There’s nothing like trying to find a good synagogue to teach you that, when religion seeks meaning in pop culture not God, it no longer serves mankind.
Would any of you argue with me if I opened this post by saying that traditional religion is under attack in the West? No, I didn’t think so. Some religions, though, or at least some branches of the Judeo-Christian faiths, didn’t wait to be attacked. They just surrendered. They thought that, by surrendering, they’d stay alive, but they merely hastened their deaths. I have a few examples, and then I’ll see if I can use those examples to help prove my point.
On April 19, 2019, just as the sun is setting, Jews around the world will begin to celebrate Passover. According to tradition, Jews have been celebrating the Exodus story, and their escape from slavery, for more than 3,300 years. Even if one doubts tradition, it’s certain that they have been celebrating it for over 2,500 years.
As with all serious rituals, Passover follows a strict form. For thousands of years, in Israel itself, in Europe, in the Americas, in Asia, in Africa, and in the Middle East, in Australia and New Zealand, in whichever part of the world Jews have settled, they have taken seriously the admonition that they must commemorate the Exodus story. It’s a story that began when Moses, on behalf of an enslaved people, faced down the most powerful monarch in the world, a feat he accomplished because God was at his side and had his back. In different countries, there will be differences in food, language, clothes, furnishings, and music, but the core ceremony is always the same. Whether I go to a traditional seder in England or Argentina or Israel, I will feel at home.
Regular readings know that I grew up in a non-religious, yet highly Jewish, household. My father grew up in an orthodox German orphanage and then, having escaped the Nazis, spent the next two decades in British Mandate Palestine/Israel. My mother grew up the child of a mixed marriage, but from the age of 13, interrupted only by her years in a Japanese concentration camp, lived in British Mandate Palestine/Israel. For both, Jewish education and observance went without saying.
When my parents moved to America, though, they still thought that “being Jewish” went without saying. They were wrong. In America, if you want your kids to know Judaism, you must belong to a synagogue. It never occurred to them, though, to join one and, given my Dad’s long-standing communist tendencies, he would have resisted if my Mom had suggested they join. Moreover, given that my Mom’s favorite holiday was Christmas (remember that mixed marriage, right?), a wholly Jewish lifestyle wasn’t going to happen.
Nevertheless, in an interesting way, my childhood still managed to be wholly Jewish. Despite my Mom’s mixed DNA, she identified 100% as Jewish, as did my Dad. Having both been in the Israeli military during the Israeli War of Independence, they identified 100% as supporters of the world’s only Jewish state. With only one or two exceptions, all their friends were Jewish. My parents were steeped in Jewish history, values, and culture, which inevitably found its way into my psyche. Even in silly ways, we knew we were Jews. As kids, my sister and I could identify every old-time Hollywood star who was secretly Jewish (Leslie Howard, Lauren Bacall, June Allyson, John Gilbert, Edward G. Robinson, Theda Bara…. I can still list most of them).
Most importantly, although we did not observe the High Holidays (that would have involved paying to belong to a synagogue, plus Mom would never fast because, as she said, “I have low blood sugar”), we did celebrate Passover. Oy, did we celebrate it! [Read more…]