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Yom Kippur - Life Moving Too Fast?

09/30/2015 10:32:02 AM

Sep30

           This High Holy Day season marks the beginning of my 11th year as a full-time Rabbi at Temple Beth Am. I vividly remember coming to the synagogue in my first days. I’m sure you guys can all imagine sitting in the office for the first time noticing all of the new and exciting things. For me, it was exciting because the office was filled with, pretty much, nothing. I mean literally, there was nothing. There was no computer or printer. There weren’t any book cases. And the phone was one of those that connected directly to the line in the office. The setup was similar to the one that you might have in your own home where a call comes in and it rings everywhere in the house. Well, 10 years ago, that’s the way our building was. Someone would call about the religious school, and it would ring everywhere, including my office. It took me a few months to stop answering the phone every time it rang in my office. Oh, how things have changed over the past 10 years. Now, I have a computer; I have bookshelves; and I even have a phone system that doesn’t always ring in my office. (It’s the little things.)

           And when we think about our world, so much has changed in the past 10 years. 10 years ago, few of us were texting on our phones, and if we did, we had to use that darn number pad. I’m sure you remember how annoying was it when you had to write the word “you” and you had to hit the nine three times just to get to the Y. And we all felt jealous over someone that had a flip phone that included a “whole keyboard.” Many of us had palm pilots and blackberries to organize our lives. Over the past decade, our devices have gotten super small and now we seem to want them larger. While 10 years seems to be just a blink of an eye, so much has changed.

And yet, I don’t think that we truly understand just how fast things are moving. Perhaps if we look at history, we can gain some perspective on the blistering pace at which we are moving. Let’s take the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison make their discoveries in the late 1870s. It then took 20 years to get those crank machines where you would crank the handle, connecting you to an operator. We then had to wait another 40 years for rotary phones and then another 30 years for us to get to touch-tone phones. We’re talking about jumps of 20 and 30 years just to get us through baby steps.

And what about television? TV was invented around the 1920s and 30s but didn’t get into the homes until the 1950’s. Even at that time, programming was only for a short period of time and was only available on a few of channels. The 1960’s brought us color television. But we were still limited in programming. 20 to 30 years later, we start to develop more programming across more channels covering a 24-hour day.

Regardless of how old or young we are, we know that change is going to happen. But it usually doesn’t happen so fast. Throughout history, things developed, things improved, things evolved, but they never happen at such a blistering pace. It took us 60 years to go from crank phones to rotary phones. 60 years is a lifetime for anyone, but think about it for you. In the past 10 years, we have done miracles. Now, can we even imagine what our phones are going to be like 60 years from now – it is unfathomable. Change is definitely inevitable, but is changing too fast a problem?

When you ride in a car really fast, it’s exciting, exhilarating. When we ride in a roller coaster many of us yell with enjoyment. But whether we are riding in a car or your riding on a roller coaster, we all hold on to something to steady ourselves in order to enjoy the ride. Holding onto something helps us feel comfortable and safe.

I feel that Judaism and Jewish life is not immune to the fast pace of our modern lives. Judaism is constantly changing. And like the rest of the world, it is changing at an extremely rapid pace. Concepts, beliefs, and practices are evolving and being reevaluated. Traditions and customs that at one time that were the bread basket of our religion are now being tossed aside. Over the past 10 years, pretty much everything has come up for grabs. It has changed or been altered in some way. As a Reform Rabbi, I welcome and encourage the advancement and the changes. As a Reform Rabbi, I herald the great evolution of our religion and culture. However, maybe we are moving too fast.

Over 150 years ago, the American Reform community was primarily German born. Our prayerbook was mostly in German. It took us about 40 years to move from a German prayerbook to an English one. Over those decades, we added Confirmation and Bat Mitzvah to our rituals. As time passed towards our current century, we welcomed women with full participation and we even welcomed the LGBTQ community with open arms.

All of these changes and advancements are imperative to the growth and development of Judaism. But with all of these advancements in the past decades, we have also seen drastic changes in people’s feelings about Shabbat services, belief in God, and participation even in High Holy Days. Across this country, we have seen a huge drop in synagogues, as well as a lack of interest in educating our children in their Jewish heritage. Throughout Jewish history, we have always seen ebbs and flows in interest in these areas, but now we are talking about 20 to 30% drops in all these areas.

Changes are inevitable. I’m well aware that people’s feelings about religion and their heritage is an ever moving target, but I strongly believe that we are moving way too fast. In our advancement and in our evolution, I believe that we need something to hold onto before it is too late. While we move on this extremely fast roller coaster, what should we hold onto to ground us? What is it that should keep us bonded together and connected?

           While I am well aware that things are going to change and constantly be in flux, I strongly believe that one of the things that should not be sloughed off is the concept of community. The Jewish idea of coming together for common cause to accomplish something amazing is extremely powerful. This past summer’s event when we helped the people of Nepal is a perfect example. You, on your own, could have made a donation to help the people of Nepal. You, on your own, could have gone to the “Jewel of the Himalaya” restaurant and offered your support. But with the help of our Social Action Committee, you had an opportunity to perform an action of healing with a sacred community. In doing that, you connected yourselves, bonding to each other, elevating what you were doing. You looked around the room at the dinner and you saw that you were doing something that was not only amazing, but you were doing something with others. There is great power it that. So while we all can practice Judaism in our homes, on our own, there is something amazing about practicing Judaism with a community.

Another aspect of Judaism that should ground us in our ever changing views about our religion, is its love of learning. You see Jewish learning has never, in our entire history, been solely about literacy. We have never been about just learning facts, dates, and names of individuals. We have always been about the experience that we gain by being with each other while we learn. Judaism has this concept of the chevruta. Chevruta is not only an action of studying. It is the action of studying with another person. It is the action of sitting with someone, looking over a piece of wisdom that interests you, sharing your thoughts about it and, in the end, opening your soul to the other. Through this process, you learn about yourself and you learn about others. This is exactly what I strive to have happen at my Thursday evening sessions called “Wine with Weiner.” Our purpose is not just for us to learn. Our purpose is to realize that the world is changing extremely fast. Judaism is moving at a blistering pace. Learning is an important pillar of Judaism and should not change. We are there to learn about a topic as well as to learn about each other. In doing that, it is a sacred beautiful experience.

           And in this age of our children and our grandchildren practicing less and less, what I’m about to say might even be heretical. I believe, Jewish practice, on some level, needs to be another one of those pillars that we hold onto as Judaism evolves. We used to be able to say, “Oh there are the active Jews, and there are also those two day Jews.” This was in reference to those individuals who only came into the Temple during the High Holy Days. Well, let me be the first one to tell you, that we can’t even count on that anymore. The best example might be Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year has become a wonderful, beautiful time for family to get together. And for many Jewish families in the United States, that seems to be that is all that it is: a time to get together. But are we missing something, if Rosh Hashanah is only about sitting around the dining room table with the family? If there is no self-reflection, if there is no communal gathering at a synagogue, if there is no hearing of the sound of the shofar, are we as a Jewish community missing something? Are our children and grandchildren missing school only for the purpose of hanging out?

Historically, Thanksgiving was a national holiday that would cause us to remember our American heritage, a time when we remembered our past and were thankful for the things around us. Now, for many, Thanksgiving is a time filled with gluttony and football, and not much else. Is Rosh Hashanah and even Yom Kippur on its way to becoming just another Thanksgiving, another day off?

If so, I believe that we as a Jewish people will be missing something. Ritual and the celebration of our heritage through our holidays is not only something that we have on our “things to do” list that we check off, just so we can say, “I got through that.” Many rituals and Jewish traditions keep us grounded, keep us connected to each other, and they have inherent value. We must strive to hold fast to the traditions and customs that we find meaningful. We must teach them to each other and the next generation, so that people can understand not only what the literal meaning is, but also what we find powerful and spiritual about these customs.

Fiddler on the Roof used to be one of those things that we could take for granted. Jews used to mention scenes to each other, similar to the way that people would quote Shakespeare. Now fewer and fewer people know of the musical and fewer and fewer people can relate to its messages. There is one that I wish to remind you of that is extremely pertinent. The title of the show is called Fiddler on the Roof for good reason. The fiddler is a metaphor for the change that the Jewish community is experiencing. Yet, the main character challenges the audience, saying that we are all like a fiddler on the roof, trying to play beautiful music though always one step away from falling off.

The winds of change blow us very hard. As Reform Jews, it is a blistering powerful wind. But we must not forget the music. The tropes of community, learning, and Jewish tradition enhance our souls. They bring us and our families to another place. We are all Fiddlers on the Roof. So I say to you today, on this Yom Kippur, let the wind come. Let change happen. BUT, let us play the music with pride and panache. Let us commit ourselves, commit our children, and commit our grandchildren, to listening to the music. And maybe even with all of this change we can be enhanced by its sounds.

May we all have a sweet and happy New Year. And let us say, Amein

 

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