Friday, September 14, 2012

Bruce Springsteen and Rosh HaShanah

Last week, I attended a religious experience:   I went to my first rock concert.  Not just any rock and roll concert, mind you, but THE rock concert: I saw Bruce Springsteen play Wrigley Field.  It was like going to selichot with 60,000 people at The Temple of Baseball.  The Boss and the E Street Band played 38 songs in about three-and-a-half hours with no break and, watching from the first base line, a few things were apparent to me.  The obvious first, Bruce Springsteen is an exceptional musician.  He is charismatic and magnetic.  He is also a preacher, focusing on the American and human condition.

I was amazed by how many people knew the words to every song. They sang along, danced themselves into trances, and, when Bruce held out the microphone to the crowd, 55,000 people all shouted in unison.  And then it occurred to me: I wasn't just watching a concert; rather, I was witnessing a religious moment for passionate believers in the performer and in the meaning of the lyrics.  Their dancing and singing took on an intentional, religious fervor.  They knew the words, they knew the drum beats so well they were jamming their hands in concert with the drummer, crashing imaginary cymbals on cue.  I, on the other hand, was a mere spectator.  Never a big rock and roll fan, I never paid much attention to Bruce.  I didn't know the words to every song.  I don't have ten of his albums on iTunes.  In fact, I was probably the only person at the concert who could only name two songs by Springsteen.

Please understand:  I enjoyed the experience.  After all, who doesn't like to see a winner at Wrigley Field?  For me, however, this was not a personal awakening of the soul; rather, it was more like an anthropology field trip observing Springsteen fans in their natural environment, noticing their rituals and fervor.  I knew enough of the "language" to clap my hands to the beat every once in a while but I was not going to be deeply moved or changed or transformed.  For that to happen, I needed to  study up on The Boss, to listen to his music for a few weeks, to study the lyrics.  To be deeply moved, I needed to be prepared, to open my soul, to commit to transforming myself into a real Springsteen fan and that was not going to happen.  So, I went, I enjoyed and I left.

Walking home in the rain with Becca, I realized that my Springsteen concert experience shared many similarities with those people who only attend synagogue on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.  People come for connection, are in shul for hours, listening to prayers in a language they don't know or understand, listen to a preacher and then leave.  We hope that the soulful significance of High Holiday services and a Bruce Springsteen Concert would be profoundly different.  Sadly, however, I see just how similar they are.  As I wrote above, having a powerful spiritual experience requires preparation: reading, thinking, reflecting, absorbing and emulating.  To truly experience a transformation, you have to open your soul and be fully present.  You need to know the words, to be able to sing along, to participate in the choreography.  Otherwise, you are left as a spectator.  How different would my Springsteen concert experience have been had I invested the preparation time?

I wish I knew how to get more people to invest in the preparation required to make High Holiday services a more meaningful, more transformational experience.  Imagine what it would be like if more people would invest the same kind of time in learning the "lyrics" or piyyut of the Yamim Noraim and the tunes to those lyrics as they do memorizing the lyrics to Glory Days?  What does it take to get people to want to invest that kind of time?  To value their soul and their heritage enough to be fully equipped to participate?  Like I said, I wish I had the answers but I don't.

There is a hint to an answer in the opening words of this week's parashah:

אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:

You, all of you, are standing this day before The Lord Your God...

Before focusing on the words of the High Holiday services, learning them, absorbing the tunes and the choreography, maybe everyone just needs to start with standing, being fully present.  Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur give us, at minimum, the opportunity to stand and reflect, to think about ourselves,  to decide how we want to be better, what we want to accomplish, and how we want to change ourselves and the world.  The gift of time is precious and the opportunity to stand before God is timeless.

On the precipice of the start of the New Year, I will be standing, reflecting and thinking forward.  The words of the High Holiday liturgy are familiar to me as are the tunes and they will enhance my experience.  They will provide a framework for thinking about the exciting year about to begin, a year of new work, of new family stages, and, in August, of a new home in The State of Israel.  What will this new year bring for you?  What will you stand and think about?  How will you be present?

Becca, Elan, Mira, Amalya and I join in wishing you all a Shanah Tova U'Metukah.  May this be a year of blessing and joy, happiness, success and growth.  And, if by some chance he decides to play a concert at The Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem after August but before next Rosh HaShanah, we hope you will come and join us for my second Bruce Springsteen Concert of the year!

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

We're Making Aliyah in 2013!

Dear Friends,

It’s our pleasure (excitement, nerves, hopes, dreams) to share with you our family plan: in late August 2013, we will make aliyah!

Starting in 2007-2008, when we lived in Israel for the year, we were already talking about the possibility of aliyah, of our desire to live as citizens in the State of Israel.  Four years later, the intention becomes concrete, even though Loren hasn’t been to plumbing school.  We officially begin the process now at the head of this new year. We get to open a "תיק עליה," or Aliyah file, contact Nefesh b'Nefesh, share our exciting news openly with our friends, and make plans for life there.

As Becca explains (in yoga terms of course and possibly while upside down) her soul is rooted there in a way that makes life unfold fully. Loren likes to say that each time he visits Israel, he leaves a small part of his soul there as a deposit.  More recently, Loren began to leave material items as well; his GPS and charger for his Macbook Air are waiting.  We want to collect our soulful deposits and put them to good use in this lifetime.  We will be a part of the grand Jewish experiment that is the People, the Land and the State of Israel.  We will contribute to its success and its struggles with all of the questions raised by the implementing of Jewish sovereignty in our National Homeland as citizens and not as tourists.  Ultimately, we know that this is the best decision for our family and the place and way we want to write the next chapter of our lives.
Our love of Israel is rooted from layers of experience. Our summers at Ramah introduced us to hundreds of new extended family members that you might otherwise call “shlichim.” Ramah Israel Seminar, Loren's year of study during rabbinical school, and our year in Israel from 2007 – 2008 each added another layer.  As we begin this journey, we thank all of you for your influence on us. You helped us feel connected long before our decision to make aliyah.

Aliyah is a full-spectrum experience. We look forward to feeling both at home and out on a limb. Your support is welcome in all forms: insider information from those already at home as olim and sabras, a listening ear, and, of course, by joining us for a visit to our Shabbat table and more. 
We promise to keep you updated as we find work, a home, a neighborhood.  
We look forward to seeing you in Israel starting in August, 2013!

לשנה הבאה בירושלים!
Next year, in Jerusalem! 

שנה טובה ומתוקה!

The Sykes Family