I did make it back to shul today. Two special occasions in shul today — the rabbi’s eldest son (who looks to be in his mid to late teens — scary, as the rabbi is only four years older than I am!) is leaving to go to a yeshiva near Paris.
Aside: Le Juif et la France
I hope he stays safe, given how much antisemitism has been flaring up in France of late. (Not that antisemitism ever really went away in France. My friend RW was in France in the early 1970s and said there was still Vichy coinage in circulation!! Unbelievable.) A great number of French Jews have been moving to Israel of late; in fact, when I was in Bat Yam, a suburb of Tel Aviv, there were a great number of services (including an entire real estate agency on the ground floor of the complex housing my hotel) disponible en Francais. (This was comforting to me, because my French is much, much better than my Hebrew. I actually had to transact some business in French while there, because the woman minding the counter spoke only Russian, French, and Hebrew, and my Hebrew wasn’t good enough to cover it. I speak no Russian.)
The second special occasion was the first real service participation of a new Bar Mitzvah. He did very well, and has a reasonably good singing voice, despite being in that precarious mid-pubertal phase characterised by voice breakages and other vocal problems.
Elul — Getting Right With G-d and Humanity
The rabbi also gave the blessing for the new month of Elul, which starts on Tuesday and is the last month of the Hebrew year, leading up to the High Holidays. It’s a time for introspection, prayer, study, and cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul, in which you take stock of all the bad and good things you did in the past (Jewish) year, and try to find areas where you could improve. I know I’ll be looking at improving my obervance of mitzvot, minding my temper and my tendency toward foul language, and improving my conscientiousness generally, and improving my relationships with certain people. On the other hand, in the “profits” column I think I can count beginning to observe many mitzvot, doing a lot of studying toward my conversion, improving my attendance at shul, and improving my relationship with my parents. I actually recommend doing this at least once a year, whether you are Jewish or not. I’ve been doing this informally around this time of year (because the end of summer always feels like the end of the year to me) for years now, and I think it’s a good and healthy practice.
Elul and the High Holidays are also a time to pay off debts, ask for and give forgiveness to people, and do personal “housecleaning,” that is, getting your life and your relationships with others beseder (lit: in order). Although this time of year is solemn, it shouldn’t be entirely about self-recrimination, guilt, or shame, although teshuva is part of it (but can mean correcting one’s actions as well as feeling badly about them).
I’m actually vaguely sad about the coming of the High Holidays again, as it was just about a year ago that I made my first appearance at Beit Meshugge, and I’m still not even formally taking classes yet. I wish I had my friend DA’s boundless faith that everything that happens, happens for a reason, but I’m still working on that one. It’s very hard. Also, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to fully participate in the synagogue High Holidays services, so I’ll be sitting out. (On the other hand, I likely will not be fasting on Yom Kippur — which falls on Thursday-Friday this year — but I also won’t be getting to do any of the fun stuff, either.) *sigh*
Funny thing — there’s a woman who comes to Beit Meshugge periodically, and I’m sort of friends with her. I think she’s a new baalat teshuva, so sort of engaged in the same process as I am, only from the perspective of a Jew who wants to become observant. As we were walking back to where people usually break off and go their own individual ways coming from shul today, my friend M was explaining some things to her, and…I was actually helping to fill in the details! I’ve done a lot of studying. For some reason it came up in conversation, so one of the things I explained to her was how (in the Torah) G-d tells Avram and Sarai to take the ה from His Name into their names, to become Avraham and Sarah. (My name is spelled the same way in Hebrew as the with-H Sarahs are in English. Tangentially, I believe Elisheva and Elizabeth are probably the same name, which just makes me like the name more, as I also have a soft spot for the Queen.) A, the BT, also thought I was a born Jew and not a conversion candidate. (This keeps happening. I’m not sure whether it’s because gerot are rare, or whether it’s because I look the part or something.)
I managed to do pretty well with my observances this Shabbat, aside from the usual things and using the phone a couple of times. I just can’t seem to get past that “witching hour” without some sort of distraction, after I’ve napped as much as I care to, played with the cats as much as I can, and read everything I care to read right at that moment. I really don’t know what to do about that, but it’s on my list of things to ask the rabbi. If and when I can actually start studying. Which, HaShem willing, should be in three months or so. In the meantime, cheshbon hanefesh, surviving the depressing fall, and (b”H) keeping my job in the upcoming rounds of layoffs (which should be happening right around Rosh Hashana, nice).