a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Rosh Hashanah Reflections( הנני) I am Here.

Posted on: October 2, 2011

Shanah Tovah!  Shavua Tov!  Happy New Year!

We’re currently in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  The Book of Life is open and Jews around the world are praying that their name is inscribed within its pages.  Rosh Hashanah started as a stressful, guilt-ridden holiday for me this year.  I still find it a bit alarming that synagogues have you pay exorbitant amounts of money to pray on the two most holy days on the Jewish calendar.  Having not secured tickets for service, I resolved myself to not going to shul on Rosh Hashanah.  On Wednesday night as the sun set and the realization that I not only should have been in shul, but that I wanted to be in shul settled in, I began to feel uneasy and really upset.  The same sort of uneasy guilt stayed with me as the sun rose on Thursday morning.  I knew that Jews were waking up, having light breakfasts and heading to shul and I was spending money and making dinner for our guests.  That part was a comfort to me, knowing that while I wasn’t in shul, I would be making and providing dinner for our company.  Having friends over for Rosh Hashanah dinner, I would have a chance to recite the blessings for the New Year, dip my apple in honey and sample a new fruit.  Thankfully, some of the folks who came invited me to shul on Friday morning and I was glad go to  CBST’s Rosh Hashanah service.  I walked in an hour late as the shofar was being called and it did what it was supposed to do.  The wailing sound of Tekiah rang into my ears, registered in my brain, electrified my heart and then pulsed through my veins.  I felt that feeling that I’d been longing for since seeing my mother be moved to tears in church.  I felt tears brim in my eyes and the shofar called to me: “Batyah, wake up!”

High Holy days are an interesting prayer space because as much as you want to be there with friends, surrounded by people you know rather than being an anonymous person in a space, you kind of need that space to be anonymous and focused on being with God in the space.  It’s easy to get distracted through hours-long service and look at the people around you when you should be focusing on God and reflecting on the past year while looking towards the next.  The sound of prayer, the sound of the cantor’s voice, the Hebrew words I can read but still don’t understand, and the wonderful commentary in the machzors CBST uses allowed me to get to that space where it was just me and God.  Being in God’s presence and having my soul so completely started awake and wide open was more than I can describe.  It was overwhelmingly powerful.  It was jarring and scary.  At the same time , hearing the ancient sound of the shofar, that has called Jews for thousands of years confirmed that this choice to become Jewish is exactly what my soul has been searching for.

So the shofar’s call, which I’d heard for the first time this season on Friday morning woke me up.  I wasn’t avoiding it, really, rather ignoring it.  Ignoring the season around me, ignoring the time of year, ignoring the demand to take inventory of the year.  Focusing my thoughts on other things when I should have been focused on the season.  Today there is a community tashlikh with JFREJ at Prospect Park.  While I’ll be with a group of people, in a large park in Brooklyn I know that whereever I go to seek God, God will be there.


***If you live in NYC and don’t have a synagogue to go to for Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur, I would encourage you to check out CBST.  CBST’s Yom Kippur draws a huge crowd of 3000 gay, straight, transgender, bisexual Jewish singles, couples, widows, families who are black, white, and every race under the sun-they don’t turn ANYONE away and they don’t charge***

10 Responses to "Rosh Hashanah Reflections( הנני) I am Here."

I’m personally wary of the charging for entrance thing. I understand the need to defer costs for serving a large crowd, but should people have to pay a fine for spiritual renewal on th holiest days of the Jewish calendar? I honestly would have to say ‘no,’ but… excuse this blatant Christian-raised question, but is any sort of collection usually taken during shul? I don’t agree with in-progress guilting from a pastor or priest to get money, either, so I couldn’t even offer a potential different way to fund everything. Well damn it, I say we get rid of money all together? I’ve always liked that idea.

It’s my understanding that if you belong to a synagogue (pay crazy dues) then you don’t have to pay for HH service. There are several synagogues that do not charge for any of it. I get why there needs to be dues, building maintenance, staff, clergy, etc. The reason they charge so much is b/c it’s the day that Jews sort of have to be in shul, so they’ll pay it. But, I’m not rich, I can’t throw down $600 to pray-it’s INSANE!

I wondered if they charged on the ‘required’ day, which is crazy in and of itself. Personally i’d probably try to attend a place that’s free…. it would feel more right for me.

CBST is NYC’s LGBTQ Synagogue and it’s always free. Because it’s free, and because the service is always amazing it attracts thousands of Jews, LGBTQ or not. It’s not my synagogue because it’s in Manhattan, but it’s great for the Holidays.

Awesome. I’m glad you have a place to go.

Our shul does not charge either. I think it did in the past but decided to stop. Around here we also have cheap “associate memberships” for people under 35 years of age too which helps.

I would say the price of High Holiday tickets is the reason some people are members of a congregation they never attend. If you’ve got a 4-5 member family paying $500 each for the Holidays they might as well just be members.

Too bad there’s no ‘kids atone free’

I’m happy you found a shul for the holidays. I’m even happier that you recognize the call of the shofar. It’s a wondrous thing. Shakes me to the core each time I hear it. G’mar chatima tova, sister!

It was powerful, I get a little misty-eyed when I think of it!

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