Saturday, October 01, 2011

Approach/Avoid: High Holiday Edition

It is the night after the Shabbat following Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

In our family, we call it a Triple Whammy, this glut of days of observance. Family togetherness is mandated, a wonderful and terrifying thing. If one adheres to Jewish tradition -- eschewing phones, computers, and other electronic intrusions, not to mention shopping, work and travel -- there can be a cloistered, claustrophobic quality to the days. Yet the three-day chag also creates an island of time, set apart from the secular mainland, a magical realm where a special set of rules apply.

Our Rosh Hashana Triple Whammy included sumptuous meals with friends and family, long walks in Central Park and Riverside Park, museum visits and our trademark killer competition Scrabble games. (I won. Twice. The second time by a huge margin of over 100 points. I am an insufferable winner and a sore loser.)

My typical ambivalence about merging with community for prayer was greater than usual this year; indeed I only made it to shul two out of the three days and for a respectable amount of time only on the first day.

I felt sad and sorry not to be part of the kehillah when I was playing hooky from shul yet unhappy to be part of it while I was there.

Everything bothered me. It wasn't the particular shul; it was Shul itself -- the edifice, the chairs, the walls, the people. My overwhelming desire was to run away and be alone with my thoughts in an evocative setting.

As I shifted in my folding chair in Ansche Chesed's Hirsch Hall, crossing and recrossing my legs, images of seashores, mountain tops, rivers, lakefronts and my beloved summer bungalow swam before my mind's eye.

I longed for the company of my parents; I wished to be in Israel, preferably in the Negev or perhaps up north, in the verdant Galilee.

Situated on the super-Jewish Upper West Side, I somehow felt exiled, far away from the place where I wished to speak with God.

But of course, God is everywhere and I was nowhere, lost.

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