Rosh Hashannah has been very successful for me this year. Not to toot my own horn (ha! Shofar!) but Shacharit both days went great. I got a promotion this year and led first day in the main sanctuary and second day in the smaller Malkin-Burdorf Hall. I was not singing at full strength, my voice was gone. I still went strong and my savior (besides God, of course) was a water bottle which I snuck on the bimah in advance of the leader Psukei D’Zimra who was opening for me. Apparently I still did really well. I don’t know if this is true or not, but the officiating Rabbi on the first day talked to me at the conclusion of the First Service (which ended at 12:45) and told me that the cantor of that service (we have four) is not talking to him now because I showed him up. It’s like when I blew a longer Tekiah Gedolah than another of the rabbis in front of my students last week. But it wasn’t flawless. I didn’t actually sit through a whole service even though I had the opportunity for dozens of services. I ended up creating a Frankenstein’s Monster by jumping around from service to service, because I needed to read torah for the various kids services and teen services on Saturday, and blow shofar for the nursery school babysitting and kids services on Sunday. My Yemenite shofar, by the way, needs to be repaired. I need to saw the mouth piece and drill a bigger hole, it’s too high, and the shofar had game-day anxiety. Luckily I brought a backup shofar with me. But a sixth grader showed me up when it came to my shofar.
Yesterday was the Fast of Gedaliah. I am not going to go into why we fast; you can look up the account at the very end of II Kings in the bible. To put it this way, an adage, most recently told to me by Cantor Fox, asks “If I were assassinated, would Gedaliah fast for me?”. Anyway my voice was completely gone yesterday, but I decided to fast anyway. A fast in Judaism, for those who don’t know, involves complete abstention from all food and drink, including water for a certain period of time. A minor fast, of which there are at least four in the year (four and a half for firstborn males like me) (Fast of Gedaliah, 10th of Tevet, Fast of Esther, [Fast of the First Born], 17th of Tammuz) is no food or drink from dawn to dusk/nightfall). A major fast (which is Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av) is abstention from not only food or drink from before sunset to nightfall the next day, but also abstention from washing, ‘anointing’, leather footware, marital relations. In addition, Tisha B’Av has some further restrictions due to its mourning theme and Yom Kippur has the restrictions of Shabbat. I have always been a good faster. A fast has nothing to do with stored fats, so I don’t have an unfair advantage. I just follow a regiment of pre-fast preparation which has worked well. I prepare by eating very little, Usually just mashed potatoes or some other sort of starch and a little bit of bread or pasta. It is important not to eat too much because once it leaves your stomach, your stomach will be larger and emptier and you will crash faster. Water, on the other hand, I drink in excess immediately before the advent of the fast. My nickname at dinner of Tisha B’Av at camp is “The Camel” because I store a lot of water at once to last me a long time. You do have to go to the bathroom very often immediately after the Seudah Mafseket (final meal) but its worth drinking those 22 Styrofoam cups of water in the long run. Also, if you are addicted to caffeine, it might be a good idea to curb your coffee/soda/chocolate habit a couple of days before a fast or you may go through withdrawal. Caffeine stays in your system for about two weeks, and your body will crave more, so switch to decaf in advance. Anyway, usually a couple of hours before the end of the fast (as well as just for a couple of minutes after I wake up in the morning) my stomach hurts from lack of water. Yesterday I felt absolutely nothing and needed nothing, something which I attribute to sickness. I think today I will give my seventh graders advice on fasting on Yom Kippur because it is either their first year where they have to or, if they have not yet been Bar Mitzvahed, probably the first year that they are "testing the waters". The first one is always the hardest and, in at least my life, it gets easier with time and experience. My expertise could probably help them from making mistakes in this fast. It will still probably be easier for me than for them, but I feel it is beneficial if they know what they are doing.
When I post something to my Synagogue's listserv, I sometimes like to repost it on this blog when I feel that the subject matter would be beneficial for the Jewish world at large. This is one such posting and is a concurrance to someone angry at people leaving the synagogue early. Below my response, I have also included the original message I am replying to, censoring the name and e-mail of the person who sent it. Perhaps you would like to read the original message first... I have more to say on the topic than have posted, but this is what I sent originally. If I decide to add to it, my additions will be in bold.
You see this phenomenon at many synagogues during the Yizkor service. The population swells during the memorial service, even as most of those who who have not lost anyone exit, they are replaced by many more people who have. Afterwards, there are more seats empty than were full. I was at a Conservative Synagogue in Upstate New York last year for Yom Kippur, where most of these synagogues are large but not large enough to require an afternoon version of the morning service, and tend to have the shacharit, musaf, mincha, neilah, and maariv services run straight through from 8:30 AM to three stars. They have a 30 minute "intermission" at around 3-4 PM at the conclusion of Musaf where they have a second Yizkor service for people who couldn't make it in the morning.
I try to make every VBS minyan that I can. Usually 80-90% of the people in there (which frequently amounts to 8 or 9 people) are saying Kaddish. Is this the only motivation that can get one to come to daily services? It is not just a mitzvah to remember the dead, it is also a mitzvah for thrice-daily prayer, something I can proudly say I have gone over a year without missing a single one, whether praying alone in my study or with a minyan at my Hillel, school, or synagogue. Minyan refers to a quorum of the community.
The sampling of the community indicates that we are a nation of mourners.
Are we so busy or are our attention spans so short that we can't sit still for one or three days a year? It is also sad that for many, the only time they see the inside of the synagogue is on the High Holidays. I'm sure many avoid the synagogue because they may assume that all services are as long and winded as this. Cantor Fox once said to my uncle prior to Mincha-Neilah on Yom Kippur, "you know, we're open year round". I hope people realize that.
L'shana Tova Tikateyu v'Techateymu,
> For a good many years, my wife ***** and I attend the second service
> on the High Holidays. On the first day of Roch Hashonah we were
> privileged to hear Rabbi Feinstein's sermon during the Musaf portion
> of the service. We always appreciate Rabbi Feinstein's sermons but
> this one, following his return from Israel, was certainly to the point
> and most moving.
> But the value of this outstanding sermon is not the purpose of this
> communication. I was embarrassed, disgusted and angered by the
> behavior of the congregation. I have always assumed that people came
> to High Holiday services as a spiritual experience.
> Therefore I was stunned when about 60% of the congregation simply
> walked out after the sermon. No respect for the cantor, the choir and
> even the Rabbi who was finishing the service. What is the
> justification for leaving a service when there are only about 12-15
> minutes left? Perhaps we are "hard core Jews".
> Perhaps this happens every year and I forgot this action.. But,
> somehow, this discourteous behavior ,after a moving sermon, just
> struck a negative chord.
I also wanted to include Erin’s Weird and Wonderful Word of the Day from the OED mailing list and see what you make of it
an adjective related to the (widespread) practice of giving opinions on topics beyond one's knowledge. The word comes from Latin words meaning 'beyond the sole' (of the shoe), an allusion to the story of Apelles and the cobbler, Apelles being the favorite painter of Alexander the Great. His shoemaker told him of a mistake Apelles had made in depicting a shoe, and Apelles corrected it. The shoemaker then presumed to criticize the painting of the leg as well, and Apelles said: "Don't criticize above the sole!"