Thursday, October 8, 2009

Chappy Chags

Shiksa Girlfriend and I moved over the summer, so we decided to take advantage of our new location and go to Evil Minion for High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah was pretty nice, except that Evil Minion, which usually provides excellent transliterations for Shabbos, decided to go an alternate route with the Birnbaum machzor, which provides... none. I attempted to follow along the best I could with my Mishkan T'Filah, but for bizarre reasons there are large chunks of the service which aren't in there and which I didn't even know I was missing (psalm of the day? since when?). That was kind of frustrating. The singing was nice, and the shofar blasts were great, but needless to say, we skipped out on Musaf-- for me, the money-quote is always, "Longest Amidah of the year." Sorry, but there's no way I'm sticking around for that, particularly when I can't even follow along. So we left early and went grocery shopping instead.

Fast-forward to Yom Kippur. Evil Minion was set up at a secret location (another shul sanctuary, while that shul in turn had been displaced to yet another secret location-- yay High Holiday mysteries) and we were looking forward to going. Unfortunately, I came down with this flu-bronchitis-death rattle a few days before, which really took a giant crap on my holiday. Fun times included chatting with my parents and trying to convince them that no, I hadn't planned on fasting while sick. No, really.

Abbot Yid: You'd better not fast.

Me: I wasn't planning on it. I'm bummed, but it's fine.

Abbot Yid: Well... good. Cause I'm telling you, God doesn't care. And even the most hard-ass rabbi would tell you what I'm telling you. Got it?

Me: Yes, just like I did the first time.

Abbot Yid: Seriously, don't do it.

Me: Fine!

It was nice to see some old friends for the holiday (though my persistent hacking made it hard to daven out loud, much less kibbitz). It was very surreal to have to pay so much attention to my breathing/voice volume during prayer to avoid setting off my cough.

The singing was quite impressive-- the Minioneers split the davening up six or seven ways so you got to hear a nice spread. Oh, and because having no functional machzor had sucked so hard on Rosh Hashanah, Shiksa Girlfriend and I sped to the internet and got... much to my chagrin... a transliterated Art Scroll Yom Kippur Machzor. Sigh, I have drunk the Art Scroll kool-aid. Oh well, at least I got a funny post out of it.

Incidentally, not fasting on YK (for the first time in ten years) was a very odd sensation. I kind of felt like I had a bit of an inferiority complex, and then I tried to compensate by not eating a lot during the day... things got kind of weird by the end.

It has come to my and SG's attention that this is our fourth year together, and our fourth year celebrating High Holidays in a different shul. Wandering Jews, indeed.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I happened to be chatting up a colleague and mentioned my and Shiksa Girlfriend's ongoing (not so often these days, though) shul-search. She said that she and her husband went to a place that they liked, and invited us to join them. Knowing that SG was restless to shul-it-up more, I accepted.

It turns out we were heading back where we started: Temple Touched By God. We got there just in time for the later service, aka the young adult meat market. We found my colleague and her hubby. Hey, Mishkan T'filahs! Awesome, this is a lot better than last time when they had weird self-published and poorly transliterated booklets. Also, I can't recall exactly, but I felt like they included a lot more Hebrew this time around, probably because now everyone can follow along.

There are still style issues that turn me off: I don't really feel the need for a 5-piece band for Shabbos (especially when two are mandolins), neither am I really interested in us all pretending to be Bob Marley as we try to combine "Redemption Song" with "Mi Chamocha"-- which seemed especially tacky with an African rabbi visiting for Shabbos. Incidentally, cool guests with interesting stories are a big plus; though I would have liked someone, at some point, to have given an actual drash. I didn't expect the visiting rabbi to give one, per se, but all the regular rabbi seemed to want to talk about was the shul's upcoming fundraiser for... well, that part they never quite explained. Also, SG commented that given the size of the crowd (easily 200 people), they "sang like wusses." I said that I think part of it has to do with the fact that when there's a whole band, singers with microphones, and quasi-improvised songs that the cantor didn't bother to give anyone the words to, people don't feel like they're being asked to sing as much being given the opportunity to accompany the "professionals." Certainly a far cry from Evil Minion, or even Temple GLBT.

Oh yeah- has anyone ever heard this song? Does anyone know what it's about? Because a congregant sang it, super-emotionally, like she was having a stroke or something, and not only was that super-weird, but the lyrics were super duper confusing.

From a distance the world looks blue and green,
and the snow-capped mountains white.
From a distance the ocean meets the stream,
and the eagle takes to flight.

From a distance, there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
It's the voice of hope, it's the voice of peace,
it's the voice of every man.

From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed.

From a distance we are instruments
marching in a common band.
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
They're the songs of every man.
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.

From a distance you look like my friend,
even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
what all this fighting is for.

From a distance there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
And it's the hope of hopes, it's the love of loves,
it's the heart of every man.

It's the hope of hopes, it's the love of loves.
This is the song of every man.
And God is watching us, God is watching us,
God is watching us from a distance.
Oh, God is watching us, God is watching.
God is watching us from a distance.

Is "distance" good or bad? Isn't the whole point of this song essentially that the reason things are bad (the visiting rabbi had just talked about growing up without running water and about how he was trying to raise money to make sure everyone in his village had mosquito nets to protect them from malaria) because God is too far away and assumes we're just fine? I can't tell if I'm missing the point here, or if everybody else was.

I guess what it comes down to is that when Touched By God actually does Jewish things, like Hebrew, I can appreciate the creative touches. Now that I have more familiarity with a traditional service and I'm comfortable with the structures of prayer, I don't mind what tune we use, or even if we skip around a little. When it comes to outright borrowing or slapping together disparate sources that have nothing to do with each other, much less connections with the service or ritual, things get a little trickier for me. I don't go to shul to hear people sing Bette Middler or Bob Marley songs. I don't object to people doing it, but that's not why I'm there.

Still, at least when we left this time, we didn't leave mad or confused. Maybe a little smug, but hey, it's a start. Will we make it our regular stomping grounds? Probably not. But I could see us going back periodically.

... No chance of giving B'Nei Hippy another try, though.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shul Awkwardness

I feel very conflicted about Beth Elderly. On the one hand, they are some very nice folks, and certainly very welcoming to us. On the other hand, they're starting to treat us like semi-disappointing wayward grandchildren. I suppose this is partially our fault for coming back quasi-often but not fully committing to the shul-- they must think we just like to tease them.

Two weeks ago, walking to my night school class I bump into a self-proclaimed shul mucky muck I'll call Ezekiel. Ezekiel has repeatedly glommed onto me at shul, used-car-salesman style, trying to either play Jewish geography (we fail), or to entice me, not very subtly, into making a bigger shul commitment. Despite having met over a half-dozen times, he again forgets my name, but recognizes me thanks to my resemblance to Gimli with a stetson. Not wanting to pass up this moment of destiny, he booms through the subway station, "Hey guy from Beth Elderly!" Funny, I thought HE was the guy from Beth Elderly, I'm just a twenty-something who occasionally drops by. We kibbitz for a while and then he asks why he hasn't seen me in a while. I tell him we've been busy and exhausted from crazy schedules. The fact that getting there requires a 2-train trip spanning almost an hour does not improve its standing. He asks if there's anything the shul can do to make itself "more of a priority for you." Um, no, I just said there was nothing the shul was doing wrong, and as I don't expect it to install rocket launchers to its foundation anytime soon to fly over to my apartment for a "quickie minyan", I think we're just going to have to settle for quasi-regular attendance.

Later that week, we went to Beth Elderly, which as a plus side is close to the ocean, which at least gives us something pretty to watch while we're waiting for services to start. They were trying some new tunes that night, which I liked in theory, however in practice the cantor's dirge-style is very uninspiring, and the rabbi's tone-deafness does not really help. At one point someone tried singing "Shalom Aleichem" to the Carlebach melody but it broke down halfway through. The rabbi also tried to modify a negro "Christian spiritual" (redundant?) but had neglected to remember the melody- he urged us all to youtube it after Shabbos, though. (Supposedly it connected with the Parsha that week, which discussed building the Mishkan.) Undaunted, we pressed on through for a painful few minutes-- I also liked how he seemed concerned that some congregants might be weirded out by the idea of singing "Christian" lyrics, so he encouraged anyone who wanted to sing Hasidic niggun style to do so.

After services, Shiska Girlfriend got blindsided by Shul VP, about whom observations have been previously made. He cornered her and asked her for "better contact info." She said he already had it. He countered by saying, clearly not, because you haven't been showing up to our events! Touche, Mr. Vice President. SG gave him the same spiel I had given Ezekiel a few days earlier. He had another trick up his sleeve- he offered to organize a carpool for us! No, really, that's... ok. Very nice, but also kind of... creepy?

Finally, one of the nice old shul ladies- all 4'5" of her, with the cutest wispy goatee you ever will see, sidled up to me after the potluck and mentioned how nice it was to see us again. "Always a pleasure," I replied. "You know, you should come by more often- not just for potluck, but more services, too. Don't worry, we always have food- Judaism is the religion of the stomach!"

Great, a food bribe! Reminds me of when a classmate tried to coerce me into taking her to a middle-school dance by offering me a Kit-Kat. As an aside, this proposal would be slightly more impressive if most of the foodstuffs here didn't usually consist of variations on cold penne salad.

Look, people, the 30 pairs of grandparents I never had or really needed, you're nice folks (except for a few of your cranks-- but a few of those seem to pop up everywhere, don't they?)and we will continue to keep you in the rotation-- in fact, these days you're essentially the de facto shul for us, tied with Evil Minion. But as anyone on the dating scene knows, desperation is not very attractive. We like that you pay attention to us and are so eager to welcome us into the tent, particularly given Shiska Girlfriend's Tzipporah-like status. But we are not in a position to save your shul. We are not your pioneer "New Guard" that can take over kiruv for you as you attempt to broaden your target demographic to the under-40 crowd. We are not experts in youth culture, "hip"-ness, or, for that matter, Shlomo Carlebach melodies. We wish you the best and are hoping to come along for the ride. But we're in our twenties and you're all... decidedly not. We are not the leaders you're looking for. Get it together and take a few steps back, please.