Today is the beginning of the Jewish New Year, the day on which, for the last few years at least, I find myself sitting in the synagogue trying to figure out what I’m doing sitting in a synagogue.
This commitment gets more difficult every year, as I arrive at my selected House of Worship unaccompanied by family or faith. I always buy two tickets, but the second seat usually ends up holding my jacket, as the sanctuary is not air-conditioned, and it’s hot.
An agnostic in synagogue. Why?
Years ago, there was a comedian named Jackie Vernon who said, “I had a friend who was an atheist. But he gave it up, ‘cuz there were no holidays.”
You have to have holidays; otherwise, every day is Tuesday. So that’s part of the answer of what I’m doing there – an itch for variety.
When I’d ask my mother why she went to synagogue on the High Holidays she’d say, “That’s where the Jews are.” Venn Diagram: Jews attend synagogue on the High Holidays. I am a Jew. I attend synagogue on the High Holidays.
So there’s that: Destiny by Logic.
(Though it’s an imperfect kind of logic, in that not all Jews attend synagogue on the High Holidays.)
I also like the songs in the High Holidays service, the same songs I remember from synagogue when I was a kid. Other than ballparks during the “Seventh Inning Stretch” and Sound of Music Sing-Along Night at the Hollywood Bowl, synagogue is virtually the only place you can sing in public without a family member telling you to stop.
Put these elements together and there I am, dozing in my seat, when I’m not battling the monotony, checking out my current Hebrew reading status. I was always terrible at reading Hebrew. Once, in Hebrew School, our principal, Doctor Yakober, took me into his office, and inflicted an unscheduled Hebrew reading test on my quivering young personage.
It could not have gone worse. Fortunately, as I was leaving, I saw him write the name “Zvi” next to my failing grade.
Zvi is my brother’s name.
It is for just such infractions – my not immediately – or ever – clearing up the mix-up – that the “Days of Awe” – the ten days between New Years and Yom Kippur – were created. We ask for forgiveness, so that, purged of our sins, our names will be duly inscribed in the Book of Life rather than…I don’t think there’s a Book of Death. I believe your uninscribed name just floats around somewhere until it pops.
I guess I’ll just keep going to synagogue, till I figure out why. Or else throw my hands in the air, and call it a day. Anyway, if you need me for any reason today, I’ll be doing my time at Temple Mishkon Tephilo, Row 24 on the Left, Seat 1 and 2 (for my jacket.)
Happy New Year, for those who participate.
And for the rest of you,
Have a nice day.