Thursday, October 6, 2016

Pink Ladies, Orange Blossoms, and Vera

A shofar sits behind a green apple and a jar of honey,
with a honey wand next to the jar.  Stock photo.
This is the third part in a series of blog posts discussing the Jewish High Holy Days.

I don't know what it is with my body as of late (I betcha it has something to do with this damn menopause sucking the life out of my energy, or vice versa), but I am now just getting to discussing what took place this past Sunday and Monday.

Welcome to Rosh Hashanah.

In its literal text, Rosh Hashanah means "Head (or Beginning) of the Year." In the Jewish calendar, the first day of Tishrei (say: TISH-ray) marks the first of two days of Rosh Hashanah.  Yes, Rosh Hashanah is so nice that we Jews celebrate it twice.  Maybe I'll just stick to writing blog posts instead of reconstituting old jokes.

As you may (or not) be aware, Jewish holidays start at sundown of the previous (Gregorian, or contemporary or common era) calendar day and ends at nightfall of the last day of observance.  The same can be said for Rosh Hashanah.  The new year, in this case, it's the year 5777 (or as I call it, five triple-seven); meaning that 5777 years ago, according to the Torah, it is the day where Adam and Eve were created.

I will say this: the Torah does not compute accurate timekeeping.  What the Torah describes as how G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, with scientists finding archeology that is described to be millions of years old, clearly shows how time management was about as well organized as the different measurements of a pair of size 8 bootcut jeans.  Absolute no consensus whatsoever.

What I am about to describe happens at my synagogue and only my synagogue.  Individual synagogues may vary on how each one celebrates Rosh Hashanah.

Erev (say: EH-rehv) Rosh Hashanah (Evening of Rosh Hashanah)

For most Christians, the two holidays where you will see the most turnout of congregants is on Christmas Day and on Easter Sunday.  The same observation can be said about the two holidays for Jews where everyone comes out of the woodwork as if the Cleveland Browns were about to go into the NFL Playoffs: Yom Kippur, which is ten days after the other holiday, Rosh Hashanah.  Traffic and the proverbial onslaught of folks coming in from all over the place can be a bit overwhelming.  The rush to get to the synagogue is something to be expected; what wasn't expected (at least for me) was the proverbial onslaught of police officers, directing traffic all across the parking lot and making sure no one suspicious enters into the place of Jewish worship.  Think of it as several officers from the police departments in Parma, North Royalton, Brunswick, and Lakewood being at St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church for Easter evening service on Holy Saturday night.  Except that there never is any type of uniformed on duty security forces at a Christian church (at least not at St. Vladimir).

A pink lady apple.  Stock photo.
On Erev, or Evening of, Rosh Hashanah at my synagogue, because of the sheer volume of families (over 1,400 of them - yes I attend a megashul, thank you very much) that come, there are different services taking place simultaneously so that everyone has a chance to worship.  The two main services that are held on Erev Rosh Hashanah are congregational (or traditional) and contemporary (or modern).  The congregational service will feature someone playing the organ and an unseen choir chanting songs that are almost haunting.  The contemporary service will feature a couple of musicians and a much more laidback approach to worship.  A third service option on Erev Rosh Hashanah at my synagogue is with the LGBT chavurah, which is the one I always attend.  The LGBT service serves me well in two ways; the attendance is a lot smaller (like, 20 people overall), and it helps me digest dealing with a proverbial massive can of sardines that are wandering along the walkways of the synagogue.

Boker Rosh Hashanah

And if that wasn't enough goodness, Jews get to do it again the following morning with Boker (or Morning of) Rosh Hashanah!  Aaaaaaayyyyyyy!  In the Boker edition of Rosh Hashanah services, the length of services are a lot longer than the Erev edition, and there is a lot more moving up and down as certain parts require us to stand and other parts we can rest when we sit.  Another difference is instead of a LGBT service in the morning, a family service (where youngsters can participate) becomes a third service option.  A similarity between both Erev and Boker Rosh Hashanah is the use of a different prayer book.  This dark red covered book features how, between now and Yom Kippur, Jews need to repent for their sins, ask for forgiveness, and pledge to be better Jews this Jewish year.  Talk about a buzzkill; we celebrate a new year by being all somber as fuck.  Complete with patrolling police officers.

Each service ends with the sound from our favorite non-vegan friendly instrument, the shofar.  And unlike during the previous Jewish month of Elul, where folks heard the blast once a day for 30 days, we get to hear it during the Rosh Hashanah services.  Plus, there are also instructions as to how to make the shofar sound patterns.  There's tekiah (say: teh-KEE-ah), a one note long noise, think of a mono sounding bugle.  There's shevarim (say: sh-vah-REEM), a shorter pattern consisting of three equal sounds.  There's teruah (say: teh-ROO-ah), a pattern of nine equal, but very short, toots.  And finally, there is tekiah gedolah (say: geh-DOLE-ah), or "big tekiah," similar to the original sound of the Emergency Broadcast System.  This is only a test, heh.

A collection of honey jars sit among
a pair of oranges and a couple of orange
blossoms.  Stock photo.
When the morning services end, there is an oneg held that features a bunch of sweets; honeycakes, apple slices, sticks of honey, pumpkin rolls, and other desserts.  The deal with the sweets is, when you wish someone a "happy" new year, you are actually wishing them a "good" and/or a "sweet" new year by saying Shanah Tovah Umetukah (say: shah-NAH toe-VAH oo-MEH-too-kah, "have a good and sweet new year").  Mostly, folks will nosh, or eat, apples and honey to symbolize this good wish.  I prefer pink lady apples and orange blossom honey, but that's a different story.

A ritual that takes place during the daylight of Rosh Hashanah is a ritual called Tashlich (say: TAHSH-likh).  Note: in the three times I have officially observed Rosh Hashanah, I have yet to do the Tashlich ritual; don't tell my rabbi, okay?  At my synagogue (which this is optional for folks), they will caravan to a nearby flowing water source (a river, perhaps) and "cast away" their sins by throwing bits of bread or bread crumbs, each piece representing a "sin" from the previous Jewish year, into the water, to symbolize the "riddance from one's soul."

A white colored apple barn in a green pasteurized farmland,
with a mirror reflective, still motion pond in the
foreground, separated by a wooden fence. This is at the
Patterson's Fruit Farm in Chesterland, Ohio, USA.
Finally, there is a second day of Rosh Hashanah, where most Jews will celebrate at home.  At my synagogue, folks roughly my age (ages between 21 and about 45) will venture out to the farmlands of Chesterland in nearby Geauga County for an informal Second Erev Rosh Hashanah service called Jew Year's Eve.  Sponsored by my synagogue's young professional group, folks from different synagogues or unaffiliated for whatever reason come out to sing, worship, laugh, and remember.  And even though I'm always the odd man out at this event (a lot of these kids grew up together so they know each other, unlike the "new kid on the block"), I enjoy myself thoroughly by feasting on pizza, soda, apple fritters, and the fresh farm air.  Hard apple cider and beer are also served, thus why the youngest age allowed is 21.  This service, by far, is my favorite congregational Jewish holiday observance.

And as always, I end up sleeping in for about 15 hours the next day because it depletes me of my spoon inventory.

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