(I wrote this yesterday.)
I’m sitting in this synagogue. I’m not a member; I just come for the High Holidays – New Years and Yom Kippur. I’m not exactly sure why I do this. I mean, I know the reason I do it. But I’m far from convinced that my reason’s that strong.
Clinging to the rituals of a religion whose fundamental principle, the existence of a Supreme Being, I feel “iffy” about – I could be hugging a bubble. Comforting in its configuration, but empty on the inside.
I remember we were sitting in the synagogue one New Year’s when I was twelve, and I turned to my brother and said, pretty much spontaneously, “Religion in like spinach. You may know it’s good for you, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.”
(In later, years, I came to like spinach, so I needed a replacement “hated food” for my analogy. I thought of cooked carrots. But a lot of people like cooked carrots. Succotash? That’s corn. I like corn. I guess there’s anchovies. But are anchovies good for you? – I have no idea. Anyway, if you can suggest a “good for you” food that nobody likes, I can swing my analogy back into action. Otherwise, it’ll have to remain retired.)
The “spinach” story provides a clue here to my continuing participation in the High Holiday routine. Merely going through the motions sets free a wave of memories, memories of a considerably younger me, sitting – make that squirming impatiently – in my seat, beside my mother, my brother and my grandfather, the only one of us who’s actually praying – either that, or he was fooling us with some kickass Hebraic mumbling. Nah. He was doin’ it.
I remember an overflow turnout in a cavernous sanctuary. A lot of marble, or what passes for marble to the untutored eye. I remember a rabbi, whose sermons were interminable but whose dramatic flair could capture your attention, if not your heart. An opera-caliber choir, offering heavenly harmonies from some hidden locale – you heard them, but you had no idea where they were – made the services entertaining, but also longer.
I remember a synagogue usher, standing at the end of our row as we chattered away, fixing us miscreants with “The Look.” And though I’d dearly like not to, I retain the memory of this oversized woman sitting in front of us, wearing a fox stole that included two actual fox heads, whose sewn-on, beady eyes seemed to be staring, through the duration of the service, directly at me.
Many of the melodies that are chanted at the synagogue that I go t0 are the same melodies that were chanted in our synagogue when I was a kid. Singing full-throatedly along with the congregation fills me with nostalgia and deeply warms my heart. This is the closest I can come to for the reason I continue to attend these services.
But when you throw out the blah-blah and rationales, what it comes down to is this:
Why do I spend New Year’s in synagogue?
It’s where the Jews are.
Why does that matter?
It’s my team.
I wish a healthy and revitalizing New Year to those who participate in such activities. To those who don’t, a Happy Tuesday to ya.