So we just finished Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. My restructured family of six had a thoroughly enjoyable few days. It felt great to be back in my kitchen, making requested family favorites that I save for special occasions. Even though it was just us, I busted out my best china and silver. The flowers, food, and festive mood were all on point. Despite my wanderlust and large eyes for the world, I'm a true homebody at heart. There was great table talk, lots of Monopoly, focus on family, and synagogue. I have mentioned many times about my deep connection to synagogue and prayer. I was really looking forward to enjoying that dose of spirituality with my daughters (in our orthodox synagogue the men and women sit separately).
Growing up, synagogue on the High Holidays meant three hours of trapped boredom. You were not allowed to leave unless your bladder was bursting, and everyone's breath was terrible. Boredom would lead to gossip and chatter, which clearly was counterproductive to seeking a state of higher being. I, as well as my kids' dad, am much more chill with that. I believe in quality over quantity, so as long as we've showed up, communicated with God, and heard the shofar a few times, we can exit on a high note. We aren't the first nor the last to be there. I'd rather, as a parent, transmit a feeling of enjoyment for Shul , rather than a sense of entrapment. I want my kids to regard it as something they want to do. However as a child, I learned how to sit and exist in a state of boredom, something most kids today simply don't know how to do. Being bored and un entertained is an important skill. Life does not owe us constant stimulation. Sometimes you just have to wait and be quiet, end of story.
Usually, when the Hebrew words in the prayer book don't grab me, or when I just want to learn the content from a different perspective, I read the English. For the first time, a lot of what I read was upsetting to me. First, the hundreds of pages devoted to guilt really struck me as tremendously manipulative and wrong. Fire and brimstone isn't loving or inviting. I love God, and I know God loves me, so please don't threaten me with the details of my impending, excruciating death in order to get me to comply. Who the heck wants to sit there reading that all morning? Having been conditioned to trust this as normal my whole life, I never paid attention. Judaism prides itself on being a religion where questions are encouraged, so I'm asking; why make religion about fear and guilt? I'm not asking to get answers, I'm asking just because there's no reason not to. I know the answer, and I'm certain it's the wrong approach. I want my kids to be good people because they know in their hearts it's the right way to be, not because they fear punishment.
Second, the amount of people in the synagogue on the High Holidays is famously quadrupled. This is not a comment on regular attendance; that's not of interest to me, nor is it my business. It's what it represents; we are taught that if you sneak in to this building before Yom Kippur is over, you juuuussstttt may make it into the Book Of Life. It's a loophole that is, once again, highly manipulative. It's like the teacher himself telling the students to not bother with studying all semester; just use the cliffs notes before the final and you'll pass. It all goes back to escaping illness and death. It's like a video game of how to outrun the Grim Reaper.
The content of the prayer book that really bothered me this year was all the mention of how Jews are the Chosen People, another notion I never questioned. I'm in the club, I felt special and superior to the rest of the world. Feeling that way is something to savor, not question. If you're fortunate to be born amongst the selected, shut up and go with it. As my eyes are opening up, taking my heart with it (perhaps it's the reverse), I'm increasingly uncomfortable with that idea. If God created every single person on earth, do we really believe He bothered with making MOST OF THE WORLD substandard?? That a tiny minority is truly better than everyone else? It's so elitist, snobby, and obnoxious. In yoga the knowledge that each one of us has the same beautiful, magical spirit feels so right. It's what connects us all. It's what makes each one of us a root in the tree of life. Learning this has given me such an increased gratitude for life. A dear friend of mine, who isn't Jewish, recently said, "you all live so sectioned off, and then wonder why most people don't like you". This person has many close Jewish friends. He said it from a place of love, not antagonism. It struck me in its correctness.
I was discussing the idea with my yoga teacher recently, how Jews are prohibited from getting tattooed. It will keep you out of a Jewish cemetery. I'd always felt I'd be the perfect candidate for a tattoo, since I love words and using the body for expression. However, I probably would have chosen something stupid that I'd regret later, so I'm not entirely sorry to have the threat of being separated from my children in eternity looming over me. Plus, no 75 year old woman looks hot with a tattoo. Men, of course🙄, seem to get away with it better. Quel surprise. I recall learning the reasoning behind this prohibition in high school. That since Jewish people are One, we can't do things that mark us as different from one another. I always liked this concept of unification. However, my teacher responded to that with, of course our bodies are all so clearly different; it's our souls and our spirits that are One. The exterior doesn't matter. The bodies are so temporary. What's INSIDE is what matters. This was so clear to me. I felt bathed with revelation, which is always a yummy feeling.
A friend of mine recently got a dog, after many years of thinking he'd never want one. He loves this pup. His wife, in telling me her husband's change of heart, said something so great. She recounted how in learning he loves his pet, he said,"it feels good to be wrong." I loved that, and I can relate so much. It indeed feels wonderful to be wrong because when we clear our heart of wrong, of untruths, we then make room for right and truth. Being open hearted and filling that space with other views, different thoughts, new experiences and understandings, is what makes us appreciative to be human. Which is why I no longer believe in the elitist Jewish club. Everyone is special, not just us. How can we teach genuine kindness to our kids and instill superiority simultaneously? It's contradictory. It isn't nice. And it's not respectful of God, to assume most of His creations will be left in the dust one day. See ya later, REST OF THE WORLD, the messiah only has room for US. I'm not comfortable with that anymore. It feels good to be wrong. I also always used to love the reverence of the service in which a small section of the congregation, descendants of the high priests, bless the rest of the community. This holy act is so serious, one must not glance upon the priests during the blessing. It occurred to me that this was even more exclusive still. That even amongst ourselves, we are dividing and deciding who is higher up on the totem pole. This was always my favorite part of the prayers. This year it turned me off. This is what I thought about during services this year; not begging and pleading that I don't get hit by a bus this year, or that lightening won't strike me if I "do something bad". Rather, I kept my palms turned upward, receiving newness. Not of a new year, but of a new day.
Every day signifies a new year, not just these two or three of the holiday. I contemplated the turns my life has taken, and how I'm ready for more. I thought about how proud I am of my family and it's unconventionality. Because after all, we are indeed the same inside. I gave myself over not to fear written in a book, but to my trust in God and His universe of support. The grounding in the ground, the limitless sky. The changing of the seasons that will soon occur. The flow of life. No punishment, just belief. It's a gentler approach. We need more softness in life. I love being Jewish, but I like being human even better. All of us were chosen to have our spirits catapult through space and timeand land on this planet for however many years. If you have ever lived, you have been chosen. Best wishes for a happy and healthy life, The B 🐝