Last night/ this morning, I went with my father and my nephew to Jerusalem for our annual Erev Rosh Hashana 'Steak n' Slichos.' We have a late dinner of entrecote at Vaqueiro. We then head down to the Kotel for selichot at the astronomical midnight. I'll admit that the idea of steak and selichot is an expression of contemporary suburban religious sensibilities - conspicuous consumption followed by a devotional pilgrimage. But I like it.
The Kotel was jam packed, and there was a real diversity there. I happen to love the cacophony of different traditions that you get there. Some find it distracting, and if you're looking for a focused davening, I suggest the Hurva, a few steps away. I like the jumble of Jews trying to outshout each other. Since we got there about a half hour before astronomical midnight, I joined a kumzitz organized by Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi. It was nice to see lots of people stop and join in. It was just. really. nice.
Before descending to (or after ascending from) the Kotel plaza, you can see - it's really quite amazing - the Jewish throngs saying selichot at the Kotel and the Ramadan break-fast celebrations taking place in Silwan, just a few hundred meters away. Looking out over the"Holy Basin" and watching Jews and Muslims observing their religions separately and peacefully, it's easy to forget how many wars have been fought over this very piece of real estate.
Living in Israel, it's impossible to avoid the holiday season. The whole rhythm of life builds up to Rosh Hashana - colleagues and friends send out cards, synagogues have their annual membership drives, schools send home songs and honey dishes, radio stations count down the year's best songs, and journalists review the highlights and lowlights of the past year. In this environment, it is inevitable that we take stock of our lives. My birthday - always a time to review life - falls out on the second day of RH this year, exacerbating my brooding and introspective mood.
I won't share everything I've been taking stock of, but I will share my resolution (kabbalah) for this RH - I will not talk sports in shul anymore. If it seems a bit prosaic, it's because it's manageable. I've begun to feel that the topics of conversation in shul - and not just the bein gavra le-gavra talking - is too shallow. Shul fills an important social role in my life and in the lives of many others, as it should. Talking in shul - not necessarily during davening - is inevitable and even encouraged. I've found that sports have become a sort of "default" - a way to make conversation without really trying to get to know the other person, of "talking without speaking." So if I cut out sports in shul, I expect good things to happen (I'm not in shul now, though, and the O's are beating the Yanks for the second night in a row [UPDATE - Buck-O's win again] - 4 in a row vs. the Yankees and Tampa Bay if they hold on).
Together with you, readers, I look forward to a happy, healthy, and productive 5771. Le-shana tova tikateivu ve-teichateimu.