Jewish New Year

Today is the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The sense of renewal for this time is in my bones. I am no longer a follower (was I ever) of the cloth. Long ago, those teachings were relegated to the category of myth. Religion for me is fantasy. It is one set of dreams and ideas, made to rule over another mans’.

But the Jewish New Year is in my bones. It is something that hearkens back to a time when our beliefs, our rituals, were tribal.

Ironically, as I am coming awake this morning, what is filtering in my window are the sounds of a mosque. We live in what has been termed by US News and World Report as “The most diverse neighborhood in the United States.” Here in Ditmas Park we have West Indians, Haitians, Russians, Tibetans and Nepalese, Cambodians, Pakistanis (the list goes on) as well as the endless flow of hip artists, writers and musicians who hang out at our local cafe.

My bedroom window is back to back with a Muslim mosque. We hear their prayers weekly, but as it is also Ramadan, they have been praying through the night, every night. Their song reminds me of the days when I attended synagogue services every Saturday. It was the singing that always touched me. As a boy, we would spend our days on Shabbos, plotting ways to slip away into the rest of the building. To go to places where there were no adults. My parents never accompanied me to schul. I went on my own volition, my own desire. There was something there I needed to have contact with.

It was in that song. The prayer. The male chanting that created a sense of exhilaration in me. My friends and I would begin to laugh when this sound grew particularly intense. It was our only way of responding. We were not yet ready to join in and absorb this communal vibration.

But now I have abandoned all of that.The questions that were deep within me, needed to be met with a deeper knowledge of this life. Fortunately, I lived in an atmosphere where those questions were not buried, or suppressed. The quest lay open for me to search in other areas of culture. This was MY education.

The world of comparative religion was the first to call. The differences between the great religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, Judaism and Christianity as well as their common ground were my initial opening to my spiritual curiosity. The curiosity as to why the sounds of the mosques take me back to the days of the temple. Especially on Rosh Hashanah!

Then as I began my life as a parent, my quest took me into myth and folklore. For a decade I delved into the storytelling of as many cultures as I could find. Grimm fairy tales, Japanese folklore, stories from Native American, Amazonian, Aborigine, African, Italian, Irish, Russian, Chinese, Finnish, Norwegian, Innuit, Jewish and India to be a bit brief. Anything that had the fragrance of a fairy tale, or creation myth, I tried to absorb. Even telling these stories publicly on occasion. My daughters became the sounding boards for these stories nightly. Many were read repeatedly. This helped to fuel my interest.

So not to wonder why sitting here, on the Jewish New Year, having been born a Jew, and listening to the faint song of a Muslim mosque, I can honestly say that I no longer buy into the petty beliefs of any religion. It is because in the process of my quest for knowledge and understanding, something much higher, much finer has emerged.

A sense that the ABOVE cannot be defined by men. For when men begin to pass along a definition of this finer, deeper experience, it turns into religion, and then devolves into dogma. And it no longer becomes a way to connect humans to each other, but it becomes a way to separate them.

Our role as parents, teachers, neighbors and leaders, in truth, is to nurture this quest, but unfortunately, this is not so. The state of the world is a reflection of this lack of connection, and religion is the illusion that keeps us from learning this truth.

So today, on my essential New Year, I put forth a hope. A hope that there are still those among us who can question. Who can nurture question in our children. Who can awaken the question in our neighbors, in our friends, in our loved ones.

It is the question we ask when we look up at the sky, and can still ask “Why am I here?”

Shana Tovah.
Happy New Year.

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