September 30th, 2019
Jane greeted me when I came into the synagogue. She smiled and said,
“Shanah tovah!”, which is Hebrew for “Happy New Year!”. It took me a second to process that. I mean, I already knew it was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebration, but somehow that didn’t sink in until Jane spoke to me.
I went upstairs for the service. It had just started. There weren’t many people there yet. They were just getting into praying the psalms. I grabbed a prayer book, and I asked Andrew which page we were on. The prayer book (siddur) was a special one for the high holidays. As I opened it, it had Hebrew prayers on the page to the right, and an English translation of the prayers on the left. After ten years, I have learned just enough Hebrew to follow along with the prayers. I hear key Hebrew words spoken, and then I can read along in the English version. It helps that the gabbai emphasizes the beginning and the end of each psalm. The people in the shul read the psalms for about an hour. Some they sing. Some they rush through.
Karin and I attend morning prayer at our church before daily Mass starts. The morning prayer mainly consists of reading the psalms. However, our reading of the psalms and the Jewish reading of the psalms are strikingly different. Even though I can’t understand all of the psalms in Hebrew, I can appreciate the rhythm and the cadence of the prayers. There is something powerful in hearing a prayer in its original language. I can’t explain why that is, but it is.
When I arrived, the pews in the synagogue weren’t full yet. The community is small, and it is not often that a lot of people come for the services. If there is any day that everyone shows up, it is on Rosh Hashanah. However, as Ken, one of my friends from the shul, jokingly told me, they operate on “Jewish time”. It’s not like with Catholics, where a service starts at a certain time and people need to be there at that time. In the synagogue, the worshipers get there when they get there. The only goal is to have ten Jewish males there in time to read from the Torah. The show can’t go on unless you have ten guys show up, and they have to be Jewish. They are happy when I come, but I don’t count for the minyan.
The Lake Park Synagogue calls itself a “Modern Orthodox synagogue”. That seems paradoxical. It’s like they are saying that the shul is “New Old”. Orthodox Judaism holds on tight to the traditions of the past. I kind of like that. In their services, they do almost everything in Hebrew. I have been berated at times by my friends at the synagogue because the Catholic Church did away (for the most part) with the Latin Mass. I don’t think that any of them really care that much about the Church. Some of them do care that the Catholic Church let go of part of its tradition.
During the first hour of prayer, there were short breaks. During one of those, Ellis came up to me. Ellis shook my hand and looked me straight in the eye. He told me,
“I hope that you and your family are blessed during this new year.”
I was touched by that. I knew that he meant it with all his heart. Ellis and I come from very different backgrounds, but we have had similar struggles with our children. We understand each other. Ellis wasn’t just spouting a platitude. He was being honest and compassionate with me, and I felt that.
I should try to make more of an effort to fit it at the shul, or maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t know. I wear my yarmulke (kippah) whenever I go to the synagogue. Karin knitted it for me years ago, so it is precious to me. I don’t dress well when I go to pray. I don’t have many good clothes. When I prayed there today, I was wearing jeans and sandals. I wore a black sweatshirt (hoodie) that I had bought at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. It has a Benedictine emblem on the front and a Latin prayer on the back. Nobody cared. They just seemed glad that I was even there.
The rabbi gave a short derasha (sermon). He explained that Rosh Hashanah was “Judgment Day”, a day where we all ask for a job review from God. The scripture readings are about Sarah and Hannah, and they ask God to remember them. It is a dangerous thing to ask God to remember you. There is the chance that God will give you more responsibility. It is easier to fly under the radar.
Rabbi Dinin told us all that we ask God for our review at the blowing of the shofar. That is our wake up call to God. It is true that God never forgets us, but the blowing of the shofar is our way of reminded the Almighty that we are still here.
The synagogue is in a part of town with rather ruthless parking restrictions. I stayed in the shul during the first Torah reading, and then I left. I missed the blowing of the shofar. I had already been there for two hours, and I didn’t want to get a parking ticket.
And, to be honest, I wasn’t ready for my review.