This is bad. I have been hurt. I have incflicted awfulness on other people. I have not yet had a Coke. This is not a good Shabbat so far.
Last night for Shabbat Ma-ariv T’Fliah we went to Kehilat Kol Haneshama, the largest Reform anything here in Israel. If you recall my experience with the Kotel and my expectations about it (second post down on the page here), it will mean a lot to you when I say that I was a bout ten million times more excited about Kol Haneshama than I was about the wall.
I am always interested by how Reform Judaism looks in different places. Though the basic theology and the basic tenets remain the same in Progressive, Reform, and Liberal Judaism everywhere, the outward appearance that develops around that underlying structure changes from place to place. The ethics and the observance of ethical commandments and traditions don’t change too much, but the rituals and the observance of ritual commandments and traditions do change. Thus, I was really psyched for this.
We arrived at Kol Haneshama about a half hour before services began. The Kol Haneshama campus is composed of anumber of buildings and wings including a sanctuary (which I imagine doubles as a social hall), an administrative office wing, a youth center, and a nice open plaza in the front center of the whole assemblage of buildings. The architecture is all understatedly made of white Jerusalem limestone, the only flourishes being green metal Frank Lloyd Wright-esque windowsill fixture things. The structure, more than any American Reform institution screamed out a sense of stability and rootedness that impressed me and made me all the more excited. The inside of the snactuary was obviously furnished on the cheap, but nicely and elegantly so.
The first omen of things to come was when Baruch Kraus, our principal, pointed out to me that all the other men there had their heads covered. He noted that in the Israeli Progressive movement a kippah is almost expected. I told him I’d rather not put on one. (If anyone is interested, let me know and I can do a whole other post here about why I don’t like to wear a kippah). He insisted. I asked if people would be offeneded. He said he wasn’t sure. After a protracted and highly awkard conversation about the issue, he grudingly agreed I didn’t have to put one on. So I didn’t.
Then the service started. There more nigunim than I care for. There were then a copious amount of meditative moments. Then we did about half of the service silently. I couldn’t determine why. The moments felt awkward, not spiritual. I cannot express how unfulfiling this service was for me.
This comes also on the heels of an increasing sense that although I know excatly what I think about ethics and rituals and Reform, I can’t tell what anyboyd else thinks. I feel increasingly alone as the mainstream URJ maintains serious Classical Reform roots and, to a large extent, practices, yet the “Indie” or “Contemporary” or “Ultra-Modern” wings of Reform in the US become too ritualized for even me.
All of this together created an exremely quiet and conflicted mood in me last night. The most horrible realization of all being that I felt so spiritually out of it that I was unsure that I could lead services on Shabbat morning. Oh yeah, did I mention that?
Services sucked. I blew it. It cannot be sliced any other way. I led the service, my friend Sam accompanied on guitar at various points, and another friend, Rachel, served as gabbai and led the Torah service.
I am good at leading services. I do it more often than the average person and I do it well. People enjoy. This is not my ego (which is currently on life support) talking. These are fact. Thus, when we established a T’filah Committee I naturally too charge. We set up a system of rotations of leaders, songleaders, and Torah readers and we have plans to set up a D’var Torah rotation later.
The ideas I was testing in this service were minimal instructions and subdued leadership. Rachel, Sam, and I sat in the front row. I explained that I would be leading from within the congregation, rather than from without, the norm. I also announced page numbers only when absolutely neccessary and I never issued directions such as “rise” or “be seated” Being that I was in the front row and couldn’t see everybody behind me, my mind created a picture of everybody enjoy the damn thing. Apparently they didn’t. Someone was “elected” from within a large group of people who disliked services to come speak to me about the general problems that people had with services.
They were apparently boring, devoid of music (although we did use the guitar on four occasions), and confusing. This hurt a lot. I know that nobody was trying to be mean in this, but it means that I obviously know a lot less about what I’m doing than I thought. I’m in a very self-critical mood right now. I am sitting writing this on my balcony looking out at more of the hotel and the sweeping Judean hills. I am inconsolable. “Everybody has off weeks,” somebody told me a moment ago. It doesn’t matter what people say to me right now. I just feel like a moron. I have hurt the community by inflicting boring services on them.
I feel really alone right now. They say that it is normal for teenagers to always feel like nobody understands what they are going through. I have never felt that. Until now. I feel isolated. I feel like nobody trying to console me right now knows what I’m trying to tell them. It doesn’t matter if people just have off weeks sometimes. Of course they do! I know that! I also know that you can’t have this much of an off week when it comes to leading a community.
After my ordeal with Kol Haneshama and my confusion about Reform I expected to at least be able to go through the motions this morning. Apparently, I couldn’t even do that properly.
d.profound@gmail com. Etc. Etc. I write the same damn thing here in every post.
Live from Israel: DAVID SCREWS UP