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Jew on the Waves of Fate

Archive for the tag “Rosh Hashanah”

And so we enter the year 5773

Rosh HaShanah 5770/2009

And so we enter the year 5773.  What is amusing about that is most people might believe that is the opening line to a science fiction story but to Jews around the world it is no fiction.  We are entering a new year and it is very different from the December 31/January 1 new year.  We definitely celebrate and hope for a joyous and sweet (honey sweet) new year but instead of partying all night we spend our days praying.  It is an important if not slightly foreboding time.  As a very good, non-Jewish friend of mine pointed out, the concept of being inscribed in the book of life on Rosh HaShanah and having your fate for the year sealed a week later on Yom Kippur is kind of scary.   But of course there is a lot more depth to that concept than the Judaism 101 website can impart.

As we approached Rosh HaShanah I thought about all the things I wanted to do differently in the coming year, this is pretty traditional no matter what calendar you’re following, people like to call them new year’s resolutions.  I want to study those languages I’ve let fade, I want to work out more (well…working out at all might be a good start), I want to keep my room clean and organized, manage my time better, eat healthier, be more careful with my money, go to synagogue more often and remember to say a bracha (blessing) before I eat.  Aside from the last two those should not be that far off from a lot of people’s resolutions.

But a key difference between the Jewish new year and the secular new year is that Rosh HaShanah is an intensely spiritual time especially when packaged together with Yom Kippur – a period known as the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe or as my father points out the AWE-full days.  So my desire to go to synagogue more often, to say a bracha before I eat, to recite the Shema daily, those goals carry a greater weight for me during this time.  No Rabbi or fellow member of the tribe has openly criticized my lack of practice or questioned my faith recently (I mean I do wear my yarmulke every day, so everything must be fine right).  But I criticize myself.

I remain very aware of these missed opportunities to be more aware, to express my spirituality, to honor my beliefs and the traditions of a fascinating people, of which I am proud to be a member.  What does my perceived lack of observance say about my professed devotion to my spiritual flavor, the faith-based structure that I was born into and have continually chosen to be the foundation of my spiritual path?  It would be one thing if I was simply not interested in the practice, if the guilt was just some hold over from having gone to synagogue every Friday night and most Saturday mornings as a child but I know it is more than that.

And so as we enter 5773 I brace myself for the wave of spiritual inspiration that comes at this time every year.  It can easily overwhelm and leave me sitting in front of my computer on Shabbos (note I shouldn’t be on my computer on Shabbos), weighed down by the expectations I have placed on myself.  But just as it can overwhelm it can also motivate.  I know the value of embracing that inspiration, I have seen its positive attributes and there is no time in the Jewish calendar when the wave is at its strongest than during the Yamim Nora’im, the days named for the awe they inspire.

Altschul Chapel, Beth Elohim Synagogue, Brooklyn, NY

I encourage anyone who happens to read this to accept this challenge with me.  My parents always taught me, when I became overwhelmed, to just take things one at a time.  Think of all the goals you have – everything from working out to going to your place of worship more often.  Now take one and decide the one thing you will do to begin approaching it.  I do not need to plan to go to synagogue EVERY Friday night, but how about NEXT Friday night.  Will I say Shema every morning?  I don’t know, but I plan to say it tomorrow morning…and I think I want to say it tonight as well.  Will I work out before work every day?  I don’t know, but I will go for a run with my roommate this week.

I am very susceptible to procrastination and becoming so overwhelmed by my desires and goals that I don’t follow through on any of them has become a standard occurrence.  I accept that this is a personal challenge and with that knowledge I would like to channel the inspiration of this time of year toward growth.

Shanah Tovah.

‘Glee’ful Christmas Jews

Copyright by FOX

Thank you Glee for continuing the tradition of using Jewish characters for all the fun stereotypes (Jewish American Princesses, greedy, etc.) and making the classic jokes regarding whether something is kosher (usually not discussing food) or how Jewish children are so depressed watching their Christian neighbors enjoy such a marvelous holiday like Christmas.   I also appreciate the Hanukkah references you manage to squeeze in or rather the one Hanukkah reference, the last minute “Happy Hanukkah” at the end of the most recent Christmas episode.

Now I am not saying that we should avoid Christmas specials or that they should be “Holiday specials” where equal time is given to each and every tradition (get off my back FOX news, I deal with enough of your crap).   I understand that Christians make up the majority of this country and the world.  This is not my issue.  But I ask that if you and any other show wish to play off of our stereotypes, which at times I may even find amusing, could you at least honor our traditions to some extent as well?  Not all Jewish children pine and whine over not being able to experience the holiday season the way our Christian friends and neighbors experience and celebrate it.

The other issue I would like to address is the musical nature of Glee.  While I enjoy many Christmas songs, and it should be acknowledged that secular Jews or Jews who viewed Christmas more as an American holiday wrote many of those songs, there are Hanukkah songs.  I know I know, everyone is now thinking about “I had a little dreidel” and how campy that is or Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song and its various versions and marijuana references.  But there are others, with lovely tunes, which could be adapted in various ways and have been.  There are the traditional ones such as Maoz Tzur, Mi Yimalel (and this cool version), and Sevivon among others (most of these have English versions too).  And then there are the more modern one like “Light One Candle” (Peter, Paul and Mary), Eight Candles (Dave Koz), and Ocho Kandelikas (and this hip hop version).

Hanukah, Oh Hanukah Music

Try talking to Idan Raichel, Sam Glaser, Matisyahu, the Maccabeats, and Ein Prat Fountainheads.  They might have some good ideas.  How great would it be to explore another culture in a new and creative way, showing the world that we are more than our stereotypes, more than one song every non-Jew knows (and tends to associate with every Jewish holiday or custom).  Imagine the doors this could open for further exploration of other cultures.  Okay, calm down Anne Coulter, I see your ears steaming and your feet pounding the earth (as if you hope I will fall into your hell if you can just cause an earthquake).

Glee you do not have to go as crazy as my imagination.  No TV show does.  It would just be nice if for once the Jews of America did not have to contend with Ross Gellar’s Hanukkah armadillo, Grace Adler’s ham and cheese on Yom Kippur, or Dr. Cristina Yang (Jewish atheist adopted daughter of surgeon Saul Rubenstein).  But for Glee to have two Jewish characters who have no issue spending an entire episode having everyone wish them Merry Christmas, singing exclusively Christmas songs with the occasional non-denominational secular winter tune thrown in there, and then sit and be moved by the story of Christmas as it is read from the Christian bible…it feels as if the traditions of the people these two characters are supposed to be representing (my people) are considered less…less important, less meaningful, less honorable.

Now Hanukkah is certainly one of the minor holidays in Judaism but I do not foresee any major pop culture recognition of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Passover…aside from, again, the occasional joke made at their expense.  Our society enjoys making light of many traditions and I do not take issue with that.  I am also still a fan of Glee (for the most part, the teenage soap opera-like drama is a bit much at times but…it sells).  I also understand and acknowledge that there are many other groups and cultures our pop culture chooses to ignore or pay lip service too.  However this was my Glee inspired rant regarding my people and my culture.  Maybe next year Rachel Berry and Noah Puckerman could light a Hanukkiah (a Hanukkah Menorah), discuss Hanukkah as a story of the underdog overcoming oppression (a common theme for Glee), or at least spin a dreidel while singing the most recognized ‘Jewish’ song in the non-Jewish world.  I suppose in the mean time I will simply have to accept that after getting over her materialism this Jewish character, apparently oblivious or simply not interested in her heritage, says to her boyfriend “I love you and that is all that matters to me on Christmas.”

Yellow Card! Green Card! Blue Card! White Card!

No, I am not talking about penalties in soccer especially since I had look up “yellow card” to be sure that there was such a thing as penalty cards in soccer.  I am talking about Yom Kippur.  One of the three Jewish holidays most non-Jews are aware of.  This is the day that most know as the “Day of Atonement” and my family prefers to refer to as the “Day of AtONEment.”  Creative right.

Transitions are very important to my people.  We spend the day on Fridays preparing for Shabbat, the Sabbath when we make a separation between all the stresses and weight of the week and a time to focus on yourself.  It is the original weekend.

Rosh Hashanah is the holiday that begins a very important transition for Jews.  We blow the shofar (ram’s horn) on Rosh Hashanah also known as Yom Teruah (Day of the Call or Blast or Clarion depending on the translation).  It begins the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe or AWEfull Days) when we try to repent for our mistakes, our missteps over the past year.  The Yamim Nora’im consist of 10 days that end with Yom Kippur.  After Yom Kippur we are supposed to be done focusing on our transgressions from the previous year.

I believe there is a beauty in this.  How many of us are guilty of dwelling obsessively over our various slip-ups?  It is not healthy to fixate on the negative however it must be dealt with at some point.  Therefore Judaism gives the opportunity to deal with our issues and then the chance to let go and move on.  I think this makes a lot of sense.

What do multicolored cards have to do with this?  Growing up in my father’s congregation in Florida we had a particular tradition.  Yellow, green, blue and white index cards were handed out to everyone.  We would then write one or more of our wrongdoings on these cards and each one represented the target of that wrongdoing.

Green = nature
Blue = yourself
Yellow = others
White = God

Here is my attempt at a poem to remember them:

Green is for what the earth has seen,
Blue is for you and Yellow your fellow,
And most difficult to cite
On white the sins against God we write.

Okay, I tried.

These cards would be collected on Rosh Hashanah and some would be read on Yom Kippur.   It was a cathartic way of physically letting go and moving on.  This is important.

With all that said let me apologize to those I have wronged over the past year.  We do what we can to be the best we can be but mistakes happen and people, our planet, our faith, and our ‘self’ can get hurt.  Sometime we are unaware of pain we may cause.  Again I apologize and hope that in the coming year I can grow and learn do my best to help bring about Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).

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