Thursday, September 13, 2007


Shana tovah, friends and passersby. I just downed some apples and honey (oh how sweet!) and am settling in for a quiet night before services in the morning (because of that whole 2-day Rosh HaShanah thing we got goin' on).

I have some explaining to do. Or rather, some dredging. Read on, read on.

Last night after work, Ian and I went to this stellar place called Jury's that specializes in delicious burgers (and it was burger special night!). We then got some ice cream and enjoyed the evening before heading to synagogue for 7:30 services. It was a beautiful, pleasant evening and I was feeling excited (especially after Saturday's S'lichot services) for the holidays. I was so eager.

But then we got there and had to unload some things outside (no bags, PERIOD). There was SERIOUS security. We always had security in Lincoln, but it was usually one guy in front, one guy in back. Even in D.C. last year there wasn't as much security as there was outside of the temple last night. The security people who had us unload weren't -- by any means at all -- friendly. They were stiff, and I understand that security on High Holidays is meant to be serious ... but really. It was unwelcoming and sort of disheartening. We went in and it was a seating free-for-all. I was expecting there to be seating delegation, especially considering how pricey tickets were. But there were only a few dozen reserved seats. There were people running around all over the place with walkie-talkies like it was a huge production.

The ark/bima were pushed far back to make room for hundreds more seats. These seats were folding chairs and we chose to sit in the back in the actual sanctuary, which made the ark/bima seem miles away. The space filled up and there were hundreds of faces I'd never seen before, which was sort of irritating/frustrating.

Services began and it was shocking. The organ and professional choir, not to mention the high-tech sound system (complete with a soundboard and several soundmen), made me feel like I was in CHURCH. Yes, Church. It hearkened to the Christmas services I went to when I was in high school and early on in college. It screamed of the Protestant influence that gripped Reform Judaism way back when and still lingers. What made it more unfortunate was the rabbi talking about how my synagogue has come so far from it's original Reform roots and has become more "traditional." What this means in the Reform movement is that there's more Hebrew in the liturgy -- nothing more, nothing less. And that is irritating. It was even more uncomfortable than last year when the services I went to where held in a local church ... with JESUS all over the walls and crosses plastered everywhere (seriously bad idea, I don't care how inter-faith people are and how little Christianity bothers me).

The service was about what I expected in length, but the entire thing felt like an arena church service and it hurt the very depths of my Jewish soul. People looked disinterested -- even more so than normal. People in their D&G and stilettos and pin-stripe suits and seriously important looking demeanor looked pained to be there.

Last night was the most non-intimate synagogue experience I've ever had. Period. It didn't feel like Rosh Hashanah. I tried so hard to focus. I tried so hard to make it personal and my own. I've been reading and researching and thinking the holiday over. I want it to MEAN something. And then this. This?

The entire thing just made me miss Lincoln. I was so spoiled there. I had a small, close community where even on the High Holidays when the entire sanctuary was filled, people were always engaged (or at least they looked like it). It was intimate, it didn't feel huge. Can I not find that kind of engagement anywhere else but a small town with like, a few hundred Jews? Do I need to go the suburbs?

The temple president got up toward the end and talked about the history of the synagogue. How it began with barely a minyan 140 years ago in what is now downtown Chicago. And now? More than 1,000 families. Families that come and are anonymous and are just there and don't care and show up here and there and make the people like me -- the people who want synagogue to be about more than just belonging to something and doling out cash and shipping the kids off to Hebrew school because it's just what you do -- feel completely faceless.

I'll go to services tomorrow morning, because I need to hear the shofar. Because I hope ... HOPE ... that maybe there will be fewer people, that it will feel more intimate, that it will be what I need and what I remember and what I want.

One of the reasons I was turned off so greatly from Christianity was the mass production of it. The arena feel. The gigantic churches with coffee shops and telecasting and gigantic sound systems and the impersonal nature of church. It felt faceless. And then Judaism, the Judaism I so desire, was a group of people with common passions and excitement about community and tikkun olam and learning what it means to live a holy life. Not the mass production aspect. That was never there.

It's just frustrating. It's frustrating because this is how I rang in the New Year. This is how I begin my year -- feeling frustrated and bitter at the way the place I chose as my religious home handles itself. The regular Shabbat services are great. They're small, they're sweet and intimate. Why can't it always be like that? Why does it have to be a production with organs and professional choirs and sound systems that blast?