there is water underground.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Get Your Jew On(line), Redux

So I recently "attended" Kol Nidre services by watching the first-ever broadcast of such a service online. Glad I did it; not something I'd choose to do again.

I think the part that amazed me was how many people logged on and from where. One person watched from Pondicherry, India. Another watched from the Czech Republic. And there I was, from Malden. There were apparently tens of thousands of people watching, and not all of them were Jewish. One of the purposes of this offering was to educate non-Jews about what goes on during a Kol Nidre service. Isn't that great? Opening up the synagogue doors - in an unobtrusive way - to the rest of the world. Pretty cool in my book.

There were a few issues, however. The technical ones first - the "full screen" option did not work, so viewers were relegated to watching a small video feed (think YouTube size). I got used to it, but it still was tough on the eyes. Also, unless a viewer had a prayerbook, there was no way to follow along with the rabbi; the words were not broadcast onscreen. The music is something that over the years has been ingrained into my head, so I had no trouble remembering the tunes... can't say the same for the words. Aside from those, very smooth job - good use of varied camera positions and excellent sound quality.

My only real issue with the broadcast was that the rabbi seemed to be... how can I say this... an idiot. First, he didn't acknowledge the congregation at all. The day is a somber one, true, but a word or two to welcome the people in the temple would have been nice. Forget about those viewing from their computers; the rabbi didn't even say 'good evening' to his own congregation.

Additionally, I found myself disgusted with his sermon. He spoke of how there needs to be a rejuvenation of Jewish life and activism in our communities, and that's fine, but he specifically said that "let's face it, the only places it will happen are New York and Los Angeles." (yes, I took some notes and that's a quote) Now it's true that those two cities have huge Jewish populations, and they are the hubs for a lot of Jewish thinking and social activism. But I'll be feshnickened if Boston doesn't hold its own, if Chicago doesn't have a share, if Houston doesn't have a thriving Jewish community. And Washington DC! And Philly! Hell, even Minneapolis is the hub for one of the major Jewish organizations. And hello, Florida?? For the rabbi to have said what he did basically insulted the other pockets of Judaism in the country and said "if you're not in NY or LA, you don't matter." Additionally, he said it when tens of thousands of people around the world were watching. Many of these people do not live in New York or LA, I presume that many wanted to get involved somehow and perhaps this night was the first of many steps toward taking some sort of action in their communities. Yom Kippur is not a time of exclusion, and it struck me as extraordinarily insensitive.

He then went on to say that other religions and ethnic groups have "declared war on the Torah" and that people of different religions who marry and raise their kids in a secular household "should not be counted as Jews." That's some pretty harsh shit, and that's when I stopped watching. I don't feel bad at all; the sermon is usually the last part of the service aside from a prayer or two at the end. But I was dumbstruck - here he was, the first to lead one of the more progressive Jewish experiences ever, and he came across as a blundering fool. It's strange to have that feeling and think that the guy was an idiot while simultaneously "attending" the service on the day of forgiveness and repentance... but what can I say? That's how I felt.

But the real reason why I'd never do this again is that the feeling of awe that comes over me when I'm in a huge room with many others never happened. At all. The feeling of 'congregation' in the true sense of the word - not in the "people from all over the world are watching" sense - is apparently very integral to my temple experience. There's just something indescribable about it. Under the suits and dresses and makeup and hair gel that seem so important to the high holy days, there's a human aspect that transcends any religion. In any case - it was an experience that I'm glad I partook of, but next year it's back to the synagogue and back to the congregation. And anyway, it's so much better when the four-year-old shouting about his penis is actually sitting right behind you.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Get Your Jew On(line)

Tonight the Wilshire Boulevard Temple - Los Angeles' oldest synagogue - will make history and set a precedent by being the first temple to broadcast its Kol Nidre service over the internet. I'm going to watch and listen.

I've been thinking about it all day. I could attend a service at the synagogue down the street (at a hefty cost b/c I'm not a congregation member), or I could make the trek into Cambridge and pretend to be a Harvard student in order to get into the Hillel, or I could try something new. After much consideration, I decided that it's worth it to me to give this a shot (and besides, if I'm trying to be inscribed in the book of life, it might not look too good if I'm impersonating a Harvard student and 'sneaking' into Hillel).

There are already bloggers going back and forth about whether this is a bad idea. One rabbi (yes, they blog too) said that this is "truly a sad day for Judaism." I respectfully disagree. In my mind, this is a use of technology that positively benefits the Jewish community by bringing those who would otherwise be unable to attend services into the fold. There are undoubtedly thousands of people out there who, for whatever reason, cannot get to temple tonight. Perhaps illness prevents them from leaving the house. Perhaps they live in a remote area and cannot feasibly get to a temple; there are many Jews who are walking to temple tonight rather than driving, so that stipulation puts increased pressure on those who are far from temples.

The devil's advocate in me argues that because I am healthy and have a temple near me, I should take advantage of my ability to leave my home and go to temple. A solid point. But this opportunity fascinates me. I want to see if I feel the same way I do when I'm in temple and I hear the music of the high holy days.

Part of the reason that I go to temple on the major holidays is because the experience of being in a room with thousands of other people, knowing that at that very moment there are many more doing the same all over the world, is awesome in the original sense of that word. I feel like I owe it to myself to see what would happen if I were to place myself in a solitary place (my apartment) but still be connected to the greater Jewish community. It'll obviously be very different, but I want to see & feel what it's like. Maybe I'll learn something about my perceptions of temple and what "congregation" means; the only Kol Nidre services I've ever been to have been at the Port Washington Community Synagogue (and services at college weren't very convincing; the Jewish organizations had to rent out seminar rooms at the student center).

I don't need a minyan to feel a sense of awe. I would feel out of place by myself at an unfamiliar temple, and besides, I feel there's something strange about synagogues charging non-members $150 for a reserved seat ($80 for "balcony"). This is a time of atonement and prayer, not a Springsteen concert. Most of all, though - I'm just really curious. I'm going to take it as seriously as I would a Kol Nidre service back in Port Washington - I will not have any distractions, I will put on formal clothing, I will follow along with the prayers, and I will fast tomorrow. And at this point, I'm thoroughly looking forward to tonight's service.

Whether it's a good experience or a bad one, it will be an experience. Keeping one's mind open to new ideas seems to be a very important part of Judaism anyway - think of the orange on the Seder plate, the Torah study groups that happen every week (how amazing is it that a book written thousands of years ago is still being discussed and debated?), and references to ourselves as "the Chosen People" are diminishing in the face of maintaining Jewish integrity without demeaning others - so this new use of technology does not really surprise me. In fact, my only source of surprise is that it hasn't been done before.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


There's a moment in every Rosh Hashanah service where the congregation reflects in silent meditation. It's not a long time - perhaps two minutes or so - but a room of two thousand people tacitly reading or praying to themselves is truly an amazing thing. To me, it transcends the experience of going to temple (which increasingly seems like a fashion show intertwined with a competition of who can arrive early to get the "good seats") and makes it into something greater, larger than ourselves, and that might be the whole purpose. This year, it was something even more. While the whole room was quietly praying, the four-year old sitting directly behind me decided that right then was the best time to shout: "My penis is too big!"

Not even the most serious, introspective Jews within earshot could stop laughing. It was a perfect moment. This kid is destined to have stellar comedic timing (and given that he's Jewish, he has a decent shot at show business).

Anyway, happy new year to all. May we all find some happiness, joy, love, and decent sushi restaurants. And if, at this time next year, your only complaint is that you're packing too much meat, definitely let everyone in temple know. Loudly.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Death Cab for Hootie?

As Raz pointed out this morning, a recent study was done on the life expectancy of rock stars. Lo and behold, it turns out that (gasp!) they are "more likely than other people to die before reaching old age." The shock! The incredulity! The report went so far as to say this:
"In the music industry, factors such as stress, changes from popularity to obscurity, and exposure to environments where alcohol and drugs are easily available, can all contribute to substance use as well as other self-destructive behaviors."

Are they for real? In this case, the they is The Journal of Epidemial Community Health, and I had to look up what "epidemial" means (and neither Merriam nor Webster knew). Really, rock stars die young, huh? Stop the fuckin' presses. This needs to be heard worldwide! Especially by Janis Jopl... oh wait. Tell Jimi Hendr... damn. Somebody call Kurt Cob... shit!

They needed a study to figure this out. That's the part that kills me. As Raz pointed out, it's like those studies that tell us that kids who watch too much TV and don't get enough exercise are fat. This is what happens when grant money is spent by people with nothing better to do. How the deuce will this benefit any of us "normal" people who comprise 99.993% of the population? Ooooh, look honey, rock stars die young! Let's not name our child Dweezil like we'd originally planned! Crikey. Did the study say anything about how it's only the good artists that seem to die young, whether it's by drugs, alcohol, guns, or airplane/helicopter crashes? There's a study that I'd love to know about - why are Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lennon, Tupac Shakur, Elliot Smith and Jeff Buckley dead, but Vanilla Ice, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Ringo still alive? (I kid Ringo... someone has to) As I'm typing this, I realize that I might be subconsciously recalling a Chris Rock routine where he says similar things about how only the good rappers get shot. No points for originality today, Berne. D'oh!

Speaking of studies, apparently one-fifth of Americans can't locate the US on a world map. Nothing shocking about this; I actually thought it was more like one-third. But did anyone catch Miss Teen South Carolina's answer to the question about this topic? The questioner stated that above fact, and then asked her "Why do you think this is?" It was perhaps the most mind-blowingly inane, fucktarded (love that word) answer to a question ever. YouTube it if you'd like, but here's the transcript:
"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because...ah some...people out there in our nation don't have maps and...ah...I believe that eh-education such as in South Africa and the Iraq everywhere like such as. I believe that they should....our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or-or should help south Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for our gen..."

One good point about this so-called explanation is that it ended. Another good point was that I kinda like the use of "US Americans" to describe citizens of the USA. It makes sense, and it's certainly a whole lot less egotistical than referring to ourselves as "Americans" when there are 22 other countries in North, South, and Central America. But otherwise, this girl needs some serious help. Yeah, our kids are stupid when it comes to geography because they don't have maps. And they can't look up stuff on the internets either. She also ended a sentence with "like such as." This poor, poor girl. Good thing she's hot, or else she'd never be able to get her own reality show (it hasn't happened yet, but I'd wager that there's a contingent at Fox licking their collective chops).

So the moral? Thank heaven that the school year is beginning - let's hope that teachers start using maps... if they can find any.