Life has interesting twists. And my life is not without plenty of them; some good, some not so good. Such is life and I try to take the good with the bad and do the best with it I can. I do not always manage to be up-beat about it, but I do try.
This year’s high holidays – Rosh Ha’Shana and Yom Kippur – were interesting. But let’s start with last year’s to make sense of it all; last year I had a really bad experience. It was the first time ever that I was ashamed of being Jewish. But not ashamed as in being Jewish is something bad, I am VERY VERY proud of being Jewish, but more ashamed as in being disappointed. I felt let down mostly by myself for believing in a certain perfectionism and creating certain expectations that were impossible to be fulfilled. That was last year!
This year I had a whole new set of expectations to go unfulfilled. But it turned out not to be so.
For starters, I decided to go and spend Rosh Ha’Shana at the Schull where I used to live. My son decided he was going to come with me and also be at temple with me – more to come on this. I spend Rosh Ha’Shana’s eve at my parents-in-law. My mother-in-law prepared a great dinner, albeit not kosher, but great nonetheless.
My son and I woke up on Saturday, showered, got dressed and got to Schull at the time I wanted to get there. And we sat down in my favorite “space”: on the very back all the way to the right; the very last, western-most two seats. My son had brought his Gameboy and a book with him. The Gameboy stayed in the car and he had the keys to go and play there if he so chose to. The book came to Schull with us. For the first half of the service he payed attention and followed on the Sidur (prayer book) the service. While he will not admit it, he actually read and prayed a good amount. I heard him.
About half way through he got bored and turned to his book. I told him to be somewhat inconspicuous. Nobody would say anything, but still he needed to be respectful. He was. He stood when he had to, sat when he had to and during the sermon – which was excellent – he listened to it for a while. We stayed almost to the very end of the morning service. Let’s face it, that is fantastic for a kid considering this was a Chabbad service.
We skipped the evening service. I did not want to push on my son. I was – and am – proud of him.
We did attend dinner at a friend’s. It was also very good. We both enjoyed it very much. My wife and daughter did not come with us; they stayed at home which is far away from this Schull. While all was good, them being there would have made it AWESOME. But I will take “good”.
Having my son next to me at Schull was an incredible feeling. Again, my daughter and wife would have made it even more so, but since they would have sat down at a different section, them not being at Schull was not so heavy, but at dinner it was. Going back to my son being there … when I was growing up my father always said that as I would come of age I would be with him, driving together to the farms, or to the race track or what not. Unfortunately he got sick and his illness ravaged him and life took me on my own path to a far way land that I call home today. Having my son next to me brought back bitter-sweet memories. Bitter because my father’s plans never happened and sweet because I now understood how my father felt about me.
There are a lot of things lately that are bitter-sweet memories; all of them related to memories of my father. All of them related to understanding how he felt about his kids. All of them through my feeling for my own kids.
Needless to say, Rosh Ha’Shana was good to me in so many levels: family, friends, community. And if to that you add a very powerful sermon from Rabbi Yossi; well .. What can I say … it was pretty darn good.
The ten days between Rosh Ha’Shana and Yom Kippur passed uneventfully.
Sunday night, Yom Kippur’s eve came and my plans were to do nothing. I did not want to go to the local Chabbad, and did not want to be without my family, so driving down to Yossi’s Schull was out of the question. My wife suggested I look for an Online Service. Now … that is wrong at so many levels that I thought there would not be one. But I looked for one nonetheless at my wife’s insistence. Wouldn’t you know it, there was one. I have to admit that I was apprehensive but logged in and watch it. My wife watch it with me and my kids came in and out of my home office to be with us.
Laws of the Mishna aside, I thought the idea was brilliant. You are a Jew in some remote place but you have broadband access. Why not!!!?? It is a fantastic outreach tool and a great use of technology.
The service itself was not my cup of tea; now, I am not saying I did not enjoy it. I did. But the tone did not match the day and how serious a day Yom Kippur is. In the end it is a matter of choice. Joy does not impede seriousness; however, to me the day is a somber day of reflection and not that of joy; thus, my somewhat tentative reaction to the service. It did, however, fulfill my need and for that I am grateful. The sermon was also good and powerful. And the music was really good and would have been a lot more enjoyable given a different circumstance. The musicians where just incredible. And the fellow that sang Koll Nidre was really good too.
Despite my – and for a lack of a better term – disapproval, I looked for an Online Service for Yom Kippur. I did not find one. Well … so be it.
I had decided that while I was not going to fast, I was going to spend a good deal of time meditating, thinking, evaluating and deciding throughout the day, but at home. The day started commonly enough with breakfast, guitar playing, chatting with my kids, etc. My kids needed to finish homework, so my wife focused on that, while I was in my office thinking and meditating. After a while I started with the guitar and continued playing and meditating. The kids went in the pool and then we had lunch.
I was having a great day, but I was still moping around. After lunch I decided I wanted to watch the Fiddler On The Roof. I needed Jewish themes. I needed Judaism to relate to. The movie was perfect. My hope was also that the kids were going to watch it with me and we could discuss it in the context of the day and today’s environment. The kids decided to go for a walk and then back in the pool. My wife and I started to watch it. And I was still moping!!
At around 4PM a friend called us and said: “My parents have a row at temple, would you like to come for the evening service, join us and hear the Shofar? Also, you guys can come to their house and break-the-fast with us.”
I immediately said yes and I was not moping anymore.
It is important to mention that it was not the local Chabbad.
The service was very good. We heard the Shofar and as luck would have it, we met other friends. It was, again, very rejoicing!! And dinner was also excellent. Once again, family, friends and community. The day had taken a turn. It was already good and it got better.
I woke up today with a distinct good feeling. Before work I went for a hike and as I do on my daily hikes I got in my head and replayed the events that unfolded over the last two weeks. In particular why was I moping yesterday.
Before I go any further I need to make clear the following:
1 – I do not believe there is a god. It does not make sense to me. I can prove the need for people to believe in the divine. At the end of the day, the way I look at it is that divinity is an extraordinary need of humans. One day I will write more on the subject. Also, I have outmost respect for people that do believe.
2 – It follows from (1) that I am not observant. I am not in the slightest.
3 – While I find spirituality more palatable and understandable – it also makes sense to me at the physics level – I am not a big fan of religion in general. And also have the outmost respect for people who are drawn to religion.
4 – If I needed to state a belief it would be that while I do not have to agree with anybody’s beliefs and creeds, I do have to accept them without questioning. Well … the questioning part I do have a problem with because I have always questioned everything, but that is as a part of my quest for knowledge. Questioning in this context is related to “negating” or “invalidating” other’s believes.
So … why was I moping during Yom Kippur? Simple, while I am not the poster child for religion or even spirituality, I am very proud of being Jewish and I “did not have” a place to express myself as such. I did everything I could to relate to being Jewish but for Yom Kippur it was not enough, as it was not enough for Rosh Ha’Shana. I needed to be at Schull, with family, friends and community. It is really that simple.
I have to thank my parents-in-law for having us at their house for 2 days and catering to our needs.
I have to thank both Joseph and Yossi. You both made my Rosh Ha’Shana again a centered experience. I wish I could spend more time with both of you discussing and studying. I am sure one of these days it will happen. And if not, we need to make it happen.
I have to thank Rabbi Naomi Levy. She does not know me and I only saw her Online. Her service was not my cup of tea, but it did fill a void and that was not only powerful, it was a Mitzvah.
And last but not least, I need to thank Debby and her parents for inviting us to Schull and having us over for dinner. You made my Yom Kippur.