Wednesday, August 18, 2010

High Holy Day Prep

Yesterday I started learning the first three Aliyot of the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashana.  I've done it before, though not in many years so I am rusty at it.  Then again, it is only half a column so I should be able to learn it my next week which gives me two additional weeks to polish it.  The three days plus YK mincha readings have been divided and for the most part the haftarot are recycled from year to year.  Nobody has to work especially hard and nobody has to challenge their capacity.  I've always been uneasy with that approach but it gets the slots of the schedule filled.  It does not create a setting where high level of skill is pursued or even valued, as it wouldn't get utilized even if available.  All the readers are my contemporaries or their teenage children, with a new slot opening up every couple of years when somebody goes off to college or a senior person decides to spend the Holy Days on a cruise ship.

People get their impression of the synagogue from those few days.  Beth Shalom, the United Synagogue affiliate, puts a lot of capital into showing patrons a good experience.  People come in their best suits, machers get aliyot and pat each other on the back on the Bimah, kids are showcased and clergy contract terms reviewed relative to congregational feedback.  At AKSE we are a little more laid back as a larger fraction of our membership shows up at other times during the year.  Still, we offered free entrance for our Rabbi's first year in the  hope that the experience would increase traffic, which it did, and paid membership, which it did not.

As a youngster attending the Community Synagogue of Monsey, Mr. Zeisel, my friend Howie's dad, took me aside and invited me to return for shabbos.  He predicted that I would find the Saturday morning experience of more spontaneity and less showmanship more to my liking and give me a better introduction to what living in a Jewish manner was really about.  He was right, of course, though the message has been difficult to convey.

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