Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Everyone is sleeping, except me, and the cats. Cromwell is being very affectionate right now, which means he's hungry.

Have a lot to catch up on. Fasted yesterday, which is always interesting and strange. Honestly, it is not that hard, for the most part. I remember the first time I fasted. It was August, I was 11 years old and in Camp Ceder Lake, a New Jersey Young Men's Hebrew Association camp. They told us there was some fairly obscure Jewish holiday on the horizon and if we wished to fast we could. I had never done it before, so I thought it would be a novel challenge. Also, and to my shame, more importantly, it would get me out of activities that day, and I could just kind of laze around. This really attracted me. Camp was so busy, I felt that at 11 years old I needed a break!

So I fasted, and don't really remember anything about it, other than, yes, I did make the entire 24 hours and breaking the fast was really cool. Me and the other campers and staffers who fasted went down to the dining hall at Camp Nah-Je-Wah (which I am sure I just misspelled) and after some prayers were set we dug into a kosher dairy style meal. Tuna salad, bagels and the like. It was celebratory and festive and I felt proud that I accomplished my goal.

Yesterday, though, was a little different. I didn't fast to get out of anything, I did it because I felt like it would be, by now, very strange not to. I have been fasting on Yom Kippur since I was 12 or 13. (Although one year I caved and bought a Whopper Junior. That was the last time I did that, though. I think I was 14.)

First, in the morning we fed Stella -- she doesn't fast, of course -- and then went to temple. We went to a temple near us called Adath Jeshurun, which is also where Stella goes to pre-school. (It's a Jewish pre-school, but even so it's student population is only 25% Jewish. I believe I already talked about this in a prior entry. Still, a lovely place.) Or shall I say Stella goes to the pre-school affiliated with the temple. I did the same as a child, and went to Temple Beth-El nursery school in Closter, NJ, where I grew up. My family were members of the temple as well.

During Rosh Hashonah you are supposed to be somewhat uncomfortable. So in addition to fasting, as if that wasn't uncomfortable enough, you also don't shower, don't shave, don't drink water, don't brush your teeth (a yuck in my book, but this year I stuck to it), and you don't wear leather. So you have the sight of a fairly well dressed guy, me, in a nice enough suit (from Target) walking around in my imitation leather sandals, with no belt, and my watch in my pocket rather than my wrist. Very strange, I guess. Felt kind of odd, although the sandals were comfortable.

At temple I had the same debate I always have, to talis or not to talis. The talis is that long fringed scarf, for lack of a better word, you see Jewish men (or mostly men anyway) wearing around. I generally feel like a poseur when I wear one, since I am not all that observant (despite my past few blog entries here), barely can read Hebrew and generally do not live a life that I would consider all that "Jewish" as far as actual, formal religious activity. In fact I believe I have worn my talis all of three times since my Bar Mitzvah in 1985.

Nonetheless, I still own one, and it has a nice blue velvet bag.

This year, after we had put Stella in the temple's day care, we went upstairs and sat down in our assigned seats. (We are not members of AJ, but they were nice enough to give us newcomers in town a pair of seats all the same.) After about ten minutes of services I felt the urge to put on a talis, so, not feeling all that strange about it after all, I took it out of my bag and put it on. I was far from alone, in fact most of the guys in the temple already had one on. I would have been conspicuous by not wearing one, I suppose, but that's not why I did it.

Why did I do it? My old Rabbi and friend, the late Josh Simon, used to say regarding religious stuff, "fake it till you make it." Meaning you may not feel authentic doing these various rituals and practices, but do them anyway, and eventually they will start to feel like they have become a part of you. In this way he encouraged me to wear a talis, for example, and Randi to try her hand at reading Hebrew.

So there was certainly an element of that in there. (Josh was a fascinating and amazing guy. He was probably about 45 and had been a journalist at Life Magazine. He played reggae-tinged rock music in the services, with him rocking out on a black Gibson SG electric guitar. He was a bit of a rabble rouser, a bit of an iconoclast. He once concluded a midrash--or exegesis--with this unforgettable thought. "What doe this all mean? I don't know, but I just think it's great!" Unfortunately Rabbi Josh passed away in early August 2005, right before he was to officiate our wedding. I could get more into it, but it would take a long, long time to write down how I felt about Josh. I loved the guy, you know?)

Another part of all this was that I wanted to put the talis on. I just did, it felt, for the first time, right. I can't explain it.

Maybe I am looking for things. I don't know, but I want to start living life less about me, me, me all the time and start reaching out to the world, in order to help it and help others more. I am a creative person and love to do creative stuff. I have spent large portions of my life around other creative types, and by nature we tend to be lovely, fun, fascinating people, but we also tend to be kind of self-centered. All those years I spent doing improv, which were wonderful, definitely gave me an insight into the minds of actors and comedians. They are great, they make wonderful friends, but there can be a certain focus on the self. I am sure this is not a surprise to most of you reading this, and many other folks have a similar issue.

But the self-centered life has not really made me happy. I never felt like I did enough for the world, never gave back enough. I would like to change that this year, and I am starting to think of various ways to do that. Becoming more involved with the local synagogue can potentially be one way. They have many programs to meet others and do various volunteer work. I am keenly interested now in learning more about these options.

We stayed in services until about 12:20 p.m. or so and then picked up Stella. She was in the playground with all the other little kids. The people watching the kids were sad to see her go. This little girl is quite loved by all who know her, I am convinced.

She ran over to us, with a little plastic cup in her hand that belonged to the temple. We tried to pry it from her hand, but then she started to scream and cry. She's almost 2 1/2 now and many, many things make her scream and cry. So we decided we would bring back the cup next time, if it was okay with the temple. Then Stella took our hands, and together we walked back to the car.

Oh, that's right, we have a new car, or at least one that is new to us. It's a Kia Rondo, a name that sounds like one of those late night commercials that sell you the pocket fisherman, or stuff like that. It's a crossover, which means it looks like an SUV, but really is a car at heart. This is for the good, as it drives and corners like a car, and gets pretty fair gas mileage--which was of critical importance to us--but is more roomy inside than a typical car with a similar wheelbase. I like it, and enjoy driving it around, but definitely was sad that we needed a second pair of wheels. More goods, more payments, more responsibility, more resources burned. All those things are true, but the fact is, you just can't have any sort of real life in Louisville without a car. It's fairly suburban in that light, and the public transportation system here has been rated as among the worst in the U.S.

So we pulled into the car. Stella's new thing is to say "It's hot!" whenever we get into the car, whether it's hot or not. But now we have an even newer thing, where I sagely shake my head and say "it's not hot." Then she nods too and repeats it. "It's not hot." Then I might put my hand on her face, and this will sound weird I know, and scream "brain eater!" She actually has grown to like this, believe it or not. In fact the other day she kept on repeating "bwain eata!" over and over, until I put my hand back on her face and did it again. In this way I am preparing Stella ... for what exactly? The upcoming zombie invasion? For life as the kid with a weird dad? I cannot know, but I am sure it will one day help Stella be a light unto all nations.

She ate lunch when we got home, we did not, and then she took a nap. But only after ensuring that about 25 stuffed animals--literally of all stripes--were on her bed. Right before naptime she panicked and screamed "mermaid!" She has a stuffed mermaid, you see. Then she jumped out of her bed like it was on fire and ran into the living room looking for it. In fact the mermaid was actually in her bed already, buried under other stuffed toys. Randi found it, and showed it to her. Stella, relieved, then climbed into her bed, and was ready for her nap. We turned on her white noise machine--a holdover from the days when she was the lightest sleeper in the world--turned out the light and closed the door.

She slept for about two hours, a good nap. During this time Randi napped and I read "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" which is a definite page turner, and one about a financial journalist to boot! (I knew we were a sexy profession full of intrigue!)

Once Stella awoke we got her some snacks and got out of the apartment. Among other things we went to the Crescent Hill library and bought some supplies for breaking the fast. Fasting really does take over the day, you know? Next year maybe we will go back to temple and put Stella back in the child care, I don't know.

Stella had dinner at 6:00 p.m. and we broke the fast at 6:30 p.m. It wasn't officially sunset at our apartment, but it had been 24 hours since we last ate, and, we reasoned, it was dark somewhere, you know? The food tasted delicious, as expected. We had bagels (bought at Panera because all the bagel stores here closed by 3:00 p.m.! In my hunger-induced state this pissed me off to no end, and made me angry that there wasn't one real New York bagel place in this town. I think I was being a bit overly critical, in retrospect), lox, some various salad type dishes bought at the super market, and challah. The challah was how I actually broke the fast, with some honey. It was great. Oh, and I also drank about a liter of ginger ale. Good times!

It's good to be a little hungry. One of the reasons we fast, I believe, is to be reminded that for some people the fast never ends. That hunger pain I feel once a year never ends for millions of people, including children, around the globe. In this way it makes me, I hope, more sensitive to the plight of those around the world who do not have the luxuries I truly do take for granted. In fact I think we should all fast at least once a year regardless of our religion, for 24 hours in a row. It might make the world a tinier bit more of a sympathetic place.

After the fast we gave Stella her bath and got her ready for bed. Her new thing is to scream "help!" whenever she is the slightest bit uncomfortable, like when we are putting on her pajamas. I promise, we are not torturing our daughter! So if you see us all out together and Stella is screaming for help, please realize that she might just be miffed at us for not buying her a third ice cream, not that we have punished her or anything like that. Just a reminder.

After Stella was put to bed we cleaned up a bit and watched Oliver Stone's movie "W." Stone has been accused of making up stuff in his films, and I wish he made this entire movie up, but, no George W. Bush really was our president and really did not understand what was going on in Iraq and really did rush us into a war when a little bit more time would probably have proven that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. But now it's too late and history is what it is.

One prayer we say during services is for our leaders, to grant them wisdom. I always say it.

I know I promised to write about the high school reunion. Next time, I guess.

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