Recently someone asked me if I had any advice on how to survive the High Holiday services again this year. I said, “Yea, don’t go.” I know that sounds pretty crass and it probably wasn’t the type of advice that they were expecting to hear, but that was my response. Indeed, I often ask people why they come to shul, and I’ve gotten all types of responses. Some people ask, “What do you mean, why do I come? Because I’m Jewish!” Others say that they come just for the Kiddush (it’s called JFK – Just For Kiddush). One guy told me that he comes because otherwise his grandmother would take him out of her will! To these people I will often question, “Why don’t you just stay home?”
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t do this because our shul is overcrowded and I’m searching for creative crowd-control methods, nor is it my intention to in any way discourage people from attending shul. I just feel that these days many people focus too much on the how of being Jewish without thinking about the why.
So sometimes I just want to give people that small nudge of a shocking response that will get them to think a little deeper and discover the beauty and the depth which makes “doing Jewish” so meaningful and rewarding.
You see, everything that we do in Judaism is loaded with beauty and deep meaning. Take Rosh Hashanah for example, on Rosh Hashanah we traditionally wish people a Shana tova umetuka, a good and sweet year. Now that sounds kind of redundant, good and sweet? What’s the difference? Why can’t we just say have a happy new year like everyone else? The answer is that our year may turn out good and we may end up being happy, but it might take bitter sweat and tears to get us to that goal. Wouldn’t we rather be able to experience a smooth journey to success without hitting any bumps in the road? That’s why we bless people that their year should be good and sweet. “May you achieve your goals without any setbacks or disappointments and without having to make any difficult or painful sacrifices.” The journey itself should be sweet, not just the outcome.
My point is, Judaism is really deep with meaning and when something has meaning, it’s important. When something is meaningful and important, we thrive; we don’t need to survive. The High Holidays present us with a tremendous opportunity, an opportunity to reflect, to step back and reassess our course, to connect, to forge ahead.
Attending a High Holiday service gives us an opportunity to reach deep inside, to find ourselves, to become part of something larger than ourselves, to connect with our community and to bond as a united family. It’s just that sometimes we get so caught up in what we are doing that we forget why we are doing it. There have got to be some better reasons for attending shul than the gastronomical incentives or some good ole’ Jewish guilt, laid on thick by your grandmother.
So how can we survive the High Holiday services? I say we gotta stop surviving the high holidays, we gotta start living them to their fullest!