Thursday, October 9, 2008


It is erev Yom Kippur and I am attending bootcamp instead of Kol Nidre. I was scheduled to deliver a brief sermon at our little temple during the service and I blew it off, confessing that I'd felt no connection there at Rosh Hashanah and would feel like a hypocrite trying to instruct and inspire. I had pretty much decided to skip services there all together but Spuds specifically asked to go there and I agreed to accompany him for a few hours. The four of us discussed alternative observances or gestures to capture the spirit of the day and Himself demurred working in a soup kitchen. I looked on line for services which might be appealing and that one could attend without being a member of a shul but the choices were either "prayer free non-theistic humanistic" or creepy Chabbd sponsored Ortho with men and women divided by mehitzah. I was Goldilocks and all the porridge seemed lousy. I am pissed off, mainly at myself, that I can't seem to find the right fit to make Yom Kippur the experience it's been in the past. I was in a big rush to get the minutes away from being 16 year old's proof of driver's training to take him to the DMV and my cellphone fell out of my pocket on Hollywood Blvd. A nice lady returned it but I don't do things like that and it proved that I am atypically agitated. We got to the DMV and were informed that a photocopied birth certificate is unacceptable and I did some howling and steering wheel pounding. I suspect the not yet permitted to drive teenager riding shotgun was gratified and comforted to see that there seems to be a genetic propensity for loss of temper, despite the staggeringly bad example of safe driving. Sadly, I see bootcamp as a better anecdote towards becoming chill than the beautiful and most sacred of chants, Kol Nidre.

There were times when we gravitated towards becoming more Orthodox in our observance. We even found a modern Orthodox shul we liked in Pico Robertson that has no mehitzah and women participate equally on the bimah but it was just too far away to make it realistic for us to join this community. But we could have and we might have. And today is one of those days that would have been easier to get through if we had. There are 613 mitzvot. That's a lot of commandments and the commitment to keep close to God by honoring the mitzvot is daunting but it would also make irrelevant so many of the choices I agonize about. There are ways to eat and pray and fuck and fight and I envy those who have chosen God first and foremost and are so filled by that that they don't have to weigh the many alternative scenarios that confound me. I would shuffle, with my family to kol nidre with modest clothing and covered head. I would know what I needed to do to keep God in my heart and my house and Friday night movies and cheeseburgers and bootcamp instead of kol nidre wouldn't be issues and God would be right here. All God. All the time. I long today to be a sheep.

I continue this now on the morning of Yom Kippur. I am an early riser, even on the weekends there is bootcamp and the farmers market but this morning there was no reason for us to get out of bed. Half awake our bodies wrapped together in lazy comfort. I had gotten behind in reading Himself's extraordinary blog and was amazed to find a gorgeous piece there that paralleled very closely one of my own about ambivalence to organized religion. Both pieces had genesis in our conversations and readings but that we both came to such similar conclusions and felt the same longings, seemed an extraordinary thing for two people to accomplish. I felt the grace that I so often whine eludes me as our two bodies rested as one under the quilt in the warm morning.

I have a miserable headache for lack of coffee but Spuds and I are going to go pray. Himself and almost 16 have decided that driving to see his deaf angry decrepit father in the County Orange is a less odious form of atonement than attending the inevitably lackluster services at the tiny shul. I think again about how we could have taken the plunge and committed our lives and the lives of our children to the orthodox Jewish way of knowing God. Spuds remembered being the least observant of all the boys in his cabin at the Jewish camp and he said he felt sheepish that our home is not strictly kosher and that we see (often R rated!) movies on Shabbat. The way we have chosen to live makes feeling God's presence more challenging. While observing an orthodox form of any religion keeps the comfort of God close, it makes for a limited version of God. Like I said before about High Holiday Jews who make the obligatory visit to shul once a year when the focus is on the narrow aspect of the God of judgement. I am frustrated right now at my failure to click into the spirit of the days of awe, and in many ways the Orthodox shetl seems a comforting place. Judaism purports tolerance and we are commanded to welcome the stranger. Taking the plunge into the Orthodox world pretty much insures that while we might welcome those from outside our little communities of worship, they are destined to remain strangers. Perhaps I have been seduced by the secular world and my entrancement is that thing that keeps me unsettled and longing. But, the God I know inhabits taco trucks and Korean coffee houses and the kitchens of all our dear friends who cook pork and shrimp and pray to Jesus.

The God in me challenges and confounds and sometimes because of the way I have chosen to live, I feel forsaken. I am not a sheep although sometimes, when there seems no peace for me, I long to be one. I will go now and pray in an eastside barrio shul, full of misfits, oddballs and seekers. What made me bristle there on Rosh Hashanah is really just what makes me bristle at being in my own skin. I have consciously made the choice to live as a Jew but an unanchored one. This makes it harder sometimes to bask in God's grace but because I am here in a big world and not compartmentalized in a ghetto, perhaps it is more awesome when I do. The Dodgers will be playing the Phillies tonight when the service concludes. We will be glued to the t.v. when there are three stars in the night sky and our atonement is complete and we are bidden again to eat and drink and make love. Instead of the final blast of the shofar we will usher in this new year screaming for Manny and drinking coffee and eating lasagne, and finally, despite the frustrations of this years' season, somehow I know that God will be close.


FionnchĂș said...

Certainly you see those baseball players crossing themselves regularly at the plate, speaking of observance. Not to mention for us the "dear friends who eat pork and shrimp and don't pray to Jesus" easily outnumbering those 1) who don't eat treyf and 2) don't pray to Jesus, given the circle of non-JCA, JCC-affiliated folks in and out of the Tribe (not the Red Sox one). Blame all of Niall's pals for such secular influences, all those Hollywood-employed families churning out the R-rated films we all watch, even if not often on Shabbat, although who knows what's on YouTube in the kid's room. I blame Sarah Silverman.

Thanks for another reminder of how we do search for meaning, which is probably better than thinking you've found it and can stop now. It seems to me as I age, and/or mature, that I will not find closure. I do wish you will, but perhaps you too may not? That acceptance in itself, as our reader "Harry" as noted in his Taoist approbation, is another Way.

...l'shanah tovah, have an easy fast, and by the time you wake up from your post-shul nap, perhaps it'll be time for lasagna and Dodgers. xxx me

FionnchĂș said...

I meant: 2) do pray to Jesus. Sorry.

harry said...

99 sheep found and one lost...
Fatted calf for the returning prodigal...

Grace... is unmerited by definition... doesn't mean you can't live a life learning to let go of it to know it.

Per fionnchu's slow pitch on a night the Phillies win:

“When people lose sight of the Tao, codes or morality and justice are created.”