Sunlit Water

September 22, 2007

Tesuque D’Zimra

Filed under: Culture,Personal — by teofilo @ 2:52 pm

I usually hate this time of year, because it’s the only time when I really feel obligated to involve myself in Judaism to the extent of actually going to services, which I’ve found increasingly unpleasant lately (plus, you know, fasting).  This year, however, hasn’t been so bad.  I’ve been going with my parents, and while my mom and I went to our old synagogue for Erev Rosh Hashanah, the rest of the services we’ve gone to the Chavurah, which has services at the beautiful UNM Alumni Chapel.  My parents have for years been drifting toward the Chavurah and away from the synagogue, which is hemorrhaging members and becoming more and more a small, elderly congregation with a decidedly uninspiring rabbi.

The Chavurah, of course, has no rabbi at all, and the communal atmosphere with ordinary members performing all the services is quite nice.  It reminds me of the things I liked about Hillel when I was in school and went to their services.  It’s a little awkward because the atmosphere is just as clubby as at any synagogue, with a lot of members who have known each other for years, and the general informality makes those dynamics more obvious.  We do know a few people there, though, so it isn’t too bad.

The services have been very nice, especially last night and today.  I really liked the sermons in particular; the one last night was about how Judaism provides a good framework for an impersonal theology given the ineffable name of God and the tradition of wrestling with theological issues, and the one today was about how the only true faith in God is that which does not depend on him doing anything for us, with particular reference to how the Akedah is the story of Abraham moving from conditional to unconditional faith.  The two sermons went together well, as if they were two different ways of expressing the same basic message, and that message is the one that I find the most appealing way to reconcile the obligation of religious practice with the absurdity of traditional theism.

In some ways, I think a small and isolated Jewish community can be more resolute in its commitment to maintaining Judaism than a large, diffuse Jewish community in a big city.  There’s a feeling here not just of the need to preserve our traditions in a hostile world (which is a major part of Judaism everywhere, even when it is not at all threatened, and can lead to some quite unpleasant perspectives), but also of the importance of dealing with other people and coming to an understanding with the wider world.  Here we couldn’t segregate ourselves from the Gentile community even if we wanted to, so we have to decide what it is about Judaism that is most important and worthy of going to great lengths to preserve, and what is less important and can be compromised when necessary.  The balance we arrive at is, I think, pretty good most of the time.

This is part of why I’m skeptical about Zionism, by the way.  I’m not convinced that it’s a good idea to concentrate the world’s Jewish community in one small area where Jews run everything and need only interact with other Jews, even if that area were totally safe and secure.  There’s a tendency toward xenophobia in the Jewish psyche, and it’s especially pronounced right now in the major Jewish institutions.  This is one of the things that I think is less important, indeed largely harmful, about Judaism, and I’m quite happy to get rid of it to preserve the more important things.



  1. The services you describe are the sort that make me wish I were still a church-goer. Sounds like you had a meaningful holiday.

    Comment by Di Kotimy — September 24, 2007 @ 8:49 am |Reply

  2. I wouldn’t be too envious; the noteworthy thing about the niceness of the holiday was the contrast with most of my recent experiences with organized Judaism.

    Comment by teofilo — September 24, 2007 @ 5:29 pm |Reply

  3. you should come to nyc and go to B’nai Jeshurun, or, as the kids say, BJ’s. That’s an awesome service. And I actually mean that, easy as it would be to append IYKWIM.

    Comment by Tia — September 25, 2007 @ 2:10 pm |Reply

  4. Looks pretty good to me. Note the url.

    Comment by teofilo — September 25, 2007 @ 2:32 pm |Reply

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