10/4/14 yom kippur tales / by Philip Tarlow

today is the holiest day of the year for us jews; yom kippur. i'm not an observant jew, so i'm working today & not fasting, as is customary. we have new very wonderful friends in crestone: a couple who live 3 miles away just outside of the actual town of crestone.

we went to their house last night & had dinner, then went to kol nidre services at a location just outside of town. kol nidre is the beautiful prayer chanted on the eve of yom kippur. i remember as a kid, it was a very big deal, and the chazzan, or cantor would chant the prayer with all the eastern european soulfulness he could muster, and the congregation swooned with the recognition of thousands of years of tradition being expressed in that voice. 

i haven't been inside a temple since my dad died in 2005. as per his request, i did recite the mourners kaddish 2X a day for a full year following his death. but i recited it alone, whereas it should be recited with a miyun, meaning a group of at least 10 jews. so every time we found ourselves in a big city with a temple, i fantasized going to friday evening services & finally getting to say the prayer in the temple, with other jews present. never happened. maybe i was aware of just how much unexpressed grief it would call up.

we've never been to jewish services here in crestone. mikela's grandmother was part of the ethical culture movement, as was my grandfather and otto, director of the camp i attended over a 10 year period as a kid, birchwoods (go to my story page for more details). they rejected traditional jewish customs, focusing instead on activism in the service of human justice and dignity. so she has never been inside a temple, other than the times we went with my dad in nyc, during the last years of his life.

so we arrived at the little house where services were being held. our presence pushed our numbers up to 11, just past what it takes for a minyun. i recognized about half the people there. 

short break to begin a new collage, 16x16"

the woman leading the services, meryl, who was one of the people i recognized, guided us through a reading of the prayers, mostly in english, from the traditional prayerbook i recognized as the one we used when i was a kid: the union prayerbook, first published in 1945.

but first, we went around and introduced ourselves. when my turn came, i said this was the first time i'd been inside a temple since my dad died 9 years ago. the grief came welling up and i broke down, trying my best to control the sobbing just beneath the surface, like the lava of a volcano about to blow.

the service continued after meryl opened the tiniest arc i've ever seen. it was like a toy, and the torah within was minuscule! comical really. but that was just the beginning of an evening so penultimately jewish in flavor, it was touchingly hilarious.

as we went around the circle, taking turns reading the prayers in the stilted, boring english of the union prayerbook, it rapidly became clear that this was far from the synagogue experiences i recalled. it was deadly boring and completely lacking in the spirit that existed in shul, where the congregation, especially the elders, swayed and rocked with the rhythm of traditional dovening, all of which was of course in the hebrew of the eastern european ashkenazi jews.

i glanced at mikela, who had her eyes closed, and wondered if, impatient being that she is, she was about to explode. marv was wearing his tallis & yarmulke, just about the only thing i recognized from my memories of temple. about 15 or 20 minutes into it, our friend dan, with whom we had just eaten dinner, spoke. what he said and how he said it could only have been pulled off by dan.

it was delivered in a calm, almost methodical fashion. at the same time, there was a complete and genuine innocence which was disarming. he wasn't trying to prove a point. he wasn't lobbying for reconstruction judiaism, which he practices in denver. he simply stated that, in his opinion, it would be valuable to explore bringing these services, if they are to take place in crestone, into the 21st century. and that the union prayerbook was sadly outdated and irrelevant (he didn't say that, but it was implied.)

12:56 pm: break for my omelette and a bit more work on the new collage. if you are reading this, stay tuned. later i'll post images of the new work. by the way, i realize in writing this that my need to write about my experience of life as as strong as my need to paint it.

below left: yom kippur, 16x16" which i started this morning

below right: vitali, 12x12" created on 9/27/14

these two have a clear connection and are representative of the direction my collages have been taking recently.

yom kippur tales, continued:

there followed a general discussion, with all 11 attendees contributing. it was kind of a free for all, but never went out of control or over the top. opinions were shared, solutions proposed...it was, mikela later commented, a bit like the tavistock process, whereby the group is given a task but no instructions as to how to accomplish it and no leader to direct it. revealing the social dynamics and how they play out in a group.

eventually, mikela observed that, if you were to attend services at any one of the multitude of spiritual centers in crestone/baca, what had just happened would be out of the question! at the zen center or the haidakhandi ashram or the carmelite monastery, shumei or any of the others, such a thing could never happen. and therein, she suggested, lies our jewishness. it's our nature to question, to argue, to interrupt, to push the boundaries in such a way that change happens.

in a sense, dan was simply expressing the group mind. and when the group was given an opportunity, they all jumped in with observations, suggestions and stories shedding light on what was going on in the room that night.

this is not to say that the jewish tradition is somehow better than others. my dad used to talk about it in terms of streams of energy. like it or not, you are in that stream of energy you were born into. you can rebel from it, deny it, or go with it. that doesn't change anything. you have, he suggested, a particular purpose being born into that stream, & it's your job to discover it. his ongoing conversations/arguments with the rabbi in our temple taught me that lesson early on. they were not arguing about small stuff; rather, the deeper meanings of the words, the traditions, the translations, the mystical jewish texts....this taught me never to place blind trust in authority, which has come in handy.

once the service ended, and i finally got to say the mourners kaddish in the company of other jews, hugs were exchanged, there was laughter and the tiny-tiny torah found its way back to it's home in the tiny arc. i realized once we got back into the car and drove dan & lilly home, that we had just experienced some magic. we wished one another "g'mar hatimah tovah," literally "may you be inscribed in the book of life for good." tonight they'll be over for dinner, along with 8 or 9 other friends, & we'll talk more about it. and laugh more.