Tuesday, September 25, 2007

mulled whine

As befits a High Holiday Season in which Mr. Ben and I missed the lead off holiday, we had a pretty mild Yom Kippur. It's a bit like starting a play with Act 2. Still, you go to synagogue on Yom Kippur; you recite the somber, haunting "who will live and who will die" litany with everyone else; you practice repenting farther, repenting faster. It's just what you do.

Mr. Ben, serious young man that he is, pestered me with questions about why we do these things. I looked at him, kind of baffled. I can explain why the rabbis suggest we do Crazy Religious Custom X, Y, or Z but not why I do anything except "my family always did it while I was growing up."

And apparently I give off an air of seriousness about religion that I don't intend. This is perhaps how I earned the unfair nickname "Superjew" freshman year of college. Friday night at the big fat gay synagogue Kol Nidre service we attended in the Jacob Javits center, Mr. Ben's friend leaned over and said admiringly, "I see you know the Amidah." Well yes, yes I do. We became well acquainted over the 13 years that I had to recite the damn thing every morning. But I never mean to give the impression that just cuz I know the prayers, I know how a person is supposed to feel while reciting them.

For all intents and purposes, I have no spiritual self. I realized that when Tara Leigh begged me to adopt some label, any label, so that she could explain me in her book. Religion is fascinating. I love learning about it, I love talking about it (except when crazy comes to town). It's so important to me that I would never describe myself as secular -- I think that's an insult. Where does this leave me, not to mention poor Tara Leigh whose pencil, so to speak, is still poised as she waits for an answer?

Meanwhile another year starts. The idea that an authority in the sky has decided who will perish by fire and who by wild animal and who by cancer and who by hurricane is, hopefully, a metaphorical one. I really truly am going to try to let go of grudges this year, to stop telling the stories that bring the hurt swirling to the surface. I'm going to try to be more generous, more patient, less judgmental. I'm going to do yoga again. I'm going to finish revising Draft II of my book. I'm going to figure out what it means (to me) to be married. I'm going to practice de-escalating conflict. I am going to buy clothes that fit and only clothes that fit. I am not going to be afraid.


TLC said...

You are brilliant and brave, and I love you.

Benjamin said...

Your reflections and ideas for what to do this year are wonderful. Regarding our experiences on Saturday, I think it's interesting that you said my questions were about "why we do these things." My questions about why people consciously shift their weight while standing in synogogue and why we continue praying about Israel and rebuilding the temple would certainly fall into that description.

We also had an interesting talk about how it's hard for me (and probably a lot of people) to remember all of the bad things you've done all year, and how another type of service might better help people actually work through remembering the past year and forgiving themselves.

Plus, we talked about why you personally feel obligated to go to high holidays, but not shabbat. I think people will better understand why "My family always did it" is your answer if they understand the context of how loyal you are to your family, and how seriously your family takes these particular obligations. But I imagine that they had different reasons for living with those rituals and rhythms than you do. So the lingering question that I have is why you desire to follow in their footsteps.

The superficial answer is that if you were less observant, both you and your parents would be extremely upset, but if you were a bit more observant, neither you nor they would really care. But the reasons for those preferences are difficult to explain beyond what you've already said. What's truly remarkable is that your relatively intense study of Judaism didn't seem to give you (or most of your friends) any especially good reasons to be more observant.

I suppose both you and they share a very strong attachment to and identification with these particular traditions. Questioning them is questioning a very deep part of who you are. I don't know if you can shed better light on it?

jacqui said...
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