I met Cantor Susan Wehle five years ago at my cousin’s son’s Bar Mitzvah. We convened in Buffalo during an icy winter weekend in high spirits, eager to catch up with our far flung loved ones, eager to worship together and celebrate with Sam and his family. The weekend was everything such weekends should be — filled with love and joy and pride as we watched our cousin take his place in the long line of generations that stretch all the way back to Abraham.
At my children’s Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, our Cantor sang a prayer written by Debbie Friedman. Its title — L’chi Lach — is drawn from Torah. “Lech L’cha,” God says to Abraham. “Go forth….” Cantor Wehle sang to Sam what has come to be known as The Angel Song. The song’s text calls on the archangels Michael, Uriel, Gabriel and Raphael to surround the Bar Mitzvah: protecting him, conferring God’s strength, light and healing to the right, to the left, in front and behind. Cantor Wehle’s exquisite voice was the ladder stretching to the heavens, each note a rung the angels might use to descend and take their places around this thirteen-year-old as he went forth in the world. I didn’t want her to stop singing, so beautiful was her voice.
After the ceremony I introduced myself and told Cantor Wehle how much I enjoyed the service, how much her presence added to the joy of the morning. She shared with me that when her sons were young, her lullaby to them was the song she had just sung to Sam. What lucky boys, I thought.
This past August I saw Cantor Whele again at the last of this generation’s Bar Mitzvahs. Once again she sang the song that lifted my spirit right into the heavens. After services she told me that at her ordination her sons, now young adults, sang to her the lullaby she had sung to them so many years before. Can you imagine the joy of such a moment in a mother’s life — blessed by her sons, with the very prayer of love and music she gave to them? She was in the process of making a CD, she said. The Angel Song would be on it. I’ll be sure to buy it, I said.
Cantor Susan Wehle was one of the 49 passengers whose life was lost in this past weekend’s plane crash in Buffalo. Why her? Why any of the other 48? Why does one plane land safely, upon the Hudson River no less, and another drops from the sky in a maelstrom of panic and grief? Who will sing to her boys now?
Thank you Cantor Wehle, for gracing us with your voice and your spirit. You will forever be remembered with blessing.
addendum — Turns out I had misunderstood Cantor Wehle. The CD was produced a couple of years ago. Go to Songs of Healing and Hope to listen to a clip from the CD and to order it. The synagogue’s link doesn’t seem to be working so send your check directly to the address given on the site.