So sorry the Yenta’s late with New Year’s greetings, but ya know, it’s the secular new year, so whatevs…doesn’t feel all that different to me.
Why’d those weirdo Romans choose the dead of winter to ring in the new, anyway? I’m sure the Gregorian geniuses thought it was an improvement over the Jewish tradition of wiping the slate clean just as everything starts dying off in the fall, but ancestral origins aside, doesn’t it make the most sense to recognize the newness of life when green things start appearing again — in the spring? Look at me, five days into the questionably new year and I’m already digressing and blaspheming…
Speaking of blaspheming, I’d like to take this opportunity to make a statement about the state of Jewishness in the world of Yenta. Though it’s been decades since I’ve gone through the pointless ministrations of compiling New Year’s resolutions just so I could beat myself for not keeping them, I did make a quiet promise to myself just as that bold and beautiful Blue Moon passed over my head last week: I will no longer participate in Judaism out of obligation.
Many of you regular readers are no doubt snickering, thinking “Um, Yenta, you don’t attend synagogue regularly, you don’t keep kosher, you think jumping in the ocean with a thousand other freaks in 30-degree weather is as good as the mikveh…you’re not exactly a fount of observance. What other mitzvot could you possibly not undertake?”
Well, there are plenty. For example, I could feast on ciabatta at Passover (#121) or wear a fabulous dress made of linen and wool (#367), but I won’t — the former because giving up bread for Pesach helps me remember that my freedom was paid for by my ancestors and the latter because mixing up those two textiles in one garment is a little much even for a creative fashionista like myself.
It’s not so much that I want to stop being Jewish (as if that were possible), I just want to stop pretending that the external rules and obligations are nourishing me when they’re not. It’s about digging deeper to find what holds meaning for me; to not simply go through the rote service repeating prayers from a book, lulled into complacency by the responsive readings on Yom Kippur. Over the last few years I’ve experienced a palpable lack of deeper spiritual feeling in the many different synagogues I’ve attended close to home and in my travels, and I’m totally guilty of projecting my own dearth of inspiration onto the women chatting on their side of the mechitza or the rabbi droning on with such torpor I imagine he’s even boring himself. So with this attempt to be more exact about what I believe in and what I don’t, I’m not only trying to take responsibility for feeding my own spiritual hunger but to also be less of a self-righteous a**hole.
Of course for some of you, Judaism is less about religion than service or the culture we have in common. Thank you to those who find Jewish identity in supporting the Jewish Federation through financial donations and/or serving on the myriad boards and committees required to administrate all of its community activities. Bless the ones who bake up the hundreds of hamantashen for the Purim parties and those who organize the speakers’ series. I appreciate it all. But if you call me to help, I’m going to politely refuse, ’cause this non-New Year non-resolution encompasses not going to meetings when I’d rather be exercising or working on a book proposal or watching American Idol (but if you’re going to feed me, be sure to mention that since I can always be bribed into service with kugel, or even just donuts.) Selfish? Yeah, but you don’t really want me there if I’m there out of guilt because I’ll just scowl and kvetch. On the other hand, if you ask me to help plan the awesome Havdalah rave dance party and I agree, you can trust that I want to be there — I’ll show up on time and maybe even bring the donuts myself.
From here on out, I vow to be a more authentic Jew, even if it means being a bad one. This quest is more than an exercise in boundary-setting or an excuse to duck out of making phone calls on Super Sunday — it’s a balls-out jump smack into the middle of the mystical paradox, a reggae hora danced on the rickety fence between the sacred and profane, a beyond-denominational call for all souls seeking a genuine connection with what moves us. Will you join me?