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Thursday, September 13, 2012 | return to: columns, humor


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Tygerpen: Holy Days trigger memories of finery, yellow jacket wasps

by trudi york gardner

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This weekend begins the most important, the most sacred events of the year for Jews: the opening of 11 new movies nationwide, including “Resident Evil: Retribution,” “Bait 3D” and “Finding Nemo 3D.”

By coincidence, Rosh Hashanah begins Sunday night, Sept. 16. When I was young, I don’t recall that my synagogue sent out reminders to buy High Holy Days tickets as they do now. In Portland, the official notification of the upcoming High Holy Days was the mad scramble by many women to storm a popular clothing boutique (Helen’s Of Course) to buy pricey fall fashions. Given the demand, with clothes needing to be altered, steam-stretched and/or picked up in time for Rosh Hashanah Eve, timing was chancy. I have fond recollections of shmoozing crowds standing outside the synagogue I attended back then, with women adorned in their finest dresses or St. John suits, and here and there a forgotten  price tag fluttering undetected (or perhaps purposefully) on the garment.

trudi york gardnerBecause of  the New Year’s sweetness (abundant perfume and aftershave), shmoozing congregants standing outside would always be joined by the traditional arrival of yellow jacket wasps. The yellow jackets would remain through Sukkot, with the most observant wasps choosing to reside inside the sukkah.

Another recollection: When I was growing up, synagogue seats were not reserved during the holidays, although it seemed some families or machers habitually secured the best seats. By contrast, my current Bay Area synagogue, Temple Isaiah, for several years included with one’s High Holy Days tickets a sheet of bright colored paper, marked “Reserved for Driver.” Theoretically, this guaranteed a seat for the person chosen to park the car so passengers could unload and stampede into the sanctuary. Oddly enough, after a few years it became apparent the majority of synagogue attendees were drivers, not passengers: Row after row of seats, empty of people until services began, were papered with white photocopies of “Reserved for Driver,” all the way across the pews. Eventually the individual “Reserved for Driver” sheet disappeared from the High Holy Days ticket packet and seats were reserved through more conventional means — leaving one’s coat on the seats or a choosing a family member to utter threats of bodily harm.

To its credit, my temple  likes to offer new or improved High Holy Days activities: For example, I read online that Temple Isaiah is holding tashlich (the symbolic ritual of casting away sins by throwing bread upon flowing water) some 367 miles away at Santa Monica Beach! While a little far for some people, I thought this sun and sand location was certain to attract congregants. Then I read this tashlich was for Temple Isaiah of Los Angeles. Temple Isaiahs are, it seems, ubiquitous: They’re in Palm Springs and Newport Beach; Lexington, Mass.; Fulton, Md.;  and elsewhere. At least the congregants of Isaiah’s Temple of Brooklyn were much more creative in devising their name, as we expect Jews to be, except that Isaiah’s Temple members are Baptists.

Why must synagogues copy each other’s names? Isn’t there a giant checklist at the Union of Reform Judaism or United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism or the Orthodox Union (et al)  to prevent this redundancy? It’s even worse for people who belong to a Temple Israel or Temple Beth Israel. There are unlimited numbers of these!

In the early days in Portland, no one mixed up the synagogues: There was a First Street Shul, a Sixth Street Shul, the Turkish Shul and the Polish Shul. Eventually, to some people’s disappointment, the synagogues each acquired nonnumerical and nonethnic names. For example, the Sixth Street Shul merged with the Polish Shul and acquired its new, much more appropriate and contemporary name: “The Shul With the Gigantic Tablets of the Ten Commandments Outside the Building.”

But this week, we put aside worries about multiple Temple Isaiahs. We must enter this holy and cinematic week of Rosh Hashanah refreshed in spirit, greeting each other in the synagogue and at traditional brisket and tsimmes dinners, and always remembering that the old familial wounds should be replaced annually by fresh new grievances.


Trudi York Gardner lives in Benicia and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or via her blog, http://www.tygerpen.com.


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