Thursday, July 18, 2013

Goldilocks Syndrome, p. 2

So it finally happened: we visited an Ortho place. Though there were a couple of points where I was nervous about needing to use my transliterated siddur (and being slightly paranoid that people would know I wasn't entirely sure what I was doing all the time), I am happy to report that neither of us burst into flames.

Mrs. Yid and I decided to take the folks over at the MO shul up the road up on their offer and go to their Tisha B'Av service. We probably wouldn't have gone but they said they were going to be showing a film from the OU on the importance and relevance of Tisha B'Av. "What do you think?" I asked her. "Since I'm fairly ambivalent about this holiday I guess it wouldn't hurt to find out more about it," she said. "Plus at least you should be able to get some good blogging out of it." Touche, my Eshet Chayil.

In keeping with my post-Tisha B'Av attempts to practice slightly less lashon hara and slightly more dan lekaf zechut, let's start with some pros.

- The mechitza, while certainly present and notable, was not excruciatingly misogynistic to the degree that I felt uncomfortable having Mrs. Yid sit there. The women's section was approximately a third of the size of the sanctuary, faced the ark, and Mrs. Yid was able to see what was going on. So, at least the women weren't being kept behind a one-way mirror or in a fenced in shed in the back or up in a balcony. And we stuck our noses into their weekday chapel while we were waiting for services to start and found out that all the mechitza there consists of is a waist-high curtain dividing the back portion of the room from the front (I guess they're on the honor system?)

- The rabbi had a very nice voice. His very Ashkenazic accent threw me off sometimes, but the dude could sing.

- The rabbi had a nice mini-drash on connecting fasting with ethical behavior. There was a good line on how "If we can control what goes into our mouths, we can also control what comes out of it."

- There's something nice about knowing that the people at shul are there specifically to be in shul. Yes, there was small talk and socializing, but the guys in the men's section (and by the time we were into services, there were probably about 30-35) were clearly there to daven.

Now some downsides:

- The movie didn't start until about 45 minutes after the flyer said it would. In fact for the first 40 minutes it was just us, a random Chabad guy and a 30-something gal who grew up at Beth Elderly. Eventually the rabbi showed up with his laptop and we all crowded around it in the Beth Midrash. Low marks for logistics, folks.

- The "movie" itself was actually 4 not particularly good 20-minute speeches/drashlets. We watched two and were super underwhelmed. Rabbi Weil's was first and was fairly rambling. He spent a fair amount of time drawing parallels between Tisha B'Av in Jerusalem and the Holocaust (he was very hung up on the fact that both involved people being "shipped like cattle"-- a line he repeated about 5 times, and particularly unfortunate after I found out he grew up on a cattle ranch). He also talked a lot about the 23rd kina where Rabbi Yishmael's son and daughter each get enslaved by Romans, who then decide to breed them. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like R. Weil was spending waaay too much pathos on what is essentially a creepy pseudo-incest story. I also like how the "happy ending" of this story is the two of them recognizing each other at daybreak and dying in each other's arms. Um, hooray? My favorite part was when Weil mentioned that this kina wasn't written  down until the 1000s-- because "only that generation, that had suffered the Crusades, could truly understand that first generation's pain." Yeah, or they wrote it down in response and as a commentary on their own experiences. Please tell me I'm not the only one coming to this conclusion. I mean, if we critique the Gospels because they happened a whole 70 years after the supposed fact, I don't think we should be mentioning that this "totally reliable" story from our "great mesorah" was just twiddling its thumbs for a thousand years or so before anyone decided to put it on paper.

Weil's last focus was connecting Tisha B'Av to Holocaust survivors and talking about the lasting effects of trauma, which was fine, but his tone was kind of weird. He kept saying things like, "Even though they survived, they didn't really survive. Truthfully, they died in the Holocaust." Maybe it's just me but I found this extremely distasteful. First of all, the fact that many survivors lived with, and struggled with, their memories and trauma is not the same thing as saying they died along with the rest of their families. Not only is this problematic in terms of being extremely general (on a very touchy topic), it verges on being downright dismissive of the lives that survivors worked so hard to rebuild after the war. If I was a Shoah survivor, even if my life afterwards was hard, I'd be pretty pissed at this guy for essentially writing me off as a living corpse. Not a fan.

- The second clip we watched was from Rabbi Weinberg. His tone was slightly cloying (How can our fellow Jews not realize how lame golus is? Because it totally is, right guys? Who's with me?), but at least much less offensive than Rabbi Weil's. I feel like it might be interesting for a liberal Jew to have a conversation with Rabbi Weinberg just to offer him a different perspective on the notion of perfection and ways to attain it. It's not that we don't see that the world is imperfect, it's that we aren't expecting the Messiah to come and fix it.

We couldn't stand to watch the other two videos, but I may get around to checking them out eventually.

- There were only 5 ladies on the women's side, including Mrs. Yid. She reports that they alternated between davening (younger folks) and gossiping (older ladies). She said that her favorite part was when the rabbi folded the bimah around like a crazy transformer toy/Star Trek console. She used an Artscroll siddur for the first time and described its commentary as "Repeatedly starting off with a reasonable to plausible statement, then jumping immediately to a crazy conclusion, and always in the most authoritative tone you could imagine."

- The breakneck speed of the davening on the men's side was pretty tricky for me to keep up with, though I did my best. I was slightly taken aback by how quickly everyone around me was davening, and, from my end, it seemed like more of a chore to get through rather than a particularly spiritual experience for any of them (except maybe the Chabad guy next to me). I suspect this was probably a combination of being really ready to go home and eat and the fact that when you daven multiple times a day it probably loses some of its buzz.

- Not to be overly picky, but... despite the fact that we were clearly new folks there, only 2 people came up and said hello (the one lady in the Beth Midrash, and the rabbi, and he was rather curt and a tad prickly). Again, to give the benefit of the doubt, this was probably due to it being the end of fasting, but still a little annoying since we had been supposedly invited. I was trying to decide what to call the shul on the blog today and right now I'm leaning towards Congregation Rodef Shaarei, because after 3 hours there I was running for the doors. (I would be open to going back there again for a happier holiday, potentially even as part of more community-wide collaboration, though I do think not letting the women participate would probably be a deal-breaker.)

To sum up: I suppose, as always, we have a bit of the goldilocks syndrome going on here. We don't really get a lot out of super touchy-feely anything goes services a-la Bnei Hippy, but the service at Rodef Shaarei wasn't all that meaningful or stimulating, either. Bnei Hippy was a little too centered around everybody's individual issues rather than looking at Tisha B'Av, but Rodef Shaarei and the OU film seemed overly focused on pat answers like, "You have to want geula," or, "We didn't learn from our mistakes and so God let the Temple be destroyed again." I'm certainly open to the idea of using Tisha B'Av as a mussar opportunity, but a theodicy-based view of history doesn't really work for me.

Like I said in part 1, I see Tisha B'Av as primarily a holiday of commemoration. There's room in there for an emotional and personal component, but I personally don't feel that it should be overshadowed by either my own ego or supposed ethical/ideological failings. Sorry Rabbi Weinberg, but I don't buy the argument that my personal lack of yearning for Moshiach is why we still live in an imperfect society.

Next year if we can't find a decent middle-of-the-road service, I may just get a book of English-translated kinot and we'll study and discuss that.

1 comment:

Antigonos said...

IMO, Tisha b'Av is definitely NOT the time to pay a first visit to an Orthodox shul! Try an average Shabbat, or a holiday like Sukkot or Simchat Torah. I'd recommend the upcoming Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, but they tend to be very intense [especially the latter, and especially by the afternoon as Ne'ilah gets closer] and you might find that rather offputting.

The lack of "outreach" is not uncommon, nor the lack of women, who are often at home with the kids. Many Orthodox women do davven regularly, but since they don't need to have a minyan, don't bother coming to shul. People do warm up after a while, though, if you keep coming back.