Monday, September 21, 2009

As my grandpa says on hearing such things:

Tomorrow I will atone for barely being a Jew all year

Oy vey iz mir!

G-Bitch asks what the equivalent of a pay-as-you-go Catholic is in other religions...and I had to say...'tis not only a new year for me (5770, Erster, you treif thing, you) and a time to atone for my sins against God and to apologize to those here on Earth I've wronged, it is also the most significant holiday time of the Jewish calendar - so significant that, unfortunately, most of the secular Jewish population all over the world thinks it is the only time for them to go to the synagogue:
What I dread about Septembers is the High Holy Days. My father used to refer to them as the “running of the Jewish grunion.” The grunion get swept onto the beach, completely bewildered, but all catching the same waves; and then after a couple of days, they get swept out to sea again. And here we have the Jews getting swept into the sanctuary, also somewhat bewildered, and three days of praying later, they get swept out into the real world (some never to be seen again until the next “running”).

The difficult part for me, and what makes me dread Septembers, is trying to figure out how to meet the needs of these Jews who have made their way into our shul. I know the prayer book will completely baffle them; the choreography of the bowing, shuckling, bending, and prostrating will frustrate them; and the time will stretch into a seemingly endless highway of tedium.

The only part of the service many Jews can feel a part of is the sermon. English we all know! But what can I say to these revolving-door Jews (in on Rosh Hashanah, out on Yom Kippur) that will give a boost to their Jewish DNA? That will make them consider returning during the year?
What, indeed?

This is a serious problem within the secular Jewish community. The High Holy Days are a heavy time, full of prayer and contemplation, and - aside from the charming of the children through the blasts of a ram's horn punctuating services - imagery that includes God writing in a large Book of Life what will be in store for each of us in the coming year on Rosh Hashanah and sealing it on Yom Kippur smacks a little too much of predestination in these supposedly enlightened times.

It seems to go against any sort of individualism we might cultivate in our daily lives....and it overshadows every part of the Jewish calendar that celebrates life and the covenant we made with God atop Mount Sinai more than it emphasizes how small we are or how beholden we are to God's awesome powers of judgment.

There was a big push in our synagogue this year to emphasize social action within the surrounding community - helping out a local charter school, pitching in to build houses with the St. Bernard Project, feeding the homeless on a weekly basis, donations of all kinds to all sorts of causes - which is fantastic and is long overdue...but I think they missed some other essential stuff that makes us Jewish...

...the biggest essential chunk of information being that Jewish learning never ends.

If it were only the social action that kept Jewish people Jewish, there'd be many more of us around than there are, probably. The process in a nearly-Unitarian leaning Classical Reform movement turning back to more Hebrew in its services, more ritual observance, and more participation from members of the congregation is ongoing - and it cannot end with one's bar or bat mitzvah marking a supposed end to one's understanding of Judaism.

The doors have to remain open, no matter how much we kvetch about these people who come in and out during the Ten Days of Repentance that mark the interval between the High Holy Days.

No strings attached. No guilt in play (which I know is a difficult thing for a Jewish mother such as myself).

Forget "pay-as-you-go".

It's cheesy, but I'm starting to prefer "the more you know".:
The story has often been told of how Rosenzweig felt that if he was to be converted to Christianity he ought to do so as a Jew, moving, as he saw it at the time, from a lower to a higher form of religion.

While contemplating his conversion, he attended an Orthodox synagogue in Berlin on Yom Kippur. There he was so profoundly overcome by the devotion of the worshippers as they sought forgiveness from the God of their fathers that he realized there was no need for him to find his salvation outside his ancestral faith. As he was later to put it, the Christian claim that no man can come to the Father except through Jesus was true for all others but not for the Jew, since Jews, being already with the Father, had no need to “come” to him....

...Rosenzweig’s approach was subjective also in connection with the mitzvot, Jewish observances. He did think that he would one day become a fully observant Jew, but believed in the gradual approach in which the observances slowly made their impact by “ringing a bell” for him. Typical of this approach is Rosenzweig’s answer to someone who asked him whether he wore tefillin [phylacteries]: “Not yet,” he replied.
L'shanah tovah to all. Here's to a good, sweet new year.

Update, 9-22: One effect of the revolving door can be found here, exacerbated by the terrible decisions concerning land usage that are endemic to this town.

And my husband recently obtained a gorgeous Sephardic cookbook by a dead ringer for Jane Fonda who has quite the unfortunate name. I look forward to trying out the recipes and eventually saying the author's name with a straight face. I have a lot to atone for.

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