Photo credit: Beth h Flickr.com
Many years ago when I took my first spiritual steps on what was to be a long journey into the ministry (with a small ‘m’) lest the gracious reader may be under the impression that I was entering some lucrative government department - anyexcept ‘The Ministry for those Seeking Gainful Employment after Studying Many Years in Theological College’, a.k.a. ‘Yeshiva’.formally known as a place of higher Jewish educationwhere one learns about Moses giving Israel 5 books’ – or MI5..If you presumed from the title that the intention of the author was to wallow in the past, seeking your sympathy, being the victim of unfortunate circumstances, you would be right. This is despite Lord Byron’s advice not to: “No hand can make the clock strike for me the hours that are passed”. In short, leave your baggage behind and love what is. (But I have always been over-weight.)
The local library informed me that if I wrote a book on this subject, it would unquestionably be categorized under ‘science-fiction’.
Before sharpening my quill in readiness to scribble, the reader may note in the course of this article that I have not mentioned any names or name places in case some misunderstanding former congregant/congregation, not being familiar with the author’s pecuniary circumstances, decides to sue him for being truthful. I, therefore, hereby issue a disclaimer that any similarity to any person living, or serving on a synagogue board of management, is purely intentional.
Throughout my career my spirits were bolstered up by two things: firstly, the words attributed to Albert Einstein - namely, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds”andsecondly, by great spirits themselves, normally bottled at 40% proof.
I really do not remember too much about my first community. My psychoanalyst informed me that what I meant was that I do not want to remember too much.
I was employed as a Hebrew class teacher and a religious slaughterer of poultry (shochet) earning a paltry remuneration. To this day I still wonder how I ever gained a PhD, rising through the ranks from starting as an easily forgotten P.S. Like most employees of synagogues, the job description should be: “Wanted, a General Factotum who is prepared to exist on the bread-line (except on Passover)”. I use the word ‘wanted’ since two classes of people come to mind:-firstly, those who leave after serving time in H. M. Prison,who are termed ‘ex-convicts’,and secondly, those who leave the Yeshiva, who are often described as being ‘ex-YeshivaBocherim (young unmarried persons). This is understandable, as they too started off in Cheder. (The term ‘Cheder’, literally meaning ‘room’, is used as a euphemistic term for those who have been sitting in a room – albeit under lock and key.)
I have always enjoyed seeing in the Jewish Press an advert for a ‘Dynamic’ or’Charismatic’ Minister of Religion - and even more startling - ‘for a modern-orthodox community’. Let me briefly explain why. How can a rabbi be termed ‘charismatic’- a term used to describe a Christian group at worship, especially those who become ecstatically inspired by speaking in many tongues.
Then I suddenly realized that worshippers in synagogue too, speak in many tongues – only without becoming ecstatic - agitated, angry, chutzpadik, noisy, interruptive, ill-mannered - yes –but charismatic, definitely not! Oh, you are no doubt wondering about the term ‘dynamic’ – full of enthusiasm, until given notice for disturbing his congregation’s conscience. Even in Israel, not surprisingly, I have seen a notice on the wall requesting that, ‘Out of respect for this holy place please turn off your mobile phones during services’. Why, even I do not have a direct line to the Boss. I had to smile - why waste your battery when you can shout! They tell me that the Jews were the nation that invented Tic–Tac, the traditional sign language of bookmakers at the race course, now, with the advent of computers, rarely used. It originated from the traditional waya husband contacted his wife in the ladies’ upstairs gallery during the service in shul.
Gentile sociologists found the ‘cholent would be equally difficult to understand to anyone who does not know what a lokshen kugel is). Jewish codifiers write that if one imagines that the sole / soul purpose of attending synagogue is ‘frivolous conversation’owing to a lack of self-control, then it is better that any such yacherremains at home. Of course, in my synagogue all conversation was far from frivolous - it was very serious when eitherfootball, cricket, golf, rugby, bridge, poker, klaberjassor kaluki, or even the remotest thought (chasv’sholem!) of giving the rabbi a whole half-cent pay rise, was the weekly topic of conversation.
I will take a pause now and leave you with the wise words of Shakespeare, in King Lear, to mull over before they may let me out again – even that my straight jacket is shatnez free!
“Jesters oft prove to be prophets”!