Monday, October 6, 2008

Choose Your Temple

We hadn't been to our little temple in over a year, since we held the service for my dad there. Many young families with kids have joined and the Rosh Hashanah service was well attended. It was followed by a children's service with over 120 participants, which I believe was the greatest attendance for any holiday or event in the seventeen years I have been a member. I had attempted about 16 years ago to help bring young congregants and their families to the temple but the older members felt threatened and resistant to change and there was a huge schism. The young folks just picked up and went on their way but the older folks, or at least the very few who are left, still grind this axe and refer to the young families who tried to find a home there as "bad people." One of the very last of the oldtimers died last year and the landscape at this year's service was a tiny handful of mainly childless, mainly single, and perhaps more eccentric than usual, people around my age, who have stepped in over the last dozen or so years as the minyan died off and lots of young families I'd never seen before.

The kitchen was the same. Filthy and filled with rat traps and roach motels. The faucet and sink were as useless as when I cooked there 15 years ago. The fridge was crammed with rotting food and plastic bottles each containing about an inch of flat Shasta cola. I imagine the influx of young families has led to improved contributions but the kitchen has never been a priority despite the congregation's obsession with eating. I made a nice lunch and plates were heaped ridiculously high and people were quite shameless about packing up leftovers for themselves to take home. There are a number of mentally ill, or borderline mentally ill congregants and I was snippy and impatient with one afflicted woman who was bossy and critical when I was rushing to set up the lunch before the service ended. I knocked myself out in preparing this gesture of thanks to the synagogue and then I sort of trashed my good intentions by being an intolerant, unkind bitch.

The temple cannot afford a full time rabbi and each year hires itinerant clergy to conduct services. I'm sure the woman hired for this year's services touched the hearts of many congregants but despite my efforts to feel some connection, I was left cold. I speak no Hebrew and often find the services boring but in a comforting, peaceful way. The rabbi concluded what I found to be a very uninspiring, inarticulate sermon by singing (I am one of those people who should never sing in public but at least I know better than to try) a few particularly mawkish lines from syrupy Jewish folky Debbie Friedman. Himself and the kids flashed me that "what the fuck are we doing here?" look and I could only shrug. I usually have a few moments of heightened consciousness in the midst of a service at the tiny shul, if nothing more from the miracle of it having survived, in what is now the middle of a barrio, for eighty years. Rosh Hashanah, except for the praying and writing and inventory making I did to precede it, was a washout and I left the temple less full of hope than when I entered.

I am dreading Yom Kippur, the holiest of holy and am weighing making a brief obligatory visit to the shul or simply atoning and trying to connect from my home. But if I do stay home, it will be because the people at the temple I have been affiliated with for so many years are simply not evolved enough for me to pray with. What an asshole I would be to take this stance on the eve of the day of atonement. We have already decided that Spud's Bar Mitzvah will be held there and I need to get off my high horse and work this through because I would be a huge hypocrite to send him off to make a major spiritual passage at a place I cannot bear to be. I pray I am able to make peace and find the comfort that drew me and cemented me to the temple seventeen years ago. At least on Yom Kippur, a day of fasting, I can stay the fuck out of that disgusting kitchen.

The Jewish Lifecycle is sort of a precursor for modern psychotherapy and while I am struggling with the communal aspects right now, I still identify as a Jew (as my beloved seems to drift towards Buddhism) and to me, the Jewish prescription for living is prescient and sage and comforting. Although we don't practice it in a traditional way or as regularly as perhaps we could, we strive for Friday night Shabbat and the sanctification of time each and every week to soften the bang bang bang. For us it is usually no more than lighting candles and sharing challah, but it drills in the message that we need this quiet family time to keep us sane. There are proscribed mourning rituals that guide through the first year after a loss. The emotional stresses of marriage, and divorce and childbirth are addressed so reasonably that these directives might well come from a modern psychologist suggesting coping strategies for times of loss and stress. The freshness and sensibility with which Judaism addresses our emotional needs keeps me tethered here, despite my struggle to feel a part of a community.

With all my blessings, it is a luxury now to be able to consciously search for spiritual connectedness. There are many aspects of Judaism that I do click with but at the moment the small community of Jews, right in my own backyard at the temple I love just leaves me cold. I suppose there is a large degree of snobbery that made me feel distant and aloof during Rosh Hashanah, but whatever the reason, I felt the soaring that eluded me on the holiday at Chavez Ravine when I stood and screamed with 55,000 other fans, as the Dodgers completed their three game sweep of the hapless Chicago Cubs.

It is a new Jewish year. Tzipi Livni, the new prime minister of Israel, is a highly skilled diplomat and maybe this and a feminine sensibility will pave the road for some peace there. The House of Reps. passed the bailout but perhaps we taxpayers will suffer a bit less than we expect, criminals will be punished, and we will learn enough from the post mortem to take steps to prevent this from happening again. About 5% of U.S. mortgages are subprime and in some degree of default. Employment is faltering so this will probably go up some before it goes down but even the direst of predictors think it won't exceed 10%. I presume that the 90% or so of mortgages that are in good standing will continue to yield a profit. Even the mortgages that are in default have some equity, even if it doesn't represent the full value of monies owed. I hope that the taxpayers don't get left holding the bag of bad debt without realizing the profit from the large percentage of U.S. mortgages that are still viable and income generating. Bob and Chris are getting hitched, in sort of shotgun fashion, before the election and the possible passage of Proposition 8. I wish them a lifetime of happiness and keep the hope that the stupid proposition goes down in spectacular defeat. I am not awestruck by this year's Days of Awe and am currently worshipping only the God of baseball. I am thankful for the things around me that I know are good and I am hopeful too that good may spring from that which disgusts or terrifies me. And we have our work cut out for us against the Phillies.


Fionnchú said...

Your comments unsurprisingly carom off of mine on my blog this past week! I am drifting, as my entries there attest, and not sure where I'm at, which I suppose is at least a spiritually aware state to be in during these days of suspension between New Year celebration and Day of Atonement mortification. However, don't fret about your guilt or your duty. You need to find your own way through the thickets, as the rest of your three men must in our own baffled manner. Niall has the temple's predicament in stride, and he looks to us far more than to there for any guidance we can provide. xxx me

harry said...

Well, the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that be named is not the eternal name. Según Lao Tzu. Maybe that's some of what the no vowels in YHWH יהוה is about. Maybe religion, in addition to the palpable comfort it can give to those who suffer is the stucture for the placeholder names and practices. It's strength for the journey; the river running to eternal seas. The return home. Maybe religious practices should recalibrate time. Oh Lord, detach us in the luminous Emptiness behind the language that carries religious observance. What I do know is that it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, released, detached... or that's what my experience as a junkie has seemed to tell me.

I salute you as a becoming Buddha (as was Allen Ginsberg's prayer) both at One and detached.