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Rosh Hashanah: the social event of the season

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09/16/2009

Tradition.  It’s an integral part of the Jewish religion.  Every Friday night Jews around the world sit down for Shabbos dinner.  Every December we spin the dreidel.  And every fall we sit in services for an ungodly amount of time in order to welcome in the New Year, a tradition dear old Hashem did not count on becoming the social event of the season.

Each year Jews from all over the country venture to their hometowns to spend Rosh Hashanah with their families.  What is intended to be a time to take a step back and think about all the sins we’ve made, and yes, we’ve all made them, for some it’s slowly transcended into a time to show everyone your cute new High Holiday outfit and gossip about the people you haven’t seen for an entire year.  Ironic, I know.

I am about to embark on this yearly tradition and travel all the way to Minnesota to eat apples and honey and spend time with my friends and family.  While the players may have slightly changed, the game always remains the same.  I will go to my aunt’s on Friday night and eat my grandma’s carrot mold.  The evening will get progressively more tolerable with every glass of wine I drink.  I will wake up in the morning and meet my parents at shul, because going with them at 7:30 a.m. is out of the question.  I will have to park the car at my friend Maia’s house, because this is the one time throughout the entire year that trying to park at the synagogue is like trying to park in Times Square.  My parents will have saved me a seat on the left side of the bema.  The Weiners will be in front of us, the Sudits behind us, and the Rodiches will be across the way.  Now comes the fun.

If you think that sitting through a 4 hour service in a language you can’t understand could never be fun, you should come to the Adath, my synagogue in Minneapolis.  It’s this 4 hour period of time that happens to be the most entertaining.  Here is a glimpse of what will go down:

- There will be a person in the back corner covered from head to toe with talit (although it looks more like a burka).  She will be standing the entire time while rocking from her heels to her toes.  After 9/11, we all thought she was a terrorist.  This went on until the end of the service when she disrobed, and we were all shocked to see a girl we went to preschool with.  My, how people change.

- Throughout the service people will get up and walk around the sanctuary and out the doors for a restroom break.  This creates the perfect opportunity to scope out their outfit and whisper to your mother how much weight she has lost or gained.  Sad, but true.

- Starting from the moment we all take our seats, you will see people trying to have conversations with people from across the room.  Unfortunately, mouthing words from that far away can lead to lots of confusion.  It’s pretty entertaining when you try to speak to a friend across the sanctuary, and the person behind her answers.

- There will be lots of hugs and kisses.  Some from people you know and some from people you think you know.  After a while, and especially with age, all us Jews start to look the same.

- The stench of the room will be filled with the potent cologne of old women.  In order to reduce the coughing that ensues, the Adath has actually roped off a section in the balcony and marked it with a big distracting sign that says “scent free zone”.  Can’t you see Larry David sitting here on Curb Your Enthusiasm?

There is something comforting about the fact that even though it’s been 25 years, I can still map out where all of my friends and family will be seated during services.  Throughout the service, we all take breaks and meet in the lobby and catch up.  There will be constant pitter patter of new generations getting antsy.  The same ushers will be there, getting more and more bitter with age, yelling at all the kids who are trying to get back into the service during the sermon.  People will have gotten older; some won’t be there anymore.  But no matter what has happened that year, the nostalgic and comforting aura of being there is still the same year after year.

I have attended services in Chicago, Buenos Aires and Israel, and it’s nice to know that no matter where one goes, the outcome is the same.  No other culture can even compare.  It’s pretty cool to be a Jew.

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