For the past eight years I have had the honor of leading shachrit, the morning service, on the High Holidays at my synagogue. When I was asked to serve as the shliach tzibor for services this year, I readily accepted. Of course it is always an honor to serve the community and with a few years under my belt, it is not overly challenging. Or so I thought.
Shortly after my shul began limited in-person Shabbat services I had the honor to chant the Haftarah, something I have done many times. But panic started to set in as I belted out the brachot. I had not practiced chanting wearing a mask; what I selected to use that day was being inhaled into my mouth as I took deep breaths. With each deep inhalation, the mask would stick to my lips and stay there as I sought to clearly chant the next phrase.
Over the past week I accumulated a variety of masks and have alternated between them as I reviewed the material for the Rosh Hashanah service. Perhaps the insight gained from this experiment will help other service leaders with their preparations. Note that my personal circumstances – eyeglasses and a beard – make mask selection a bit more challenging.
My rating categories are:
Breathable. Can I comfortably take deep breaths in quick succession when singing a loud and upbeat melody?
Comfort. Does it comfortably rest on my face and head/ears?
Movement. Does it allow me to open my mouth wide as necessary when projecting a melody?
Malleable. I have a beard. Sometimes my face gets itchy. Can I scratch or rub in comfort?
Fogginess. Do my glasses stay fog free while I am singing?
COVID protection. This was not considered as there is only so much materials can manage when one is belting out songs. None of the masks are hermitically sealed around my face. Furthermore, as a service leader near the front of the sanctuary, I am not in the immediate vicinity of others.
Disposable blue face mask (generic)
Type: Loops around the ears. Not washable.
Pros: Very easy to adjust on the fly, scratch your nose, chin, beard, etc. Can be adjusted on the bridge of the nose for minimal fogging of my glasses.
Cons: The fuzz on the inside would stick to my lips as I inhaled deeply to prepare for the next.
Cost: Very inexpensive at $10 for a box of 50.
Type: Two variants for sale, loop around the ears or adjustable around the head. Not washable.
Pros: The clear plastic shield enables mouthing of words when quietly communicating with the rabbi for on the fly adjustments during the service. Very comfortable to wear during the Silent Amidah. My glasses did not fog at all.
Cons: When singing the foam strip across the bottom of the mask rests in the divot between the lower lip and the chin, quickly becoming a distraction. No ability to scratch your nose, chin, or cheeks through the plastic shield.
Cost: $71.02 for a box of 24 (free shipping).
Type: Non-adjustable loops around the ears. Washable by hand.
Pros: Designed for high intensity workouts, the material feels cool on the face. The fit is comfortable all around and it tucks nicely under the chin.
Cons: Less ability to adjust the bridge so there is some fogging of glasses, but not so much as to interfere with my ability to read the machzor. After a sustained amount of singing, however, the air seems to taste less fresh.
Costs: $31.80 for one (1) mask with shipping.
Type: Cut up an old USY tie-dyed that my kids outgrew. Four long pieces of fabric for tying behind the head. Washable.
Pros: Super cheap and easy to make. As many color and pattern options as you can find in your kid’s dresser. Extremely comfortable and adjustable, enabling highly effective chin and nose scratching. Easy to sing with as it is just a single layer cheap cotton shirt that enables easy air flow yet not so flimsy that it gets inhaled into the mouth.
Cons: Some fogging of glasses occurs, but not too much. May look a little too casual for leading High Holiday services.
Cost: No cost, unless factoring in the $400 USY Convention the kid attended to get the shirt.
The Singer’s Mask
Type: Adjustable ear loops. Light beige or concert black. Hand or machine wash.
Pros: The most space in front of the mouth of any of the masks tested. Air doesn’t get warm and stinky.
Cons: The hard wire for the nose bridge is bendable but takes some effort to find a decent fit. Some fogging of glasses occurs, annoying but does not prevent reading the prayer book. Similar to the ClearMask, scratching an itch is problematic, although slightly easier as The Singer’s Mask can pivot down for a quick scratch.
Costs: $29.75 for one (1) mask with shipping. JN
Eliot Goldberg is a member of Olam Tikvah Congregation in Fairfax, VA and Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington, DC.