Today’s the day!
Not the day the teddy bears have their picnic – that’s a different day.
It’s Jewish New Year!
L’Shanah Tovah to all!
This year, my plans changed three times or more for today.
But, for now, I’m home.
It’s confusing – I refer to two places as home… I’ve gotta get clearer about that.
Although the reasons for me being here haven’t been straightforward or stress-free, it’s nice to be spending the day with family.
Since I’ve written posts about the day before, and about what it means, I’m going to assume you’re all over the holiday itself.
For any interested, you can find that stuff here.
Today, I’m taking a different angle.
Each year, on Rosh Hashana morning, I sit in synagogue.
I guess you could say that I pray.
I do join in on songs and poems and hymns and recitations that I know and that I like.
I’m reluctant to use the word pray, despite acknowledging that’s what it is that I do, because I’m aware that more and more people are uncomfortable with the idea of prayer of G-d and of organised religion itself.
I’m uncomfortable with at least two of those things myself.
And yet, there I sit.
There I belong.
There I feel at home.
I acknowledge my own hypocrisies.
I listen to the Rabbi’s sermon.
I hear the reading of the Torah as if I’d not heard it every year before.
And I look around me and see the same faces I’ve seen for many years of my life.
I had a realisation yesterday.
Whilst making Ruthy’s honey cake recipe under her watchful eye.
I am very lucky.
I was raised to be a critical thinker.
It’s definitely a trait of Jews generally – to think and to question – but, more particularly, it’s one that my parents instilled in me firmly and early on.
Sure, it’s one that Big Al often regrets giving me as it does his head in all too many times, but there you go…
I sit in shul on Rosh Hashana and I see Jews all around me.
We are all sitting and standing at the same times.
We bow when the Torah is presented to us.
We read in unison when the text is in italics.
We know the rules and we play along.
We look like lemmings.
And yet, if you stopped the service at any moment and conducted a poll, you’d find that every single person in that room was there for a different reason and was getting something very different out of that current moment.
I have struggled for years to explain to other people (even other Jewish people) why it is that my religion is so important to me.
It’s not that I fear any kind of vengeful G-d.
It’s not that I feel an obligation to my parents.
It’s not that I feel pressure from my community.
But each year, sitting in shul on the High Holidays – whether in Australia, England or somewhere else – my soul feels like it’s been refreshed.
And do you know what happens after shul?
Of course we do!
And that’s part of the religion.
We pray – or do whatever we want to call it – and then we invite each other around to share in the festivities.
In Melbourne, I spend the afternoon with my large and ever-extending extended family.
It’s another tradition I relish.
And for me, it goes hand in hand with the tradition of going to shul.
That afternoon is spent engaging with some of the most intelligent and most intellectual Jews I’ve known.
After engaging any number of them on topics of conversation (not just those about “Your mother tells me…” subjects), I am all too aware of the benefits of critical thought once more.
If you don’t like religion…
If you are Jewish or otherwise…
It doesn’t matter!
It’s your life – you live it as you like!
The only thing I would encourage is critical thought.
That’s a religion we should all aspire to.
That and the eating of honey cake.
May that be the uniting religion of us all!