Little did I know that this weekend in Miami would turn out to be chock full of Judaism. And to think, I thought it was going to be full of drinking and relaxing on the beach. As it turns out, I was right on that front. The weekend ultimately turned out to be a combination of both.
Ever since I started working at the magazine, the subject of Judaism has been ever-present on my mind (and for good reason; I work with and around it 9 hours a day). I’m beginning to think I’ve become a magnet attracting all things Jewish (minus a good JAP to take home to mom).
For one, after reading my review of Jewtopia, Time Warner Book Group sent me yet another book, Incantation. It’s a young adult book and upon receipt thereof, I had no intention of reading it. For one thing, the words in the book are this big. That was a turn off. Another turn off was the image of a “mystic” female on the cover and the name of a female author. While I’m a big fan of some female authors, I tend to prefer males. I also love complexity and books with seemingly no plot, yet writing that makes you wonder if the author is, in fact, mortal. And if so, did he sell his soul for that kind of talent? Nevertheless, I read the back of the book and it spoke of living a life of duplicity (something with which I’ve found myself suddenly quite familiar), as well as Kabbalah (something with which I’m not familiar at all aside from my arch nemesis, the fake Jew, Madonna’s obsession therewith). Those two things, combined with a two and a half hour plane ride, and enough foresight to know that the book would only take me about an hour to read, sealed the deal. I read it and I actually enjoyed it. Not in the way that I usually love a book, however. As I mentioned, I usually enjoy getting stuck on the complexly structured sentences that compose each page. Incantation didn’t contain those. It was rather a simple and touching story that further detailed the persecution that followers of Judaism have endured over the centuries. Of course that was interesting to me, but to someone else my age? Probably not. And that’s good, because this is targeted toward a younger audience; one that would surely benefit from reading it. So, yeah, that’s that.
When I arrived at the airport, I was picked up by a couple of friends, one of whom has a condo right outside of the city. He told me that we were going to Synagogue tomorrow (Saturday) for Rosh Hashanah. I laughed. He was serious. I was oddly excited. When we got to his place he grabbed a community newspaper to figure out which temple to go to. Then he announced that it was $300 to get in. You're kidding me.
“Three hundred dollars? What a rip off. They’re exploiting the holiday to make money?” My impression of the religion started changing immediately.
From there, my mind wondered off to think of other events that are equally inappropriate to charge a cover at: weddings, funerals, birthday parties….
Before I got too far, he explained to me that many Jews only step into the temple on High Holidays, while others are paying membership fees for the entire year. Money for the upkeep of the synagogue and the rabbi’s salary had to be accounted for. It started making sense. My other friend told me that it’s hardly disgusting when you think of the tithing required by some religions. She told me that her father pays 10% of everything he makes to his church. When he sells a piece of real estate—10% straight to the church.
"Okay, got it. Fine, it’s not that disgusting."
We headed to the synagogue the next day. The security guard at the door requested our tickets, which we still needed to buy. We followed someone who we thought was going to assist us with our tickets, but he rather showed us to a trough of kippahs and let us in the service. Phew, that was a close call.
We only stayed for about an hour. Basically, my friend—the bacon-eating, tattooed Jew—had wanted to go to services to “get it out of the way.” Seemingly in an attempt to avoid the guilt that would have resulted having not attended (I guess that answers the Jewish guilt question: it clearly exists).
Long story short, the service differed greatly from a Christian one (as you might expect). There was a huge emphasis on tradition and community, rather than that which composes the actual religion (maybe this is why many Jews don’t know much about their religion?) On the other hand, I've only been to one service, so I've made no concrete conclusions. Christian churches offer a mix of both with more emphasis on Biblical stories. Community seems to be preached more than it is emphasized. If anything, the Christian “communities” are that which turn me off the most. This is for many reasons.
From there, the weekend progressed as planned: Beach, drinks, sushi (no raw kobe beef this time), drinks, and again, beach. For some reason, I felt good having gone to the service. It set the tone for the rest of the weekend, kind of like when I used to go to church on Sunday mornings. I never wanted to go, but once I did, I felt like I had done my part and that I could spend the rest of the day sinning as usual, yet, without guilt. This is a huge thing for a Catholic man. Without guilt, there is no way for "them" to manipulate us.