Hineni-here I am at Yale, at Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life, at the beginning of a new year. New life, new town, new year. What does it all mean? This Rosh Hashanah, I hear echoes of ancient roll calls: the hineni of our father Abraham and the hin'ni of the hazzan, the cantor, throughout the centuries.

On Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of the Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). "Abraham," God calls. "Hineni, here I am," answers Abraham. Abraham, our father, answering God like a son answering a father, a student answering a professor. "Father," says Isaac, Abraham's son, and Abraham answers, "Hineni, b'ni, here I am, son." Then an angel of the Lord calls to Abraham from heaven: "Abraham! Abraham!" and Abraham answers, "Hineini, here I am."

Abraham has answered "Hineni" three times; responding to God, his parent, Isaac, his son, and perhaps to himself as he realizes the horror of the sacrifice he was saved from committing.

"Hin'ni," chants the cantor, "Here I am, impoverished in merit, trembling in awe in front of You, God. I've come here to stand and plead in front of you on behalf of the people Israel, who have sent me."

With the words and melody of the Hin'ni prayer, the cantor, the shaliach tzibor, the emissary of the community, prepares to represent a holy kahal, a congregation, to advocate with God on its behalf.

The prayer probably dates from medieval times; its authorship is unknown. The hazzanim of nineteenth century Eastern Europe added drama to their recitations of the prayer by approaching the bimah from the rear of the synagogue as they chanted.

A story is told of Hazzan Joseph Altshul of Slonim. His choir would stand on the bimah awaiting his entrance. One choir member would call out, "Where is the hazzan?" The cantor would answer, "Hineni, here I am." A second choir member would call, "Why are you standing in the doorway?" The cantor would reply, "He'ani, I am poor." Then the choir would ask, "Do you need money?" Hazzan Altshul would continue his rendition and elucidate, "He'ani mima'as, I am poor in deeds."

From a musical viewpoint, it is interesting to note that the Hin'ni chant does not have any fixed melody or motives; the cantor must create it from within, drawing on the gamut of modes and melodies from the entire High Holy Day liturgy. As a female cantor, I face an additional challenge when chanting this prayer. The "Hin'ni" is written entirely in masculine language, from the conjugated verb forms to the imagery. "Accept my prayer as the prayer of an old one, accustomed to saying this prayer... with a long beard and a pleasing voice." The pleasing voice I love; the long beard of an old hazzan is more of a leap for me to make.

For the last seven years, I have served as a cantor of Reform congregations in the suburbs of New York and New Jersey. Now I'm in a new New-New Haven, having answered a call to become a part of the Yale community. What can I, as a cantor, as a woman, as Naomi Hirsch, bring to this new place? What will saying "Hineni" at Yale Hillel mean for me?

As we begin a new year, how can we be fully present to the roll calls we may hear? What does it mean to say, "Hineni, I am here?" How shall we enter a new place and make the minhag ha-makom, the local customs, our own?

This year, may each of us be privileged to hear a call to which we can respond, "Hineni, here I am." "Hineni," not out of fear of being tested like Abraham. "Hineni," not merely because we were called, like the cantor by his choir, but "Hineni," because we brought ourselves to this new place.

Naomi Hirsch is the Acting Assistant Director of Yale Hillel.