Because of coronavirus and RBG’s passing, it feels almost perverse to say that I had a good Rosh Hashanah. Sad that this is the state of the world and the state of social media that I feel like I have to be hush-hush about enjoying a holiday that is supposed to be a happy holiday. But I actually did have a great holiday. There were a lot of things that went surprisingly well:
1. Lack of Performative Davening
One downside of Zoom davening (prayer) is that whenever someone stands up for the most important, plaintive prayers – Amidah, Aleinu, Avinu Malkenu – all you see is their crotch. But one positive thing about Zoom davening is that whenever someone stands up for the most important, plaintive prayers, all you see is their crotch. No, I’m not a perv who loves staring at a congregation of crotches; it’s actually uncomfortable and awkward. But it does take away the performative element of silent prayer. The pressure of whether you are taking too long or not enough time, the freedom to go at your own pace and the freedom to say what it is that you want. The freedom to try or not try prostrating yourself. You can’t see anyone else and they can’t see you. There are actually people I hate davening with in real life because I find their davening, however sincere and well-intentioned, to be extremely performative in appearance. (Actually, I just realized I don’t like much else about these particular people either. But that’s not the point.)
2. Kiddush club
During the repetition of the Amidah, Husband stands in the middle of the hotel room, in his tallit (prayer shawl), eating an individually wrapped Otis Spunkmeyer blueberry muffin from the breakfast-to-go bag from the hotel. This could have been disrespectful, however, we were on mute and had video turned off. Had Husband remembered to say a bracha (blessing) before eating, he would have even done a mitzvah (commandment). (Husband did not remember to say a bracha, so this was really an “anti-mitzvah“). But we’ll focus on the positives.
3. Conversations during davening
The utility of mute/stop video proves to be surprisingly useful for replicating another element of the RH shul experience – the sidebar conversations during davening. Look, every Rabbi across every denomination wrote or spoke over Zoom on how to increase your spirituality for individual prayer over Rosh Hashanah, because this was a topic that was relevant to everyone. But we don’t spend money on overpriced High Holiday seats just because we would feel bad if we didn’t. We want to have conversations in the hallway during services. Muting ourselves and turning off video allows for having those conversations without even leaving the service.
Rabbi: Today, we will no longer have Yitta Ruchel bas Tzirel Leah, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in mind during The Prayer for the Sick. Now, we have her in mind for…
Husband (like a student in class): The Prayer for Our Country
Rabbi: …The Mourner’s Kaddish
Me: Good answer, though.
Later, during the Rabbi’s speech:
Me: Do the Orthodox congregations even know that RBG died? News outlets didn’t start reporting her death till after candlelighting.
Husband: Oh yeah. This stuff goes viral.
Me: But the Orthodox won’t check the news.
Husband: News like this, word gets around. Someone’s cleaning lady. My parents used to leave the radio on 24/7. But you always hear. I heard about Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination at a Bar Mitzvah.
Me: No way! Rabin couldn’t have been assassinated on Shabbat. The killer was religious.
Immediately after I say this, I realize that Rabin’s killer’s religiosity was not enough to keep him from committing murder, a bigger sin than violating Shabbat.
Fortunately, we don’t need to argue in circles about whether an event that happened 25 years ago happened on Shabbat. We are already using the internet and can just look it up. It turns out that we are both right. November 4, 1995 was a Saturday and the assassination which occurred Saturday evening Israel time, would have hit US news while it was Shabbat.
Somehow we get on a subject of what are the least appropriate things to do on RH. Husband suggests a strip club.
Husband: Would it be worse to go to a male strip club?
Me: Why? Does it matter?
Husband: Gay sex isn’t allowed according to Torah
Me: You don’t typically have sex in a strip club. I mean, I suppose you could, I guess, but it’s not included as a standard feature. And I thought that thoughts don’t count as sin.
Husband: It depends on who you ask. Maimonides treats thoughts as sins.
Me: You know, Jews could be strip club owners too. I think that would be worse, if a Jewish strip club owner didn’t give his/her employees off for Rosh Hashanah. What self-respecting Jewish strip club owner wouldn’t give their employees the day off for Rosh Hashanah?
Husband: Is a Jewish strip club owner self-respecting?
Me: Hmm, good point. But any Jewish business owner should follow the Torah laws of labor and employment.
When we go to my family later for lunch on the deck, Mom asks what I thought of the Rabbi’s speech. I tell her that I wasn’t listening because we spent the entire speech talking about the Rabin assassination and strip clubs.
4. Dress Code
Speaking of stripping – Dress code. Husband complains that it is hot in the hotel room. Husband’s current religious practice is that he will attend Zoom services but not drive or turn on an air conditioner on Shabbat/Yom Tov. So Husband decides to adjust his body temperature by taking off his shirt. He rejoins the Zoom service in an undershirt and tallit.
Me: Put your shirt back on. You can’t be in Zoom services without a shirt.
Husband: I’m wearing a tallit.
Me: What if they do Birkat Cohanim over Zoom? You can’t do Birkat Cohanim without a shirt.
Husband: They’re not going to do Birkat Cohanim over Zoom.
Husband is right. They do not do Birkat Cohanim. Nobody comments on Husband’s lack of shirt.
5. The Backyard Wedding / Rosh Hashanah Dance Party
We are eating our Rosh Hashanah meal on the deck and realizing that one of the neighbors is using a speaker to play a lot of Josh Groban music at surprising loud volume (relative to the volume at which one would typically play Josh Groban’s music). We go to the very corner of the backyard to spy and see elements of a canopy-like structure, a tent, and some cars parked along the sidewalk. We take a walk to the street and see food catering trucks and a wedding guest getting something out of his car. We say congratulations. Definitely a wedding. We weren’t invited and we’ve never met these neighbors, but we are close enough to their backyard that we can hear the switch from live band for ceremony and cocktail hour to DJ for dinner/reception.
DJ: Let’s make some noise for [insert name of couple whom I’ve never met]
Me, not a guest of the wedding, wearing my ugliest outfit of modest frumpy clothing appropriate for shul and walking 2 miles from the hotel, while holding a glass of kosher wine: Wooooohhh!!!
The DJ starts playing dance music. We start dancing on my parents’ deck like it’s a Saturday night outdoor dance party, which it basically is. I did not think I would see the day when I would be getting down like I’m in da club in front of my dad on one of the holiest days of the year, but here I am.
Mom decides that this is the perfect time to bring out the boxes of shoes from my recently deceased grandmother’s apartment and have my sisters and I try them on. It turns out that dancing on the deck to the neighbors’ backyard wedding / impromptu Rosh Hashanah dance party is not only a good test of shoe comfort, but it also takes away the weirdness of going through my recently deceased grandmother’s shoe collection.
6. Shofar Blowing
Shofar Blowing on Day 2 morning via Zoom is less than successful. Rabbi and Shofar Blower have practiced prior to Rosh Hashanah, but now the Shofar Blower’s computer mic is just not picking up the sound. Rabbi and Shul (synagogue) President interrupt the Chazzan’s shofar calls with directions.
Rabbi: Move closer to the mic.
Shul President: No, you’re too close. You need to move back. Zoom is filtering out the shofar.
Me: That sounds like a metaphor.
We catch maybe 40% of the shofar blasts. I tell Husband that G-d must be the still small voice this year instead of the Shofar Gadol.
Shofar blowing Day 2 evening outside in the shul parking lot is more successful. Lots of people show up. The parking lot is packed with cars, people, and their dogs. (It is a bit like when years ago, the local minor league baseball team had “Bark in the Park” night and I forgot to tell Husband, so he showed up all “WTF are all these dogs doing at a baseball game?”). We hear 100% of the shofar blasts. The dogs appear both happy and confused.