It's the Jewish new year. Big holiday. Obscene amounts of food. Long hours in the synagogue. This year, I did something different. Instead of using the synagogue prayer book designated for the holiday, I took my own prayer book - Help.Thanks. Wow by Anne Lamott. And I prayed for the first time in I don't even know how long. I wrapped myself in a pashmina, pushed my hat brim down low and hid. I wanted to be enveloped in a prayer shawl but since my synagogue is orthodox, that's relegated to the men. What I really wanted wasn't a prayer shawl but a blanket. Like a snuggie with a hood. I wanted to sit outside in the fall breeze and look up to the tops of the swaying pine trees and breathe deeply and say "Yes." Instead, I sat in a beautiful sanctuary, praying from Annes book and listening to the familiar lull of the liturgy that's permanently imprinted in me. Like the smell of your house. The taste of kasha varnishkes. A cheesy Richard Marx song from 1990. These are the things that are programmed in the creases of my brain and when triggered again - they whisper "Home."
I read my Anne Lamott book in an audible whisper. Like all the people around me. Her words were so true and so real, I had to re-read pages to imprint them. She made me breathe deeply and know for that moment that there is something beyond. The liturgy soundtrack in the background was just that - background. Building blocks to get me here. To the point where I can look at the grass wriggling in the wind and it be right. To connect with the Really Real. To just breathe and know.
The shofar blasts jolted me out of a reverie. A rude interruption in a way. I looked at the men wrapped in shawls, at the man blowing a rams horn in certain musical patterns, at the priests (men) blessing the congregation in a sort of Star Trek ritual and I thought - this is truly nuts. Like bona fide loco. Years and years and years of crazy. Two-hundred hyper-educated people sitting in a room doing irrational, loony rituals. Half of those are women who professionally and socially have a seat at the table and a voice to be heard. But here, we have no part to play other than an audience member. Make no mistake, I am not here to write a feminist rant. In fact, I don't really know if I would want to have a part in this play. But I am commenting on how absurd the whole thing feels to me. It makes me realize how we can be so dissonant within. How we can think we are rational, intelligent, liberal folk and then we read paragraphs about animal sacrifices and blow a rams horn for two days. What an amazing thing we humans do. How badly we need to connect with the "Not Me." We are willing to suspend logic and reason (and equality in my particular synagogue) in order to be a part of something bigger than we are.
As I was praying from my Anne-Book, I realized that 40 years of imprinting is deep. That my imprint happens to be Orthodox Judaism. But that's just logistics. "There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth," says Rumi. My childhood, my family, my education has taught me to kneel this way - in a religion that is zany and irrational and sometimes offensive. I know no other way. It's home. But just like home - you can be critical of it and defend it at the same time. You can realize your family is really nuts but they're all you got. And sometimes, if you're very lucky, you can learn to be at home and tune out all the crazy and get lost in a beautiful book.