Friday, October 3, 2008

Rosh Hashanah at Beth Elderly

Shiksa Girlfriend and I couldn't decide where to go, but we did know where we didn't want to go:

- Temple Burning Bush with their Used Car Salesman rabbi
- Temple GLBT which is full of people who are nice but more than a tad nuts
- Beth Halfpipe with its oh-so-confusing building

So we opted for Beth Elderly instead. They were very nice and gave us a trial membership for cheap, so I am now officially for the first time ever *technically* a synagogue member. (That goes double for SG.)

We shlepped out there for Erev Rosh Hashanah and stopped in for dinner at the greasy spoon nearby, a fun city institution pretending to be a 50s diner while staffed entirely by barely English-conversant Chinese people. While we were eating I happened to spy the VP of the shul sitting in a nearby booth with his wife. I was amused for a few reasons. First, the shul just got done writing up a new series of kosher bylaws for any food brought into the shul, and this place is totally not kosher. Second, the couple was berating the poor waitress (who, granted, looked like she could care less) for screwing up their hamburger order.

"I wanted it medium rare!"

"No, you said medium. This IS medium!"

"This is medium done. It's totally different!"

And on and on. SG was knitting a hat and reading a book about prostitute empowerment or something, so she missed the show. For my part, I kept ducking behind her head so Not Very ViP wouldn't see me. The waitress disappeared for a while, considerately giving the couple time to loudly bitch about her. "I keep telling you," VP said to his wife. "You have to spell everything out for them." (This seemed slightly unfair to me, given that it can't be that easy to take orders in a second language, or maybe that's just the classes I'm taking on ELL kicking in with sympathy.)

Then the waitress came back. But there was still a problem.

"This is just rare. I wanted MEDIUM rare, darn it!"

Sweet crap. Even I was getting ready to kill them. We paid and left just in time to see her bringing them their food for a third time and testily asking, "You just had water, right?"

Beth Elderly has a new rabbi, who seems nice, though hardly charismatic. He reminds me of the nebbishy Jewish friend from a crappy 90s sitcom like Caroline in the City. Very sweater-vest, if you know what I mean. Anyway he has a wife and a cute baby girl, though they've chosen to name her after a Middle Eastern body of water. Sitting in front of us was a couple in their early 30s with matching giant masses of dreadlocks, which they both stuck paper-thin yarmulkes on top of like little flags when they went up for their aliya.

The service was fine, though the rabbi's sermon weirded me out a little bit- he was trying to talk about the three "days" of RH tied-in with Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot as "the three jewels in the crown" of Rosh Hashanah. This forced imagery wouldn't have been quite so bad had I not seen the same terminology used in a very bad John Hagee sermon a few years ago. The gist of it involved Hagee telling his followers, "It's ok if you have crappy finances, because you'll get a nice crown for it in the afterlife. It's ok if you suffer or die for being a Christian, because you get a Martyr's Crown, and it's even fancier!" (It was at this point that I turned to Sam and asked, "His theology is essentially coming down to promising people invisible hats, yes?" Sam: "Sadly, yes.") So that was a tad weird.

Next morning we set out for Shacharis (morning prayers). I enjoyed sleeping in slightly early, though having to take multiple trains to get there was not terribly awesome. We also forgot to eat breakfast, which is never my preference (as I told SG, "There's no reason to turn Rosh Hashanah into Yom Kippur"). We got there about an hour into Shacharis, but they only seemed like they had been going on for about twenty minutes- I couldn't tell, but maybe they didn't get a minyan until late. I was super-excited to whip out my gigantic-yet-awesome copy of Mishkan T'Filah, which I had lugged all over town. It was very cool being able to follow most of the first service, and understanding the intricacies of the liturgy order, the transition, knowing what and when they were doing this thing or that thing, just really interesting. (SG alternated from looking over my shoulder and being our place-holder with the Sim Shalom Machzor.)

The Torah service was fine, though, to be honest, I couldn't really stay with it (I can only follow along in English for so long before I get bored- also I felt bad for SG who was just sitting there feeling faint. A few good exchanges:

Me: "Ah, Rosh Hashanah. Time to hear the same story about Abraham almost killing his kid. Hey, what do they say about the Isaac thing in Sunday school?"

SG: "It only comes up as it being a prefiguring of Jesus. You know, on account of him being his only begotten son and all."

Me: "But he had Ishmael too."

SG: "But he was illegitimate. Also, vaguely Muslim, so he doesn't come up."

Me: "But he also had six other sons by a concubine."

SG: "And guess how often that came up."


Me: (During the Torah service) "How are you holding up?"

SG: "Not too bad. It's almost over, right?"

Me: "Well, sort of. But then there's the haftarah reading, too."

SG: (Dirty look) "Are you serious?"

Me: "Afraid so."

SG: "That's it. I call snack break."

The reader was very good, though it was hilarious to watch the cantor stumbling over blessing every single member of various families coming up on the bimah for aliyot. Also, there was something very weird with some of those kids' Hebrew names- who names their kid Sinai?

Funny moments: the gabbai came up to us halfway through Shacharis and asked us to do an aliyah (sound familiar?). Then, before he could give us the signal, the rabbi accidentally (?) skipped several prayers in the service. Which led to a good two minutes of irritated muttering from the gabbai, sitting like, right next to us. That was a tad awkward. Finally they got their act together and we were up. Because the universe has an ongoing sense of humor as whacked-out as mine, guess which song the congregation was singing during our aliya. I swear, I couldn't look at SG the entire time.

Musaf was fine, though at that point we were definitely reaching the point of masochism/macho Jew-itude. (When I used to go to Temple Ol'Faithful in High School, we always left after the Torah service and first Shofar blowing.) But we stuck it out and were rewarded with some halfway decent choir work, the full prostration (still too slow this year, next year, more decisiveness. I'll be freaking kowtowing to that Ark first thing!), and part 2 of "Three Jewels in the Crown," a theme that does not necessarily improve with further installments. Incidentally, the cantor demonstrated she is totally capable of leading songs without near-constant warbling. Now if only someone would convince her that those songs sound MUCH, MUCH better.

Oh, and I saw four Middle-Schoolers whom I subbed for last year. They flipped their lid and came over to say hi. They asked me my first name and were shocked when I told them, even more so when I agreed that they could use it if they saw me outside of school (the joke's on them: I'm working somewhere else this year).

All in all, it was a good day. Got there around 9:20, finished around 2:00. Not too arduous, and it was super-cool to put Mishkan T'Filah to action.

Though SG says next year, she might skip Shacharis altogether.

Coming up: Sam is visiting for Yom Kippur. Fun times may ensue.