#BlogElul 21: Hearing

Trying to find a place in a new religion and a new culture with no real guide to help you along save periodic meetings with your rabbi and a bunch of books is not easy.  It’s especially not easy as a late 20-something coming in of your own accord rather than with a partner to ease your way in, but it is what it is.  I’ve struggled, and am still struggling, to try and make myself at home in the community of the Jewish people – I already feel that I am Jewish in my heart and self-identify as such, but it still feels surreal and sometimes a little like I’m lacking an anchor to this faith that I am taking on as my own.

Except for the music.

I am a singer by nature, and someone who picks up melodies and tunes with relative ease.  One of the sessions in my Introduction to Judaism class covered Jewish music.  As I listened to the cantor sing some of the familiar melodies, and began attending services more regularly, I realized that the melodies I’d been hearing each week had started to seep into my brain.  Going back to services this past Friday after a summer-long hiatus made me realize again just how ingrained these melodies are becoming to me, and how displeased I was that one of my favorite songs was being sung with a different tune.  The very fact that I have developed a favorite tune for L’chah Dodi speaks volumes to me, because it means that I do have an anchor.  Each week I attend services, the melodies, the chants, the words, even the wordless tunes we sing in between verses, they’re becoming a part of me.  And given that I’m someone who still remembers songs learned in 4th grade choir, I think it’s safe to say they’re going to be with me for a very long time to come.  I’m still struggling in other ways to feel connected outside of myself to Judaism, but hearing the music helps reassure me that slowly but surely, I’ll find my way.

#BlogElul 13: Excuses

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

I am, it’s sad to say, full of them. Especially when it comes to things that I know are good for me, and I know will make me feel better, yet I feel compelled to drag my feet doing them, making up a litany of excuses.  I’m tired. I’m sleepy. I’m not feeling well. I have too much work to do. I have some vitally urgent thread to read. Someone is wrong on the internet!

This happens with tons of things in life. Making phone calls. Driving lessons. Exercise. Reading for courses. Writing. Prayer. Going to synagogue on Friday nights.

The last one in particular is a huge struggle for me. Admittedly, it’s not difficult without reason (there I go, making excuses again).  I do not drive (yet), and thus am reliant on public transport for getting me to and from services on Friday night.  To arrive at services by 7:30, I must be out the door no later than 6:15. On normal Fridays, when services end at 9, if I get incredibly lucky with buses, I’ll be home by 9:45 at the earliest, unless my wonderful boyfriend is willing to come pick me up (after work), in which case I’m home by 9:15.  Yes, I live about a 15 minute drive from my temple, but with public transport, the trip takes almost an hour.  When you factor in my desire to have lovely Shabbat dinners at home on Friday nights, work, school, and the very frequent prospect of inclement weather, it’s hardly surprising that I find it a struggle to attend services on a regular basis.

Yet, whenever I do, I feel better.  It makes Shabbat more real to me, and makes it easier to stick to my resolutions to avoid social media and generally try to disconnect for duration of the 25 hours.  It’s also good for me spiritually and personally because it increases my familiarity with the prayers and the melodies used.  The more I attend, the more I feel like I really belong instead of some clumsy visitor stumbling through the pages of Mishkan Tefilah trying desperately to keep up with the service.  When I hear the familiar melody of the Shema, or the lovely version of Lechah Dodi that our cantor sings as we welcome in Shabbat before the Maariv prayers are said, I feel peace wash over me. My week and all the work that I have done are behind me, and now I am in the sacred, contemplative space offered to me by Shabbat.  Whether or not I am able to wean myself off the countless distractions offered by technology during Shabbat is another matter, but it soothes me knowing that this space is here for me to claim and make my own.

I want to be a person who makes fewer excuses in life, especially my spiritual life.  One of my goals for this coming year is to incorporate religious practice and observance into my life in a more regular fashion, and to start to become a part of my temple community.  After all, there is only so much Jewish learning I can get from books – after a certain point, I am going to need to know how the religious community I have chosen to affiliate with observes, practices and celebrates, and if I keep making excuses, that’s never going to happen.