Thursday, September 21, 2017

"A Break In The Action"

An old-time comedian named Jackie Vernon had this joke:

“My friend Sig Sakowitz is an atheist.  But he gave it up… ‘cause there were no holidays.”

Today marks the Jewish New Year.  It’s 5778.  For the “Lunar Calendar” people scoring at home.  Seems like just yesterday we were crossing over from B.C. into A.D.  (“Wait.  Now we count up?  Think about it.)  Looking ahead, if I make it to the sextennium, I will be 94 four-and-a-half-years old.  And the Leafs will likely still not have won the Stanley Cup.

I am sitting in the synagogue.  (Or imagining I am, because I am writing this beforehand.)  As usual, I am not sure what I am doing there.  I am not recognizably religious.  I can barely read Hebrew.  And after six or more decades of this I’m getting really tired of standing up and sitting down.  Especially standing up.

So why am I here?

I once asked my mother, “Why do you go to synagogue on the High Holidays?”  Her uncluttered response:

“Because that’s where the Jews are.”

I really “get” that.

Venn Diagram:

Jews are in synagogue on the High Holidays.

Early P. is a Jew.

Early P. is in synagogue on the High Holidays.

But that is hardly a perfect paradigm.  A perfect paradigm would begin:

All Jews are in synagogue on the High Holidays.

And they’re not.  A lot of them are playing golf.

Taking us back to the original question, worded slightly differently:

How come I’m there?

(And how come I felt a detectable “rush” when I received a letter to ”Non-Synagogue Members” – which is what I am – saying it was time to put in our requests for our High Holiday tickets?  Strange, but reportorially accurate.)

The experience is virtually the same every year.  (The previous sentence can be read two ways: the “Not again!” way, and the “Great, again!” way.  Mark me, seventy percent in the direction of the second one.)

I ask for the same seats every year.  At the end of the row, near the back of the sanctuary, both positions offering easy and unobtrusive egress when the spirit hits me – or when the spirit leaves me, I am not exactly sure which – and I get up and head for the door.  (Based on a helpful spousal illumination:  “You do not have to stay to the end.”  Nobody ever told me that before.)

Arriving at the synagogue, a Security Guard pats down congregants’ “Prayer Bags”, searching for telltale signs of exploding talises.  (Prayer shawls.)

I am regularly seated in the same row as an orthodontist Anna once went to but quit because she hated him.  In deference to my daughter, I do not talk to that family.  (Updating Note:  Last year, I discovered that we had made a mistake and the “Hated Man” in my row was actually somebody else.  I still do not talk to them.  In respect to a {family} High Holiday tradition.)

Across the aisle and one row back, an older man – which could mean three years older than I am – looks uncannily like my grandfather.  Except he’s black.  He probably thinks keep “sneak-peeking” him because he’s black.  It’s not.  I should probably explain that to him.  “It’s not that you’re a black guy, sitting in a synagogue on the High Holidays.  The thing is, you look exactly like my ‘Zaidy’ Peter.  And you dress just as stylishly as he did.”  I have never trusted myself to get those words comfortably out of my mouth.  So I stick with “secret glances” and hope, in keeping with the spirit of the holiday, that he forgives me. 

Topping off the experience is that, along the fact that I can barely understand Hebrew, the synagogue’s “no frills” sound system is so audially inadequate, I can barely make out the words I can barely understand.  As well as the rabbi’s sermon, delivered in English, but equally indecipherable.

And still, I am there. 

Finishing today’s post with a bracketing joke, old-time comedian Myron Cohen spoke of a man who, discovering an acquaintance in an incongruous (and likely compromising, though I no longer recall the specifics) position, inquires,

“Sydney, what are you doing here?”

To which Sydney sheepishly replies,

Everyone’s got to be someplace.”

With nothing better to offer, I guess I’ll just settle for that. 

And remain firmly in my seat… till I am ready to go home.

Happy New Year.

To believers, non-believers, and to everyone in between.

Le shana tova…

And I hope you get written in the Book.


JED said...

Shanah Tovah Umetukah to you and your family.

Lee said...

Shanah Tovah Umetukah