favorites..add to that a rather hot Israeli jazz trio and you have an explosive, energetic reaction. Everyone was clicking on all cylinders and the crowd ate it up.
Debbie is the real deal and can deliver it all. She has a powerful and sweet voice that works well in various styles and involved us locals nicely.
Hazzan Alan Smolen
Our Wedding Ceremony was PERFECT!
Derek and I want to thank you! The wedding ceremony was perfect! We got so many compliments on the ceremony! They loved the songs you sang, the Jewish traditions and how it was personalized for Derek and I.
Thank you so much for everything! We really appreciate everything you have done for us leading up to as well as on the wedding day.
Jessica (Moll) and Derek Sanderoff
Connecticut based Cantor Deborah Katchko has wide appeal. With a strong and soulful voice, she covers a broad range of songs in several languages, exposing us to Jewish culture from various times and places.
Boston University Alumni Magazine
Your Wonderful CDs
I received the CDs yesterday. They are both great! Your voice is fantastic and the kids sound delightful. I also really enjoyed the instrumental arrangements. You did a marvelous job of singing, The First Candle We Light On Hanuukah. The flute was really cool. I loved it. And the instrumetnal version of Shabbat Means with the saxophone was inspired.
Thank you so much for recording these songs and for sending me the CDs. Good luck with the sales!
Regarding Shabbat Jam and Hanukkah Songs of Light and Hope
Larry S. Kaplan ( ASCAP)
One of our most successful Scholar – In – Residence programs ever ! She brings an accomplished voice, and a lively spirit that will fill your synagogue with music and joy. Cantor Debbie led Friday night and Shabbat morning services and a sing-along program for children and adults on Sunday morning. Her music, voice and personality enchanted all of our members.
Rabbi Martin I. Sandberg
This edition marks one of the most innovative, important, and creative blending of guitar and Jewish music. It surely will not take away from those Cantors who wish to chant either capella, or with piano or organ, but for those Cantors skilled in playing guitar, this will be a loving and long lasting companion which, I am sure, will touch the hears and souls of the next generation of Jews to hear this incredible music.
Rabbi/Cantor Jon Haddon
Your American Jewish Songbook selections were a perfect blend of English, Yiddish and Hebrew-appreciated by all. Your stage presence and hamische introductions of hte band and the songs added and extra measure of charm to the beauty of your voice and the wonderful sounds of your group. Your lead guitarist David, and the pianist were particularly outstanding……we were all blown away by the warmth and family feeling you created on our stage/bimah.!!
Steve Stein, MD
Deborah Katchko is such a wonderful gift to our festival!
National Children’s Choir Director
Thank-you again for a wonderful concert- Inspiring, beautiful and fun!
Best Day Ever!
Thank-you for being such a special part of our wedding weekend!
Your music and spirit helped make it truly the best day…ever!