Sunday morning I went to Sinai Temple, the illustrious beacon of Conservative Judaism on Wilshire Blvd, for an 8.30 am Rosh Hodesh minyan. It was a great experience. Run like an incredibly well-oiled machine, I encountered a cheerful underground parking lot attendant (that's right--underground parking); a cheerful set of guards at both front and side doors, and a great gabbai, who greeted me warmly, asked where I was from, and immediately handed out an honor for me (hagbah--the guy who holds up the Torah after it's been read.)
I played it anonymously--that is, I introduced myself without the title of Rabbi, mostly because I prefer the quiet anonymity of davenning in a new space. One fellow, in his early seventies I'll guess, heard I was from Brooklyn and said, "I used to be from Bensonhurst," and when I asked if he missed it, a wistful, distant look arose in his eyes and he said quietly, "You know, there are things about Brooklyn that I do really miss." It was a sweet moment. To sweet, in fact to say, "Yeah--like the Dodgers!"
Just as Sinai Temple's website indicated, most of the attendees at this morning minyan were mourners. In *not* standing for Kaddish, I was in the distinct minority--if not the only one--among the 35 or so people present. And by far the youngest--most were 60 and older and a very large number of the men and women present were Persian Jews, found in relatively large numbers in this section of Los Angeles--nicknamed Tehran-gales.
I was telling Rachel during our drive down to Del Mar to visit old friends that the style of davenning could not have been more straightforward--and I loved it. No niggunim, just the straight nusach, a steady sense of navigation from the gabbai and a nice little Dvar Torah on why the Jewish calendar is structured the way it is. It was egalitarian, warm, and deeply efficient. Shacharit, Hallel, Torah reading, Dvar Torah--all done in 70 minutes. By 9.40 am I had my tefillin wrapped, I dropped some money in a tzedakah box, and was out the door to prepare the family for a day at the Skirball Center for a display on Noah's Ark, an archaeological dig, and a stunning exhibit on photography of the Civil Rights movement.
The Skirball Center was really quite impressive, though the dizzying preponderance of naming plaques brought to mind Larry David's brilliant spoof on his "anonymous giving" battle with Ted Danson. Among the many visions that the Talmud lays out for what the world will look like when the Messiah comes, I'll add to it the following: "When the Messiah comes, all naming plaques will disappear from Jewish institutions."
It's true, when you start your day unknown under a tallis, you're a bit inclined to anonymity. Still.