Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Good and Bad of Praying

Well I can see that God doesn't want me to pray that much to him. I got ill on Rosh Hashana and wanted to pray for Gilad Shalit's release in synagogue. I even had a special prayer printed out on a large piece of paper and the person leading the service asked me to read the prayer. But I couldn't go after all that preparation and the piece of paper just hung out in my kitchen along with the other "to do" things, in a pile. And thankfully, despite my not having prayed for his release, he was released anyways.

Now there's Sukkot. I had gone to see Israeli heavy metal band Orphaned Land in Tel Aviv and we were one of the very few over 50s there. We waited in line with all these teens wearing black Metallica and Marilyn Manson t-shirts and they looked at us as if we were parental spies. Then we just talked to them and I think they were actually thrilled that someone of our age would listen to them at all, never mind sharing a love of the same music. Some of these kids flew in from Switzerland and Germany, where this band has a huge following and plays metal festivals in front of 100,000 fans. I especially love the band's ethos, which is to get Arabs (from many different countries) and Israelis/Jews together through their music with the way they combine religious texts/music into their songs. Who said heavy metal is all about war, blood and destruction? And to top it all off, their lead singer looks like a tattooed Jesus. In fact, one teenage fan from Europe said if Kobi was Jesus, he'd go to church.

I was surprised that standing in the front, people were friendly, that I wasn't crushed, that people wouldn't kill me (as I feared from going to a metal concert)and I even sensed a spiritual energy from the audience to the band and vice versa. Their music is metal, but has a Middle Eastern element in it, and as they explained in a video shown right before their show, they used to sit in synagogues filled with Iraqi and Libyan old men and listen to their liturgy which would the get incorporated into their music. I laughed as I pictured these long-haired tattooed men, sitting in shul with these elderly men, who probably didn't know what hit them. That's why I'm so intrigued. One fan said he had come from Germany and would never have stepped foot in Israel if it weren't for them, and was astounded at how warm, friendly and open Israelis are. "They even invited me to stay over their homes and they are total strangers!" But our age showed as after the show, I didn't stick around for the "meet and greet" the band had with their fans and as it was, we got home at 4:00 am, even after our own children trudged in with their partying.

The next morning my daughter and I were having our coffee together and she told me how much she loved her boyfriend.

She said, "He told me that he hadn't had dated seriously in years and that for a year and a half, all he did was pray that he'd find the right one."

And I looked at my daughter, the one who usually complains about everything, and laughed until I was hoarse and I thought, - oh dear. This poor guy prays to God for a year and a half and this is what he gets? Oy vey. But he does seem to believe that God has answered his prayers and that's all that matters.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

More Highs on the Holidays

Yom Kippur went better than expected. My kids were asking me all sorts of questions - like my still AWOL son asking me - 

"Mom, what will happen if I break the fast?"

"Nothing really. You just won't feel quite part of the community at large if you do, but you'll feel really good if you don't break your fast. Like you'll have this amazing 'yay! I did it' moment."

My growling Hubby was continously reminding me of one sin in particular that I do (going to Arab homes/restaurants to eat their "halal" meat), so I left him at home to seethe with my sins in mind, while I went to synagogue for Kol Nidre services. I hadn't gone seriously to synagogue for Yom Kippur in years because I can't follow the Kurdish, Yemenite, Moroccan, Iraqi, Syrian services that are all over the place in my neighborhood, plus the familiar Ashkenazi one is too dry with all those perfect "real housewives of Maaleh Adumim". I don't fit in. Period. But a Conservative congregation just sprung up over the past year and they were really trying to make a go of it in this mostly Orthodox-ruled enclave. Afraid that it was going to be just a ho-hum service, I was happily surprised. For one, they began with three people, each doing a different version of Kol Nidre. The energy was good, inclusive and happy. They mixed in a bit of Sephardic (middle-eastern) melodic liturgy which I was thrilled to sing along to and was able to easily follow. It felt like family. After all, isn't this exactly what my family has become with my daughters all marrying/dating into Sephardic families from Tunisia, Turkey, Spain and Morocco? So I really felt a kinship with the service and with the congregants who were also a mixture of Jews from all over the place, albeit without any Ethiopians. The next day I attended the "Neila" closing service, which was led beautifully by an Orthodox woman who was open-minded enough to do the service in front of a mixed-seated crowd (Conservative congregations have mixed gender seating, as opposed to Orthodox, which separate men and women during services). People brought cakes, fruit and soft drinks to break their fast and it was lovely to mingle afterwards with this very friendly new-found community.  I brought in the Muslim Ramadan custom of breaking the fast with a date and water and explained this custom to a few people.

Sukkot is probably my favorite holiday because I get off from work, and there are no restrictions on what you can eat, like there is on Passover. Having all meals in the sukkah with my kids and their friends smoking nargilahs in the sukkah make it very enjoyable.

On the first day, I trotted off to Tel Aviv rather early in mid-afternoon. I wanted to see the sunset over the port, which is always breathtaking and I knew that people would be in the holiday spirit ( would be crowded everywhere). We caught the last bit of sunset over the boardwalk
and wandered over to the indoor food market

where there were a few unique restaurants and sat ourselves down to the tapas bar and had a couple of dishes.
Grilled okra with zucchini and eggplant on the bottom

Even though I don't eat seafood, the grilled calamari that the man sitting next to me ordered looked so incredibly delicious, I felt like grabbing it off his plate, when he wasn't looking...just to taste...but I did control myself.  I did.

Walking around the port several times, we revelled in the hustle and bustle of the happy holiday spirit that was all over the place before heading over to Reading 3 for a concert (to be continued...).

Friday, October 07, 2011

Pre Yom Kippur Reflections

Tonight is Yom Kippur.  I should be reflecting on past wrongs, apologizing to people, my family, strangers I accidentally knock over on  buses, etc.  I'm astounded at people at work these past few days, with whom I only have a minor working relationship, who tell me at the end of their conversations "I'm sorry if I did anything wrong to you".  Honey, all I call you for is to ask you about various meetings.  It's nothing personal.  But these people are apologizing to me left and right.

I was in a foul mood yesterday, thinking I don't even want to fast, I don't want to pray, nothing.  Of course, I'll still fast and I might even pray a little bit, but I'm still a little ticked off at God who I blamed for my stomach flu on the second day of Rosh Hashana.  I had made arrangements to go into Jerusalem to go to services at my Jewish renewal congregation and had been looking forward to it for weeks.  But obviously He didn't want to hear any of my prayers, so there.  I'm also working 12 hour days to pay off government tax debt that our wonderful Israeli government heaped on Hubby for the time he was in business and I blamed God for putting this bureaucracy in place where they run after the regular guy with no mercy whatsoever and tax middle income earners to the high heavens.  Perhaps that's where those bureaucrats should actually go?

Hubby has been acting like a troll of late as well and it hasn't been easy.  Today, as I filled out the form for the special  kapparot ceremony of sending this money to charity instead of us all dying for our sins, I thought about leaving out my husband's name on the form, but I would have felt  so guilty if he would have indeed croaked this year.   We used to do this ceremony as it is originally done with live chickens swinging over our heads, while praying that they will go to their deaths and not us - but I didn't think it was too humane to do this anymore to these animals.  They are always so frightened during this ceremony, squawking like mad, as if they understand the Hebrew prayer sentencing them to death instead of the humans.

And I didn't feel so alone in my foul mood at the local mall, where the lines were huge at the newspaper/bookstore.  People were buying books as if they'll be locked indoors for months and the line was excruciatingly long.  Everyone was complaining - especially after someone was asked for her ID after buying hundreds of shekels of books and she was insulted - "the people who worked here previously never asked for my ID!".  "But we don't know who you are..." said the saleswomen, prompting everyone on line to yell at these people - both customer and saleswoman -  to get to know each other some other time in the week, not today, when the fast begins at 4:38.  

Another gripe of mine.  The religious authorities made Daylight Savings one hour earlier last week so the fast should begin early and end early.  But I don't want to fucking start a fast at 4:38.  By 9:00 at night I'll be starving!!!!  Why couldn't they just let things be?  I wouldn't have to eat the pre-fast dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon, but at a more normal time of 4:30 in the afternoon  if the fast would have begun at 5:30 pm. What is so wrong with that!!??

But I'll be happy when it's all over and we're all munching on bagels and cream cheese to break our fast.  If I feel energetic enough, I'll even make cauliflower soup.  But maybe I'm too hard on God.  Maybe I ought to do some apologizing.  After all, He's got a lot of fixing to do in this world.....