Bearded New Year

Having never celebrated Rosh Hashanah as a child…is finally paying off. Which may just mean that life is paying off. Or I have turned a sort of optimistic corner. Or that I’m moving into a new stage of life and acceptance. I digress. And that’s the other thing. Everything is a digression.

It was about 25 years ago, in the depressing and challenging years after my divorce, that I turned up at a synagogue in Palo Alto. For what? My sister used to joke that this was my approach to getting laid. In which there is doubtless some truth. But the question says a little more about my family’s general aversion to all things religious. And this bias that Is remarkably evenhanded. A wholesale and utter dismissal of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

For the first 20 years or so of dabbling in Judaism, I was very glad to have made the move. But also frustrated. Another realm in which I was inadequate. No background. No Hebrew. And worse, not much ambition. I attended a couple of Hebrew classes in that era. And a couple was enough. The days are only so long. And there are only so many. So I would be a dolt. So what?

In attending today’s new year’s service, a different attitude was at work. I took from it what I could. I haven’t slept this week. I was tired as could be. So I was glad that many people welcomed me when I rolled into the Herbst Theatre. Yes, a theatre. This shul operates out of an old building in San Francisco’s Mission District. It’s not a high budget operation. But high holy days upend the market, as it were. The show goes on the road, and it plays a house about 10 times bigger than its normal venue.

I express all this in secular terms to provide, well, a benefit of the doubt. And doubt is always to our benefit. But from the moment things kicked off this morning one thing I didn’t doubt…reverence is a good thing. That, and a collective appreciation of the natural world. The life cycle. Poetry. The latter being well represented in the liturgy. Including the observation that ‘there is nothing more prophetic then social action’. Profound? Doesn’t matter. I liked it. And I liked it in the presence of others who heard it.

There were some bearded ladies in the row in front of me. This is San Francisco. This is the world of transgender. And this particular congregation is among the first anywhere to accept gay people. Warmly and openly. Sometimes I think the services focus too much on gender and historic bias against gays. After all, disabled people are a minority too. But the real lesson is on a higher level. See people as people. The bearded lady had a baby, by the way. The baby was happy.

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