Thursday, July 18, 2013

Goldilocks syndrome, p.1

For Tisha B'Av eve, Mrs. Yid and I went to the community-wide service at Temple Burning Bush/B'nei Hippy. (There was a dairy-veg potluck beforehand, but given my food allergies, it seemed best to pre-game on our own, so we had take-out sushi at home.)

It's so rare these days that we attend services elsewhere, so I brought back my old format:


- Togetherness. We had 13 different Jewish communities represented at the service. That was pretty cool. Not only that, but we got a letter from two of the Orthodox shuls in town saying that they would have liked to attend but due to davening parameters (mixed seating, kol isha, instruments) they couldn't come-- but that they invited all of us to visit them the following day. Not sure how this was received among the rest of the crowd, but I for one appreciated the spirit of community. Even if you disagree with them, you have to respect people's boundaries and take them where they are.

- Atmosphere. Once again, sitting on the floor with candles and reading Eicha was a very interesting experience.

- Some good drashot. The shul rabbi talked about some of his experiences in Israel, particularly Jerusalem, both before and after 1967, and also brought up the contradiction that we are mourning a city that is no longer destroyed. There was some politics (he likes politics) about Women of the Wall, which I found a little inappropriate, but I was impressed by his conclusion, where he said that, to recall the rabbinic teaching that just as the Temple was destroyed due to sinat hinam, and it would only be rebuilt through ahavat hinam, we as liberal Jews had a responsibility to NOT HATE the Orthodox, to forgive them for whatever acts we've been blaming them for, and a responsibility to try to understand "the other side." "Tolerance and understanding are important, and tolerance doesn't start with the other side reaching out to you, it starts with you working on yourself."

- Some contemplation. Sitting there, listening to Eicha and trying to conceptualize the initial, as well as subsequent, tragedies we were commemorating, I realized that, in my view, observing the holiday didn't really didn't relate to whether Jerusalem had been rebuilt or not. We were remembering what had been lost, the people, the accomplishments, the culture, and so on. While for some people actually observing (or caring about) Tisha B'Av might be a challenge, I don't particularly buy the argument I've been seeing that the dilemma is primarily because Israel has now been "rebuilt." (The rabbi, for instance, mentioned that a friend of his, from a religious Zionist family, could not square mourning for the destruction when the land was being rebuilt, and so he regularly spent Tisha B'Av picnicking with his family in a park.)

This may be trickier in Israel (it might be hard to mourn Jerusalem when you can see it out your window), but for me, this doesn't really seem like a problem. (And no, it's not because we don't have a third temple.) For me, this is about commemoration. A few days ago, I was trying to conceptualize how to explain Tisha b'Av in case my students asked me what it was about, and I came up with this:

Tisha b'Av is like the Jewish 9/11. I'm not super-big on 9/11 commemoration specifically,, but as a concept, I think it's one that non-Jewish Americans can easily understand. It's about remembering what happened, memorializing the people, and trying to generate some lessons from it (in whatever direction that may be). And, as with 9/11, the commemoration doesn't stop once the physical buildings are rebuilt.

For me, Tisha b'Av is a chance to remember that bad things have happened to our people, and to be contemplative about it. As one Reform rabbi I read today wrote, "Yom Kippur is about me. Tisha b'Av is about us."

Now, not to get too far into sinat hinam territory, here were some things that didn't quite work for me:

- Too many shuls. Not that too many were in attendance (we probably had no more than 100 people). Just the fact that there are that many liberal Jewish organizations in the area is a little silly to me-- particularly when the community seems to be shrinking. I won't go so far as to say it suggests sinat hinam per se, but I do wonder how much of this state of affairs is a result of need versus people's inability to get along.

- Instruments. I'm not a huge fan of instrumental accompaniment in shul generally, but it seems particularly odd on a holiday where instruments are specifically forbidden. At least there weren't any bongos.

- English Eicha. I'm not saying you can't chant Eicha in English, just that if you're going to try it (especially with the Hebrew melody) you actually need to do some planning and figure out how to make it scan. On the bright side, the rabbi only tried this with one chapter.

- Trotting out the "93 Bais Yaakov girls" story as an exemplar of Holocaust martyrdom. Look guys, this story has been debunked, like, a lot. Here's an idea, folks. We've already modified the liturgy to deal with parts of theology we disagree with. How about we either phase out or at least qualify these Holocaust narratives that we know to be fictional? This is my same complaint with shuls that include "Yossel Rakover talks to God."

- Too much weird davening. To be fair, the rabbi did give people a chance to daven maariv in the sanctuary with siddurim. But I think only three people opted for that. Everyone else was treated to a guided meditation version of the amidah. Even that I could have potentially been ok with, but things like, "the shemoneh esreh has 18 blessings in it, and 18, as we all know, is the Hebrew word for life. Think about what you want most out of life." (And this was from the Conservative rabbi!) I suppose they were trying to make everyone comfortable, but it didn't do much for me.

- Too much sharing. Related to this, I recognize that this was probably about building community and all, but I really don't care what the people around me want out of life, or whatever else was flitting around in their heads during the not-quite davening session. Maybe I was just a little grumbly at this point, but it's the truth. There's a reason why your davening is supposed to be between you and God.

I have some further thoughts about how segments of liberal Judaism seem to be focusing more and more on emotional rather than intellectual needs and where I think it comes from and might be going, but I'll leave that for a later time.

Next: Tisha B'Av day at our first Orthodox shul!

1 comment:

Antigonos said...

The Shemonah Esrei has 19 blessings, actually, although one is rather backhanded...

Tisha b"Av, for me, is not really about mourning Jerusalem as it is a remembrance of the continuity of Jewish history in spite of repeated tragedy.