Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Rosh Hashanah video.

Please ignore the unfortunate missing "for" between "time challah" in the slide ... it's late, and I'm too lazy to go back through and resave the movie and reupload it to YouTube. Enjoy the klezmer!

As the sequoias.

The first time I went to a Conservative synagogue, I was told by a friend that when the mourner's kaddish is recited, to stay seated unless I actually am in mourning for a lost loved one. I sat there as a few of the 20 or so people there stood up on old, worn ankles, tired hips mustering the strength to stand tall in the sanctuary while reciting the prayer that does not once mention death. I mouthed the words to myself, because it was what I knew -- when reciting kaddish, the congregation stood together with those mourning, each holding each other up. This is an across-the-board kind of thing, though it varies from shul to shul. I can confidently say that most Conservative/Orthodox shuls are the kind of places where only the mourners will stand.

But last night at Erev Rosh Hashanah services, the rabbi gave probably the most poignant explanation for why all congregants should stand during the kaddish. He told the congregation about an article he had read about the seqouias -- the tall trees that grow thin and high. The roots of these trees are pretty much at surface level, that is, they do not grow very far below the immediate surface. So how do these trees stand so very tall when threatened to be blown over by the smallest breeze? The roots are intertwined across entire forest areas. The roots lace together, creating a strong, solid structure, a base of root upon root that allows each tree to hold his neighbor up, and in turn, to hold up the entire collection of sequoias. Without one, they all would falter.

How appropriate is this? How beautiful an analogy for why a congregation should stand, arms intertwined and souls laced together tightly in a sanctuary space with those mourning and those not mourning, simply to support one another in a time of extreme sadness? Like the sequoias, Jews, too, should interlace themselves, standing tall and help one another brave the wind that blows soft, then hard, across our cheeks.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The strangeness of surroundings.

Services were swell tonight. Quiet and light (except the sermon, of course, which was heavy on the Israel conflict -- "Israel is only popular in death and defeat"). The strangest thing? The services (because there are a bajillion people who attend) were at a Methodist church. The weirdest thing was sitting through the superJewish services with a copy of the "Holy Bible" with a giant cross on it sitting right in front of me in the pew. Then there were the plaques on the walls around the sanctuary proclaiming the glory of certain people who served Jesus Christ as good Christians. Oh, and the kicker? The Ulysses S. Grant plaque. I wanted to place a big blanket over it like the crosses that were covered up around the sanctuary.

I know I shouldn't be picky. Services are services no matter where they're held. There were kippot and oodles of Jewish bubbes, but ... I miss my shul in Lincoln. I miss the comfort of knowing everyone. This temple is too huge to know anyone. I walked around the oneg grabbing honey cake and apples and stood alone near the exit, hoping someone would say "hello! who are you!?" but everyone seemed to know everyone else. So I stood, and I left.

I guess I just need a shul buddy.

Shabbat Shalom v'Shana Tova!

Friday, September 22, 2006

The new year cometh.

Tomorrow at sundown begins Rosh HaShanah, one of four Jewish new years, also THE Jewish New Year by practical terms. The year and reading of the Torah ends and begins. We feat this weekend and then, on Oct 1-2, we consider the trespasses of the past year; how we turned our backs in the field to a G-d so presently standing before us with openness.

I want to share a bit from my "A little joy a little oy" desk calendar. Every now and again it has something fruitful and funny. I always put my calendar a day ahead so I don't get behind or confused when editing for tomorrow's paper. In reality, I work a day ahead. But I was poking far ahead to see what the calendar had to offer, because I won't be here this weekend because of the holiday. For Sept. 23, the calendar quotes Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels in his 2000 Rosh HaShanah sermon.
"... it's time to put your hand in the hand of someone you love ... and recognize that we only have a very short opportunity to be the humans upon the sand and not the pebbles. ... It's time to recognize that the real value of our lives is ... experiencing the ... seemingly insignificant things. It's time to recognize that things don't need to be the slickest ... to be great ... and appreciated. It's time to repent but not wallow in repentance. ... It's time to take a stand for ... what we believe. ... It's time to realize that we are as small and as very large as the pebble upon the sand, no matter how we count the years. Amen."
I think it's incredibly well written and speaks to the essence of the High Holy Days. I look back on the month of Elul at this point and think about a rebirth and renewal I wasn't expecting. I've met someone who makes me feel alive and happy -- someone who speaks to my heart without wanting to change me (Ani L'Dodi V'Dodi Li). As the new year approaches, I'm thinking about how life has handed me something precious, something to be truly thankful for as the new year approaches. Yom Kippur will give me a chance to consider the past year and some of the horrible, insane things that went on and that made me turn my eyes downward and away, into the dirt at my feet instead of the figure in the field. It's funny how long and changing a year is and yet how we can catalogue its events like a shopping list. I intend to mark things off of the list and leave it in the dirt near my feet as I walk away from 5766 and into 5767.

In this week's parshah, Moses sings to Am Yisrael, saying "Remember the days of old / Consider the years of many generations / Ask your father, and he will recount it to you / Your elders, and they will tell you" how G-d "found them in a desert land." Moses tells them how G-d made them a people, chose them as His own and gave them a bountiful land. So I remember and give thanks for my people, past and present, not to mention the future of the Jewish nation.

Also something to consider: Ramadan begins on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. Two religions and nations in strife must share a day that happens to be holy in both spheres. I only hope that, with this in mind, perhaps the Middle East will sit still for a day, relishing in the gifts they've been given -- the Jews for their Torah and Israel and the breath of life and the Muslims for the giving of the Koran to Muhammad. Neither religion or nation is blemish free. I'm not going to argue politics or history, for both peoples have committed crimes and acts that G-d would sooner mark us off than have to watch. But let us hope, and pray, that on Sept. 24 both groups -- and all of those who live near -- can calm their minds and hands to reach not for triggers but apples and honey.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Ani L'Dodi V'Dodi Li

Oh I wish all of you who read my blog and whose blogs I read would hop over and get a BLOGGER BETA. It's quick, it's painless, and I can't comment on any of your blogs becuase I switched. Do you know how much this sucks? Hugetime, that's how much.

So, consider it, will you?

Also: Got the new laptop today. It's gorgeous. I'm not sure what I'll name it yet. I find that naming the inanimate objects in my life somehow makes them more agreeable. It's a Dell, and it's lovely. It also means there's a good chance I'll post more often, as when the thoughts hit me, I should have my computer there with me.

That is all.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

On this day in History

So we sat down to remember, today, the tragedy that befell the world's greatest civilized, industrial nation five years ago. The tears, the fear, the injustice of the destruction of human life -- free, intelligent, American human life. The life of dreams and picket fences. The life of corporate suites, elevators, bathrooms with automatic sensors. THE dream. The one, and the only. Everybody wants it, and we have it. And "never again," we say, will such destruction befall we, the people of the United States of America, who love peace, justice and liberty for all. Who demand it, who breathe it. Never. Again.

I have mixed feelings about 9/11. I feel guilty about it and wonder why I can't seem to smile and nod at the truckload of unanswered and unaswerable questions that haunt the skeptics. "You know, saying it was a conspiracy is like those people who said the Holocaust never happened," someone said to me today. But it isn't the same thing. Not at all. Not in the slightest. I never DENY that those thousands died on 9/11/01. Rather, I deny the why and how they died that is given, fed, pumped into each of us. And I'll leave it at that.

On this day in history, which we all know will be a turning point in history books and civics lessons worldwide, there were other important things. Of course, these things I'll mention have a mighty Jewish flavor, but I don't want to forget thoese things. So here they are:

1) Sept. 11, 1941: Charles Lindbergh makes an infamous speech called "Who are the War Agitators?" in Des Moines, Iowa, where he states that the Jewish "prowar" machine is responsible for promoting entrance into the war. He refers to the "Jewish race" and how unfortunate it is for the troubles they face, but that it is no reason to enter the war.

Said Lindbergh: "If any one of these groups -- the British, the Jewish, or the administration -- stops agitating for war, I believe there will be little danger of our involvement."

He went on to say that the Jews, in running most major industries of communication, had the capabilities to promote their ideas and that this was a great threat to "our interests" -- meaning nonJewish interests.

Said Lindbergh: "Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government."

He clearly painted a picture of "us versus them." Don't worry, we put his happy face on a stamp.

2) Sept. 11, 1921: Nahalal, the first moshav in Israel, is settled. A moshav is a collective of farms, in a community, very similar to kibbutzim. Interestingly, starting in the 1970s and 80s, most moshav relied largely on outside Arab labor, as many of the folks living on the moshavs took jobs outside the community. I'd like to think there's been a return to the community-mindedness, but who knows. It's weird to think a settlement similar to kibbutzim became known largely as exurban or suburban.

3) Sept. 11, 1962: You know that boy band from Britainland that took the world by surprise? Yes, the Beatles recorded their first debut single, "Love me Do." What happened to that happy, Britpop that the world loved so much? The BSB and N'Sync don't really compare. And as much as I hate to say it, neither did the New Kids on the Block (bites her tongue).

4) Sept. 11, 1978: Peace talks. Yes, peace talks. It was Carter, Begin and Sadat and they sat down at Camp David to talk PEACE between Israel and Egypt, as well as the greater Middle East. I'm glad Egypt and Israel got their skeletons packed away, but what about everything else?

5) Sept. 11, 3 BCE: This one sort of shocked me. After my known interesting Sept. 11 facts ran out, I turned to wikipedia, which says that this date is the second day of Rosh HaShana in the Julian calendar. My response: Que?

6) Sept. 11, 2005: Almost forgot this one, can't believe I did. This time last year, Israel shocked the world and those living in Gaza settlements by announcing the removal of settlers from Gaza after 38 years. I don't know that it had amazingly immediate results, but I will say that in the long run, it was a good step, the best of steps. You have to start somewhere, and with the amount of compromise Israel has tossed in the peace-building pot, this doesn't surprise me in the least. Now if we can just get a Palestinian leader who cares more about his people than ridding the world of the Jews and Israel.

And there we are. There's your history lesson. Don't forget that also in 1941, ground was broken on the Pentagon or that in 1978 the final victim of smallpox kicked the bucket or that John Ritter died on Sept. 11 and so did Johnny Unitis. Or that several thousand people died for reasons that we may never know or understand.

Give it 20 minutes, it'll be a new day and anniversaries will seem trite and insincere. I promise.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

A large portion of the Torah discusses the suffering Jews will face if they do not properly serve G-d when they enter the land of Israel. And after all of the talk of destruction and illness, there comes the statement in this week's portion, Ki Tavo, that explains WHY these things will befall the people, "Because you did not serve G-d with joy and a happy heart , when you had everything" (Deuteronomy 28:47).

Maimonides wrote that we must serve G-d with joy. And of course, this makes me think about living with a joyous and happy heart. It makes me think that whatever befalls me, if I live with a happy heart, then nothing can seem unable to move beyond. It's my, well, philosophy in the past few years, and it's why I seem to be able to do things with a happy heart, even when everything seems horribly grim.

I just wish I could impress it upon others.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

When there's too much to handle, look to the sky.

I'm sort of struggling with a lot right now. I'm attempting to maintain calm as I trudge through a seemingly neverending field of thorns. Everytime I come upon a beautiful swath of green grass, I seem to step on the one rock present. One after the other, after the other. But the sky is still blue and the sun bright. I'm trying to keep my head up, and above, what lies below. What else is there to do but hope for things to be okay, coasting at a pace of comfort and ease? If there's one thing I've gained from my experience within and path to Judaism, it's that this is what matters.

I managed to have a day where I lost my place to live, fell in a puddle in the Safeway, got locked out of my apartment and had back and neck pain that surpassed any pains I've had in a long time. This also came after 24 hours of being the happiest and most taken care of I've been in a long, long time. Good with the bad? The past three or four days have been lengthy and painful. I've decided to take my car home to my parents, so they can have the car and I can rely on public transport. Last night, as I told my dad I'd gotten the days off for my trek home, the check engine light came on. The car jerked and the speedometer wigged out. I took it to the Auto Zone today and found out my transmission module is acting up again. The same thing happened last month. I. Just. Can't. Win.

But I'm smiling anyway.

My trip West will be taken with a fellow o' mine. The company will make the adventure less horribly unbearable and probably also easier to do. I'm looking forward to the adventure. Probably my last shot -- for a long time -- at being home. I'll see John, BisonWitches, poke into the Daily Nebraskan, and show him my town. It'll be a good refresher, a good reminder, and time to ease myself into the High Holy Days. And that's why I'm smiling.

I look at it, as the ultimate mitzvah. An adventure to aid my family, to ease their minds and hopefully help them out. What a time for a mitzvah of epic proportion, too. I hope my fellow knows his coming with also is an ultimate mizvah.
Just as a tiny seed awakens the infinite power of life hidden within the earth, so a mitzvah buried quietly in the ground can ignite an explosion of infinite light. Charged with that power, all the world is changed. --Teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
And hopefully, soon, I'll be back on track with my studies, my mind, my prayers, my habits and my life.