Monday, October 02, 2006

It Didn't Turn Totally White

There was a scarlet thread in the Bet HaMiqdash that would turn white as soon as the scapegoat was throw off of the cliff in the land of Azazel (near today's East Talpiot Promenade). This symbolized the fact that God forgave His people, based on the verse (Isa. 1, 18): 'Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.'

The Talmud (Yoma 67a) recounts that this thread was posted in different places, at different times. The reason was that if the thread did not turn white, the people would become depressed. Without going into the possible reasons for the malfunctioning of the thread two millenia ago, on this particular Yom Kippur, I fear that if we still had that scarlet thread it would not turn purely white.

A blogger whom I have never met, but whom I hold in the very highest esteem, wrote the following:

So I went to the Kol Nidre service last night with some good friends. We left after about an hour. It was so not happening. In New York, London, and anywhere else I’ve been to Yom Kippur services the places are packed to the gills because most folks go to synagogue but once a year and Yom Kippur is that once. Some places you even have to get tickets in advance. This beit-knesset was one of many big ones we’ve got here in Tel Aviv. It was absolutely not filled to the gills last night. There were far more women in the upper women’s section than there were men in the men’s section down below and there was still ample space up top. The average age (and I’m including here the infants and small children dragged along) of participants on the upper deck was about 65. If you take out the outliers of the babies, the average age jumped to about 75. There were no makzorim (prayer books with the kol nidre service stuff) available. It seems you were expected to bring your own –which the really elderly knew to do. The rest (the few) of the younger crowd mostly did not know and also don’t have ‘em to begin with and so we kind of stood and sat around. One of the girls along with us (a native Israeli) sent text messages on her phone through-out the time we were there. I was wishing I’d brought along a phone to do the same with. The cantor was uninspiring, everyone was sort of doing their own thing –a kind of private reading/mumbling of the service–it was not the Kol Nidre service of my previous experience. But, it seems, it is the typical service here because Tif had gotten us to try this synagogue after having gone to another one last year that was exactly the same and she was thinking that it had been an anomoly. It was not. Blech. No fun and definitely not inspirational.

So where was Tzohar, in all of this? Where were all of the much-vaunted Yom Kippur initiatives? How come no one spreads the word of their existence, or creates a presence in the great mausolea of Judaism that were built so large and remain so hollow? Why doesn't someone think to provide extra mahzorim?

What a wasted opportunity! If we are to rebuild a truly Jewish country here, and observance is stage two, this kind of farce must be extirpated! However, I don't blame the elderly worshippers in this (or any other) so-called "Great Synagogue." I blame myself, and those like me, who have the tools to communicate and teach, but spend their Yamim Nora'im in religious enclaves. Bli Neder, I intend to find a way to do Teshuvah for that. I urge others to do the same.

Otherwise, G-d forbid, the thread may never turn white.


ADDeRabbi said...

i sympathize (and not just because i'm an employee of tzohar).
but a bit of a plug - tzohar is way underfunded to really do what they're capable of doing.

Anonymous said...

Tel Aviv happens to be practically deviod of religious people. The shul 5 minutes from my apartment holds min. 400 men's seats. The average Friday night service has about 30 people, avergae age 70 (and the rabbi of the shul is Rav Daichovsky, the av beit din of the great rabinnical court in Jerusalem!!). Practically every other shul I've been to in Tel Aviv is the same. I doubt the chilonim would be happier if Tel Aviv were over-run with religious people the other 364 days a year. Who is supposed to pay to provide these machzorim? The regular congregants who can hardly afford the up-keep of these gigantic shuls?

Tell oleh girl next year (or if she decides to come to shul more than once a year, next time she comes)to go to ichud shivat zion one block south of Gordon on Ben Yehuda, and to walk up to the 6th floor (only mornings other than yamim noraim). There she will find a liberal Orthodox minyan where most of the 100-200 congreants are 20 and 30 something western olim.

zalman said...

I daven in a shul in Jerusalem which is a religious enclave, sells out its seats to its regulars and generally makes no effort to be inviting any newcomer.
Still, when the guy with an earring showed up, he was directed to a seat and one of the congregants went home to get him a machzor.
So, your point is still entirely valid; I just wanted the opportunity to point out the ad hoc efforts that are often made (and should not be expected of an elderly congregation).

As the comments indicate, simply a directory of shuls that would like to attract newcomers would make a difference. Even better, if someone would undertake to help certain moribund shuls in TA become newcomer-ready for YK and advertise their readiness.

Ari Kinsberg said...

you were generous in what you cut-and-pasted from he post and what you left out.

Anonymous said...

I am Anonymous of 12:03 am.

So where was Tzohar, in all of this? Where were all of the much-vaunted Yom Kippur initiatives? How come no one spreads the word of their existence,

Let me just add to my previous post, by saying that walking back from selichot erev yom kippur (in central Tel Aviv) there were flyers on every car in the neighborhood by Rosh Yehudi setting forth the times for a large yom kippur minyan geared towards the non-religious at a centrally located shul off of kikar dizzengoff. I probably shouldn't be writing this right post yom kippur - but anyone who has any interest in finding these things will easily find them. I don't think that our shuls need to be there to provide entertainment to people more interested in getting home to their yom kippur ham sandwhich.

Ben Bayit said...

I tend to agree with anonymous' posts here. I expressed it more detail on the adderabbi comments board, but basically there's only so far one can go with mass kiruv rechokim before starting on the path to weakening the "base".

Anonymous said...

I spent shabbat in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago and went to the Great Synagogue for Shabbat services out of curiousity. The place is beautiful and everyone was friendly, but i was the 11th person 40 minutes after start and the total number who were there by the end was about 25. I felt like i was at a place in Washington Heights or Harlem where all the Jews had left but the eldery. The issue, i was told, was not the lack of religious jews, but lack of jews, period -- South Tel Aviv is full of foreign workers. That is an even more sad explanation than the other ones above.