Yesterday afternoon I met with a Jewish couple who live in Brooklyn, each on their second marriage, and they were looking for a rabbi to lead a small ceremony. We talked about their lives--their backgrounds, their past and present, their professions--and I noticed a fair amount of Jewish ambivalence in one. With permission, we opened up the conversation more to hear about personal grievances with the synagogue of their childhood; imposing parents; inconsistencies between Jewish values and the more materialistic values of this particular suburban synagogue in this particular period of time in this particular geographic region of the United States. As my methodology often is in these situations, I listen alot, provide sympathy for those who've had "bad" Jewish experiences, and with the other hand, extend a welcome and "defend" the synagogue as an idea that always holds out the promise of redemption. Jews are the wandering people, we like to say; and how often it can seem, sometimes, that they place they are purposely wandering from is the synagogue! Hebrew language, Hebrew culture, Jewish learning, art, history, contemporary Israel--there are so many ways for you to be a Jew, I said: don't let a set of bad experiences push you away. I get that institutions do that; but it doesn't mean we have to assume that it goes with the territory. We can and should be ever mindful of how are own actions, daily, set the tone for our best communal aspirations--welcome, wholeness, peace.
This morning in my prayers, while adding in the blessing for the new moon of Elul, I recited the following words from the prayerbook:
"Our God and God our ancestors, may the remembrance of us, our ancestors, of the Messiah son of David, of Jerusalem your holy city, and of all the people of the House of Israel, ascend and come and be accepted before you for deliverance and happiness, grace, kindness, mercy, for life and peace on this day of the New Moon. Remember us this day, Eternal our God, for happiness; be mindful of us for blessing; save us to enjoy life. With a promise of salvation and mercy, spare us and be gracious to us; have pity on us and save us for we look to you, for you are a gracious and merciful God and Ruler."
And then immediately following the additional prayer for the New Month, the usual prayers resume with the words, "May our eyes behold your return in mercy to Zion. Blessed are you, Eternal One, who restores your divine presence to Zion."
I looked up from my bow (required as part of prayer choreography) and saw the מזרח, the small piece of art we keep on an eastern wall in our house to focus attention toward Jerusalem. I always think of Mt. Zion in Jerusalem at this point but this morning I thought of that other exile, when we in the Jewish community don't get it right. When through our own arrogance we turn people away. When our systems for conveying Torah values get subverted by other goals, less lofty, and as a result, we harm the very principles we're called upon to uphold.
We've all made those mistakes. Owning up to them is just a regular part of keeping our hearts and souls open to the values we are meant to represent.
Walking down 7th Avenue toward Shul this morning, I ran into another refuge, whose upbringing in a shul far from ours "turned him off" for a long, long time. It never ceases to amaze me how challenging it can be to enact prayerful words like "grace, mercy, happiness, blessing, and peace." It should be so easy! Words like that are supposed to roll of the tongue. But they get caught up in the machine, sent into exile as well, until we bring them back, put them in order, humble ourselves in their recitation, and restore them, along with the Source, to Zion, in mercy.