Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fasting, Praying, or Protesting

One of my personal critiques of my Jewish experience was that I felt I had inherited (or was educated towards) an immature impression of Judaism. This covered my conceptualization of Gd (long beard sitting on a throne) through to the purpose and need for substantive ritual in modern life. I finally was able to realize during college - after many conversations and scores of books read - that my conceptualization of Judaism was extremely adolescent and perhaps, before I judge Judaism and my people and perhaps check out, I should learn more to see if I really had experienced the whole gamut of information and perspectives.

Here is just a small anecdote about the extent of my immaturity. My family were regulars at a traditional Conservative Synagogue almost every Shabbat morning. After years of going to Junior Congregation and to the main minyan I really thought the purpose of public Torah reading was to catch the mistakes of the reader. Really! Who understood what was being read aloud and thus deduced that the point of everyone being quiet was to insure that the audience could catch a mistake (or in better terms, to make sure the mesoret was kept accurate week in and week out). Only years later, with a grasp of Hebrew and the fundamentals of community practices, did I learn the greater nuances and appreciation. [More on this theme later but not miss my message: the goal of an educator is to give students the ability and skills to mature into their own Jewish identities and to function and Menschlikim Adults.]

So too with fasting - I remember many a Yom Kippur listening to friends frustrated with the fasting ritual and choosing to opt out under the logic of, "I only think about food, and never about repenting!" Today is the minor fast of the 17th of Tammuz and rather then argue about whether young people should be taught how to focus on the meaningfulness of giving up food for a day (not even 24 hours), I overheard a few conversation speaking about the effect the fast is supposed to have not just on the individual, but on the communal level. Some argued for protesting government policies or injustices happening in other parts of the world and even raising awareness to issues within individual Jewish communities. Communal introspection is important and is sometimes lost in the greater talk about what is happening during the prayers of the day. As daveners, there is a lot of opportunity for personal hesbon nefesh (personal introspection) - but one of the special aspects of the 3 Weeks is that this is a time of soul-searching of the collective and I fear we have lost an element of this self-community-critique. If students are only thinking of their belly on Tisha B'Av then the teachers have not prepared them or challenged them for a communal sense of mourning and suffering and no wonder they are bored during kinot or mincha.

As for the goal of this blog, communities need to take step back and evaluate in which course their tefilot are heading and what could arouse more kavanah (concentration), rachamim (mercy), or kedusha (kedusha/holiness). The Chagim of Rosh Hashanah thru Yom Kippur are likened as the 'playoffs of praying' and need a lot of preparation so that participants are in the atmosphere and have all the tools to play. This metaphor is appropriate because the fundamentals of a championship caliber team are set in training camp, the pre-season, and the everyday playing of the game. How can a minyan recalibrate and make the need adjustments to reach their goals?

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