Monday, June 19, 2006

About yesterday's post...

In response to several letters about the previous post ("Американец еше раз"- see below), I think I need to clarify something here:

First of all, I did not make a lecture for the temple minion and the incident described in yesterday’s blog had nothing to do with preaching or offering philosophy in any way.

In Jewish Temple services, we recite prayers. There is no rule that says there must be a rabbi and many synagogues in the world work along without them all the time. Ideally, these prayers are read in Hebrew, but if it is not possible for any member of the congregation to read in the original language, it is possible for the service to be read in another language with the only stipulation being that all in attendance fully understand this other language.

The old guys at our temple however have refused for years now the responsibility of learning the services and have always relied upon the rabbis to lead the services for them. The rabbis of course always do the services in Hebrew which again, “of course”, the old guys also haven’t learned. But as it is permitted or even advised that the service be in Hebrew even if the congregation doesn’t understand, this is, as they say, kosher. Any member of the congregation has the right to do the services, our congregation has the right to do it in Russian; they just simply haven’t ever taken the responsibility to do so.

Now, months ago I led a few services for the temple when there was no rabbi. But because my Hebrew is poor, I am learning but am still not very fluent or accurate, I did the services in English. The old guys of course didn’t really care what language I used citing that they never understood the Hebrew either; they let me do the work with pleasure because it relieved them again of any responsibility, the lazy bums. However, while I was reading, they were very rude and spoke quite loudly during the prayers, even the most hollowed, and me being me- the BEING HAD guy, I took offence and took the opportunity to say to them that they were wrong in doing this. It was not only wrong for me, it was also wrong that they did this to the rabbis as well and in general, it was disrespectful. When they took offence to my having taken offence, I told them to simply get their act together and just learn the prayers for themselves already. Or, if they really couldn’t or wouldn’t do this, even in Russian, at least they should be quiet during the services. This was the only lecture I ever gave.

They of course took offence to this as well and when they shouted me down-their reasoning was of course that I was an American and therefore had no right to speak to them etc…- I refused to read for them further. When they bitched even about this, I cited that aside from my own distaste, it was not right for me to read in English because they didn’t understand the language; it was not kosher anyway.

So this was how it was until Shavu’os. When the minion bitched about how they were being forgotten because the rabbis wouldn’t be there for them- They had also refused the invitation to go to where the rabbis were, but this is besides the point- because I was also not going to be at the boy’s school and wanted a holiday service, I did something about it.

Now, I have become a bit better at Hebrew, but I am still not at any sort of rabbinical level so what I did was to create a Hebrew service, working it out with notes and transliterations and spending many hours practicing over and over to get it right. Really, this was all day and all night stuff. But by the start of Shavu'os, I had prepared a workable version, completely in Hebrew of the appropriate five Shacharis, Mincha and Ma-ariv services for the Holiday.

This is what they “dissed”; not a sermon, just the Hebrew prayers being chanted in the synagogue. And really, I am not so egocentric; I had no intention of forcing any philosophy down the throats of a bunch of Soviet pensioners. I just prepared to do a kosher holiday service in Hebrew.

The worst part was that they wouldn’t even back off their game even after I began and could hear that I had it in hand. I did a good job actually, and really, this was a sizable insult both to me and the synagogue. I never offered or had even prepared one word of "rabbinical" wisdom; it was just the prayers. Had they been even reasonably respectful temple goers, they would have at least allowed me to daven in peace and perhaps would have understood that no, they had not been forgotten or discarded and had gotten what they had asked for. But instead they chose to play- and no, they had nothing prepared themselves and no one else was going to even read in Russian.

That is the story here. It is not about not listening to American wisdom, it is about refusing to hear Americans, period.