Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Stepping Outside Jewish Time

I am fond of talking about life in New York City as the antithesis of the classic Diaspora experience. In this most Jewish of metropolises, being an MOT* imparts insider status by which I mean cultural, social and intellectual street cred as well as the sense of being a member of the majority despite the demographics.

Compared with other places I have visited or lived in, New York City induces a nominal degree of compromise between one's Jewishness and one's secular self.

If you don't know what I am talking about, consider the fact that alternate side of the street parking is suspended for every single day of yom tov...that is, those days of Jewish holiday observance where one is commanded (among other things) not to travel, hence, move a car.

Or, minus at the university level, local public schools are closed for major Jewish holidays.

Or, that you can find kosher food just about everywhere -- even in bodegas -- with kosher restaurants morphing from shleppy to gourmet, drawing a distinctly diverse consumer crowd.

Or that men with yarmulkes are a ubiquitous sight...and not just on Shabbat and holidays.

Anyway (yawn), New York is a uniquely comfortable place to spread out and just be Jewish, ya know, parade with Torahs down West End Avenue, parade up Fifth Avenue in salute to the State of Israel, wear Purim costumes on the subway, gather in Riverside Park to throw challah crumbs into the Hudson River, build Sukkot all over town, etc...

So, it was with a certain degree of sadness that I experienced a clash between my yiddishkeit** and other life this year for probably the first time in my life because of the holidays of Tishri landing like an alien spaceship on my grad school schedule.

For three solid weeks, I faced down the dilemma of missing class or missing the holiday, including evening meals with family and friends, synagogue services and other aspects of the tradition.

I must confess that with the exception of Rosh Hashana, I chose to attend class throughout this month, with much compromise to my holiday observance. What this meant was dashing in and out of class, arriving late or not at all to meals and services, adjusting my soul's frequency as I bolted between the various destinations.

Beyond the matter of picking up a pen to take notes or the myriad other ways in which I broke the halakhot*** of holiday observance, there was the fundamental issue that entering the classroom expelled me from the cocoon of Jewish Time.

The minute I entered the Journalism School building, it simply ceased to be a Jewish holiday for me.

And by the end of the third Triple Whammy of the month of Tishri (see previous column on the matter of Triple Whammys), I feel a distinct sense of loss, a particular sadness that comes from having to choose between being a diligent student and being an observant Jew, a struggle that is hardly uniquely mine but still, something that I have experienced first on the cusp of turning fifty. Which is possible only in New York.

* Member of the Tribe
***commandments/Jewish law

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