Friday, September 30, 2005

New Year - and the same old stories...

Well, unsurprisingly, the Irish doc didn’t call (but then they never do, do they?), which is possibly just as well because to be honest I’ve been too busy these past couple of weeks to go out with anyone (medically trained or otherwise). It’s Jewish New year next week and I have been swamped with pre-New Year organising at my synagogue. All the things I love about my little intimate community (the informality, the hands-on organisation, the small numbers) are also the things that make it bloody hard work on the big occasions. There is no luxury of simply turning up on the day and finding the hall ready, the books in place, the prayers prepared. It all has to be done by the members in advance. So I’ve been rushing around for two weeks ordering chairs, shipping books from the States, preparing newsletters etc. I’d suggest that I’m feeling like a headless chicken but, given the ancient tradition of using a chicken before Yom Kippur to expel our sins, it’s perhaps a dangerous analogy to use. Although, in my almost-vegetarian household there will be no chickens laying down their lives for my misdemeanors. And I doubt that the Almighty would be impressed with a nut cutlet offered for a year’s worth of religious transgressions.

Of course, it’s great to have a festival to look forward to, even though Jewish New Year is not exactly the celebratory knees-up that it may sound like. New Year’s Eve on December 24th is a world away from Rosh Hashana. No wild parties and excessive alcohol consumption for us. We have a slice of apple dipped in runny honey and two days of synagogue attendance in store for us, with interminable sermons and the fire and brimstone warnings of what will happen if we don’t repent. The New Year liturgy, while certainly stirring and very moving, is not for the faint hearted. I dare anyone to sit through ‘Who will live and who will die; who by fire and who before his time’ without feeling a little humbled and a tad concerned for the future. Auld Lang Syne it certainly isn’t.

Perhaps I’m overplaying the serious side to Jewish New Year. It is a Jewish holiday after all, so there is the obligatory over-eating to factor in. I have already managed to wangle three invitations for dinner, two for lunch and one for afternoon tea into a two-day festival. That’s on top of the mountain of honey cake we’ll be eating in shul, the apple and honey on the first night and the new fruits on the second. By the time we’ve also had our four courses – meaty on the first night, dairy on the second (it’s the rule) we’ll be looking forward to the fast just to get back to our ideal weight.

In between the various New Year preparations I had Scrappino’s Chaggigat Hachumash yesterday. It’s a new ceremony that has been instituted at his school. Roughly translated it means ‘Bible Celebration’ and the children in Scrappino’s class were celebrating receiving their first Bible. Basically, it involved the children receiving a book they can’t read from a Rabbi they don’t know who addressed them in a language they don’t understand. So, your typical Jewish ceremony really.

All the parents arrived at school at 8.40 am and the kids went straight inside to get changed. The show began at 9.00 am. Or rather, it should have begun at 9.00 but we had to wait 20 minutes while the parents all waved, blew kisses and gesticulated wildly at the children they had last seen less than twenty minutes previously. By the same token, none of the children could stay still in position until they had made eye contact with their parents in the audience. The children performed a presentation on the story of Creation, where each day was explained via a song, a small sketch and a traditional Rabbinic parable. Given that each day took about eight minutes to cover, and there are six days of creation plus the Sabbath, we were in for the long haul.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to follow the story or the explanations properly since the children had been given absolutely no training in either throwing their voices when singing or holding the microphone far enough away from their mouths so that we could hear beyond the static hissing. Scrappino tried his best, but his microphone skills leave a lot to be desired. He held it so close to his mouth that he sounded like a gangsta rapper.

The visiting Rabbi sat in the audience alongside the proud parents while the kids danced, sang and mumbled their way through 45 minutes worth of Hebrew songs and Bible stories. It was bad enough for us parents; at least we could watch proudly from the hall as our little darlings performed for the crowd. And it’s amazing how educated and intelligent adults suddenly lose all sense of proportion as soon as they see their children perform on stage. I lost count of the number of parents who told me afterwards “I’m thinking of sending him/her to drama classes. He’s clearly got a natural talent for acting”. But the Rabbi had no such excuse and the whole thing must have seemed interminable for him. Still, he got his own back by launching into a ridiculous story in his pre-presentation speech that lasted almost as long as the kids’ show. For some reason he thought that a bunch of 8 year olds born in the final years of the 20th Century, would be interested in a story about a King and his trusted advisor Yankel. I could see all the blank looks on the kids faces as they looked at each other as if to say “What name??”. You can’t move in Scrappino’s class for Zaks and Ethans and Harrys. What the hell are they going to do with a story about a chap called Yankel?

By the time the Rabbi got to the part in the story where the king dresses up as a poor peddler the childrens’ eyes had glazed over. And frankly, I was ready to lick my own eyeballs from boredom. Poor peddlers? Houses in the forest?? Why do Rabbis always tell stories about merchants and fish and old women living in forests? Has nobody told them that we don’t actually live in Eastern Europe anymore? And that nobody we know who’s alive today remembers anyone who ever did. Why does every religious message worth spreading have to revolve around some Lithuanian outpost and a herring that swallowed some diamonds?

After the Rabbi had finished his Slovakian folk tale the parents and children were treated to cakes and biscuits. Lots of them. The table was positively groaning with food. All in all, I thought, the whole celebration was the perfect preparation for the High Holy Days. A Rabbi sermonizing on a different way of life for a different time; the congregation sitting on the most uncomfortable chairs possible for an interminable amount of time; children spending half an hour singing songs they don’t understand before over indulging on cake. It pretty much sums up the festival.

If you’re celebrating – have a sweet and good one!


Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Hilarious. Best description of a school performance ever. Looking forward to your post-Rosh HaShanah post - and detailed descriptions of the meals contained therein...

5:22 pm  
Blogger R.x said...

hey mc - how was your rh and yk? from reading your blog you seem to have found it an uplifting experience. hope that bodes well for a happy and successful year ahead - moadim lesimcha as they say...

6:23 pm  
Blogger MC Aryeh said...

thanks. to you as well....

6:35 pm  

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