There is a break in the service. Some members of the congregation get up and leave while others come in to take their place. A cantor rises and intones an ancient melody. A second cantor joins in, accompanying himself on a guitar. The music is non-Western, yet vaguely familiar. Where have I heard it before? Was it in Morocco? Or during my visit to the Arab quarter of Cairo? But I am in a Jewish synagogue in Westport, and this is the Yom Kippur memorial service.
I follow the rabbi’s words in my prayer book, and when he recites a passage in Hebrew, I am struck by the similarity with Arabic. Of course, they are both Semitic languages, I tell myself, much like Dutch and German, which have common roots in the Germanic language group. So close in so many ways and yet so far apart.