In the season of repentance I’ll admit I was wrong about something about last week’s drash. I did find one place where I did enjoy High Holiday services. It was the second day of Rosh Hashana at Northwestern Hillel. It was a small room, and we often had to wait quite a while to get a minyan to start services. I realized that nothing that was true of the bigger services was true of this little one. I though that it was charming, and very very comfortable. Not everyone prayed the same way, but that did not matter either.
That thought came to me at Erev Rosh Hashanah services. Instead of my usual venue, we went with many of our friends to their services The sanctuary was far from full, and there was definitely no fashion contest going on. I found it kind of cute there might have been a contest to see how oddly one could dress. The choir was there, all eight or ten strong in a room far too big for their voices, singing a cappella without the help of microphones. This congregation rented this from a congregation who needed to rent a church to hold the large number they had for services. It was in a strange way comfy. It was so comfy, I spent first day services there, though I had originally planned on going back to my current synagogue.
I’ve been in big and little synagogues for much of my life. I like the little. Even my current big synagogue is more an umbrella to the little minyan I spent Saturday mornings in. I find this comforting. I’m not the only one. Demographic studies from Synagogue 3000 are showing a shift to smaller emergent communities and away from the big synagogue, particularly among Jews under the age of forty. [link, pg 13,14] . The study mentions that this demographic feels alienated in the traditional synagogue who is often focused on young children and education. The assumptions that under 40 childless couples and singles have are far different than families, and the emergent communities and independent minyans are finding a large number of their members (87% for emergent communities compared to 29% for NJPS 2000- 2001 synagogue definition) to be less than 40.
One response I got from my previous post had an interesting beginning, which that statistic reminded me of
How about remembering what I call the Mayflower Midrash, the verse that used to be posted in Mayflower Donut Shops across the country, As you wander on through life, Brother/Whatever be your goal,/Keep your eye upon the donut/And not upon the hole.
I hadn’t heard of Mayflower doughnuts, so I did some research. Mayflower doughnuts had the first operational doughnut making machine in their first bakery in New York. In the times I went to visit my grandparents there, I don’t remember this at all, since I would have been an infant or toddler. By the time the last Mayflower doughnut shop shuttered it doors almost 40 years ago, I still would have been too young to read it. The comment is indeed very true, and wise in many respects. My rant in many people’s eye was unnecessary, and though I thought I made it clear the problem for my prayer is a financial shot in the arm for most congregations. Yet, the use of that slogan led me to realize that this is also a generational assumption. Some generations know Mayflower doughnuts, some have never heard of them.
Parshat Haazinu is the transition from one generation to another. A lot like Mayflower doughnuts, there is a generation who lives on the west side of the Jordan and the ones mostly under 40 who will live on the east side. Moses has the people who will live in the land give ear to the last instructions, ones that can only be made by someone who didn’t see the wonders of Egypt and the Exodus. With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, Moses is the last of his generation, the last alive who witnessed the plages, the Red Sea and Sinai. In many respect, Moses is the last. There were many assumptions made by the people who left Egypt, Moses included. From their times as spies onward, Joshua and Caleb make different assumptions, and are thus awarded the privilege of entering the land, of being part of the younger generation. Moses does not, and thus is left on the east side of the Jordan. Assumptions allow us to be on one side of the river or the other. In the time of deciding what way to turn, shuva means turning. It is something we think about in these ten days: which way do we turn? Which assumptions do we keep and which do we forgo?
Where I was for Rosh Hashanah removes some very strong assumptions in many Jewish communities. Some it shares with many emergent communities, such as not emphasizing children’s education, like the traditional synagogue does. That fits my own experience, one of many assumptions I hold true. Some assumptions I realized are very different from my own as I listened to three congregant’s reflections during the Shofar service. It will take some getting used to, and indeed getting comfortable with. The challenge to my assumptions is welcome. I am as welcoming of those challenges as the people of this community are welcoming of me — with bear hugs.
This is the time of turning. The Perkei Avot, speaking of Torah proclaims
25. Ben Bag-Bag used to say of the Torah: Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it. Pour over it, and wax gray and old over it. Stir not from it for you can have no better rule than it.
We can also turn over the Torah of life, and challenge our assumptions continually. The time of the ten days is for that. Understanding the assumptions of others and finding our own, even the ones we think of as facts, is a challenging but rewarding exercise. It prepares us for the next stage of the process, acknowledging what we did wrong as we come up on Yom Kippur, where all doughnuts and assumptions are to be cast aside.