Friday, October 17, 2008

So...

I went to Shabbat services tonight. Alone because no one else would go with me. I'm glad I went though... although there was no one there who I knew. There were people whose faces are familiar, but none that I'd say are close friends or that were at one time particularly close friends, but one, who is the mother of a boy I went to preschool with. Thought that quite strange. Perhaps many of them, like us, don't usually go to Friday night services anymore, now that their kids are grown and have moved away. That none of the kids were there surprised me too... None of the kids I grew up with, that is. Many of them are in college or grad school, and if they go to services, it's likely they go to the Hillel at school here, or wherever it is they are, rather than to a synagogue, and of course, several have moved far away.

There were, however, lots of children there, including the rabbi's daughter who is a toddler. Several of them ran around and played quietly in the corners and in other rooms during the services. I find that practice of our synagogue rather delightful. That kids are welcome to play, as long as they don't disturb the service. (Never having gone to another, I don't know if it's different or the same elsewhere.) It was that way when I was little too. But when I was little, we didn't meet in a synagogue, not having raised enough money to build our own building yet. We met in a borrowed-just-on-Friday Episcopal church, and they had kneeling benches (if they have a proper name, I don't know it), which of course we didn't use, but the kids liked to do what we weren't supposed to do (because if we weren't careful, they would drop very loudly and echo in the large, tile-floored room with the cathedral ceiling)... We'd unfold and lower them very carefully, as quietly as we could so we wouldn't get caught, and then sit on them, on the floor, instead of on the hard, uncomfortable wooden pews. As far as I remember, the kneeling benches were only marginally more comfortable, being padded, but we were smaller then and it had the air of something forbidden. LOL! That's one of the few things I remember about that building, the kneeling benches. The only other things I remember from that church were the tiny gruesome paintings along the walls on both sides of the room of a bleeding, thin, near-naked man being hurt by other people that I much later realized must have been the Stations of the Cross (because, of course, being Jewish and 5 - 8 years old, I had no idea what they were at the time and I don't remember ever asking. I knew it had something to do with Christianity, and I knew that the cross carried in the paintings was mirrored by the huge what must have been twenty foot high cross hanging above the alter and in front of the most magnificent organ I have seen to this day - seriously, it was gigantic and had dozens and dozens of pipes sticking up like spires all along the back of the sanctuary... These being other things I remember, obviously), and the kitchen and food hall, where we'd have refreshments every Friday after services and occasionally Passover Seders and other parties. I remember that the ladies' room was tiny and always smelled of soft soap and flowery air fresheners. It might have been yellow. I remember hiding under tables and playing with other kids, my childhood friends, laughing and running around. That's about it. Okay, enough reminiscing...

Tonight, the rabbi talked about Sukkot's pagan roots because Sukkot is this week. He talked about how the Jews were not the first to think to do a special ritual in their fields at harvest time in order to ensure plenty through the winter. His mentor when he was in seminary explained to him once the correct way to shake a lulav and etrog on Sukkot. The lulav is three types of tree branches (palm, myrtle, and willow) bound together with palm leaves in a very elaborate fashion and the etrog is a citron that smells very strongly of lemon. They are to be smelled and held together and shaken in every direction out of doors on Sukkot, to the east, south, west and north, then up and then down. This is meant to symbolize that God is in every direction and everywhere. He said his mentor said not to point the lulav downward, but to keep it upright and just lower it when it got to the part where it's shaken down. Because if he were to point it down "that would be paganism." He said he laughed because that's just how close this ritual is to ancient pagan Near East custom. And you can easily imagine similar rituals in other types of pagan religion throughout history. He said that doesn't make Sukkot invalid or a "fake" holiday as some critics have said. To him if anything it makes the festival more valid. Because here is something extremely ancient, thousands of years old, that predates the Jewish religion by hundreds if not thousands of years, and it has been adapted to Jewish belief (as have many other things). We've, essentially, made it our own and found our own meaning in it. (To read more about this ritual, you can find info here.) Indeed...

He also talked about the pagan roots of Purim (that it was like a Mid-East/Persian Mardi Gras - and near to the same time of year as the modern Catholic Mardi Gras - long before it was the celebration of the bravery of a beloved Persian Queen of Jewish descent) and speculated about the pagan roots of Chanukah... because although the Maccabean Revolt certainly happened, it's not exactly an original idea to have a holiday involving the importance of light timed somewhere around the Winter Solstice. Double indeed. It was very interesting... He also talked about not being perfect, that the festivals aren't perfect, that we ourselves aren't perfect and should not expect either to be perfect. He talked about how beautiful the weather is this time of year, and how pleasant, and about how the existence of bread is a little miracle and so before we eat it we say a prayer of thanks for it - called "the Hamotzi." (This is for bread, specifically, and this prayer is not the same as saying grace, which is said over any and all types of food.) It was a nice little sermon. I wish, as I usually do after a thought provoking sermon, that I could remember more about it, more about the deeper meaning of it, or at least get a copy of it. I feel weird about asking for a copy though, so I never do...

They're having a Sukkot service on Monday evening, and Tuesday at mid-day... Since I have nothing else in particular to do, I'm thinking of going to those too, or at least the one on Tuesday.

My other goal for the weekend is to write a resume. Next week, I want to apply for a job with a private tutoring company. Still haven't heard a thing from the county about subbing. I think it's rather rude that they ask people to e-mail to inquire about the status of their applications and not to call the office, but don't have the courtesy to e-mail them back at all for more than five days now. Could they really get that many e-mail inquiries? Oh, well, if they're going to be that way. They can get back to me when they feel like getting back to me. In the mean time, I'm prepping for the GKT, which I'll take on October 25th, and looking for other options, of which there are actually quite a few I've been quite excited to find.

4 comments:

susannah eanes said...

interesting to read about the pagan ties to this jewish holiday, and you wrote it so well. thank you!

also - from long experience, 5 days is a blip in time in a government office, most of which are chronically short-handed. i just got a job offer for a county job that's been vacant since this past May, and according to more than one office employee they were "absolutely desperate" to fill, for which i interviewed well over a month ago. it's called paperwork and accountability. lots and lots of lines to fill in, i's to dot and t's to cross. hang in there, but do what you have to if you can't really wait!

love, s

Rachael said...

Thank you! I added to that bit about the pagan roots of Sukkot. I remembered more specific things about what the rabbi said about it. Interesting stuff...

Okay, well, perhaps they aren't being rude then in not responding. But still, I don't feel nearly as much hope about it as I had. But since the private tutoring is in the after school hours, I could conceivably do both jobs, if I got them both, so I'm going to go ahead with that too in the mean time while waiting to hear back.

Oh! We prayed for you and Nana to get well soon last night. And it reminded me, are you doing better than you were? Still improving, even if slowly?

La Duchesse said...

This reminds me a bit of the paper I wrote for History of Early Christianity; it was about the pagan roots of Christmas, which ended up having a lot of really interesting source material.

Incidentally (and maybe coincidentally), our little half-Siamese kitty is named Motzie, the source of which you mention in your post. ;)

Rachael said...

Awesome! I bet there was a lot of interesting source material for that! And it puts me in mind of "A Very Supernatural Christmas." Have you got to that one yet?

Awww!! Kitty!! :D That's so cute!