Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Gospel According To Me

Once again Rosh Hashana aproaches. Once again I have to endure the familiar exhortations from the pulpit, for critical self-judgement. So once again I arise from my Shabbos afternoon nap, early, and off to listen to the yearly rant on how I should better myself.

I do not like listening to my Rabbi speak. Having gotten used to listening to speeches with a recognisable structure, a beginning a middle and an end, I find myself irritatedly editing what he is saying in my head, and deleting segments, at the same time as arguing with the points he is making. I wish I had a Rabbi who actually bothered enough to make it interesting for me and my kind.

Boredom begins to set in after a while and I start observing the shabby shul I daven in. Despite its recent makeover, it has the air of a dilapidated refugee camp. The walls are painted in the cheapest shade of brilliant white. The windows, curtainless and finger marked, have an opaque film on the inside, whether to stop people looking in or out I am never quite sure. Beyond them, metal grills protect us from the vandalism and terrorism we have been raised to expect.

The furniture, unlike in the formal churchstyle shuls, is light in colour and weight. The tables are Formica topped, metal framed and past their prime, The almost matching benches, with flip-up seats that can cause a painful pinch if a stray bit of flesh gets caught between them, are uncomfortable and remind me of those the litigants sit on while waiting to be called to the real bench. Up front the ambo faces the wall. Beneath four sorry looking candlesticks, the traditional Shivisi drawing, drawn by a 'local artist', and designed to inspire loftiness into him leading the prayer, has some of the naivete of Haitian art when observed from afar. Close up it is hideous! Another example of how, in our desire for insularity, we have deluded ourselves into ridiculous grandeur.

Happily, the room has nothing else that could be termed decoration, unless you count the various plaques at a million strategic spots commemorating all those acts of (often forced) kindness that made everything possible. Nothing that is, except for all the kinky, plastic covered velvetwork cloths on the bima (dais) and Amud (lectern). The plastic, of course only there to protect the exquisite needlework embroidery that commemorates yet another donation. The lighting, from bare flourescent tubes, is harsh and bright and a faint whiff of sweat and garlic bears testimony to the heavy, customary shabbos meal and many an afternoon nap.

The speech has come to the part where we all must remember to take a good look at how we behave. I wonder whether he does? I mean, I know he does look at how we behave. But does he look at how he does? Does he ever wonder if he might not be driving his big bus, with darkened windows and no stops, straight towards an abyss? Does he ever wonder whether his credentials as a Torah scholar qualify him to lead a generation of kids often dealing with challenges he cannot even fathom? Does he ever wonder whether he is preaching a gospel that cannot be for everyone?

Then again, do I? I too stand on on pulpit and rant but have I changed anything for the better? The obvious difference is that I have only a pulpit whereas the Rabbinic one stands for so much more. They claim to have the right to rule our lives, so they should have to prove they are doing it, well. If most people are happy and well adjusted. If the community is providing for itself, fiscally and emotionally, if the prospects are good and the future is looking rosy, then they obviously know what they are doing and we can all sleep tight. If not it might be time to look for a new bus driver in the new year.

Wishing all my fair readers a Shana Tova!

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