I thought about beginning my adventure somewhere new, but all adventures begin somewhere similar. So I headed down to my usual haunt for davening, Chavurat Lamdeinu.
A note on CL before I get into it: CL is an oddity in the indie minyan world. It’s in suburban New Jersey and it’s members–who have many of the same complaints about synagogue life that the twenty- and thirty-somethings that are mainstays of the indie minyan world–are all generally at least 25 years older than me. There are a few exceptions to that demographic generalization, but it’s mostly true. The group is what’s left of a library minyan at suburban NJ Refrom synagogue, though it may outwardly appear quite close to Conservative in style. Our Rabbi was ordained at HUC, though her connection to Reform is tenuous these days. Our usual shaliach tzibur is a convert and a current JTS cantorial student. He is freakishly talented and I normally have no complaints about his leadership style on ordinary Shabat mornings. He generally wears a polo shirt and jeans to services, and that’s pretty much the level of dress that everyone in the Chavurah adheres to.
All of the above is why I love CL and why I go there every Shabat. But on Rosh Hashanah, a lot of that flies out the window. Instead of usual 10-20 chaverim, we grow to 30-50 for RH and Yom Kipur. Everyone–except for me, but including the other Shabat regulars–gets dressed up. And the type of accessible, but beautifully led melodies fly out the window, exchanged for all manner of off-the-wall chazanut that no one knows and no one can sing along with.
And this is the problem that always drives me away from my own community–wherever that may currently be–during the High Holidays. People I don’t come out of the woodwork. In an attempt to impress them, the leaders trot out all manner of stuff that is far beyond the weekly norm. The result is that the non-regulars are uncomfortable because they’re not used to being in shul at all. Meanwhile, the regulars are uncomfortable too because of all the weird different shit going on!
Tomorrow, this series continues with what is sure to be a bizarre day of RH with gospel music in a Unitarian church. We’ll see how that goes.
A NOTE FOR THOSE READING THE COMMENTS: Harold, GSM, Ben Sternman and myself are all either members of or former members of the congregation I grew up at, which heavily informs the discussion in the comments below.