Of Footraces, Cake and the Ancient Chanted Prayers of Our People

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, January 6th, 2017 – 9 Tevet, 5777

I recently reconnected with an old friend from my New Mexico years. We spoke of old times, and he reminded me of San Geronimo’s Day. This annual feast is an amalgam of Catholic and native customs. It is also one of the rare occasions when outsiders are permitted to witness some of the pueblo’s religious practices, including a bare foot sprint that is part race and part dance. We were fortunate to get an invitation from an acquaintance who lived on the pueblo. Because this day (September 30th-October 1st) also celebrates the harvest, it is their practice to feed all of their visitors.

Ritual sustains us. Even when we don’t understand everything that happens, its slow, subtle power creeps in under the skin. Ritual is how we tell those stories that the soul understands. Maybe that’s why, as much as I am wedded to our Jewish customs and practices, I am equally fascinated by how different peoples and groups hear the call of the spirit.

The thing that stands out to me more than all those colorful practices, however, was a piece of cake. You see, on that day of blended beliefs, the pueblo (or at least the low-roofed adobe home we were in) also observed a communal birthday celebration for many of their children. Unlike in American culture, where the birthday boy or girl usually gets the first slice of cake, here the kids distribute cake to all of their guests before receiving a plate of their own.

What a tremendous lesson! We mark the celebration of our birth not by what we get, but by what we give. Or to phrase that a bit differently, we get by giving. For me, there’s a deep religious truth in this. It’s a truth that played out for those of us who who have been hitting the streets on Saturday nights to bring food to the homeless, and it’s a truth that those of us who are committed to communal life slowly discover.

We Jews are so open to the customs of others, but often times we are ignorant of our own, or sometimes even feel emotionally estranged or distant from our ancient heritage. That brings me to our daily minyan. Regular prayer is a deep practice of Judaism. It is the pulse of sacred Jewish time. It is so important for a community to have a daily prayer service, that the great Maimonides wrote in the 12th century, “it is forbidden to live in any place that lacks ten people of leisure,” because then the possibility of sustaining a daily minyan would be jeopardized. A community that lacks a minyan doesn’t tend to survive. It loses its spiritual center.

Each morning at 7:15, a small group of Neveh Shalom congregants (and non-congregants) gather in Zidell Chapel for thirty or forty minutes. We gather, we chant, we give ourselves a few moments of quiet reflection before our day begins. And in that way, we also create a minyan of ten so that mourners can recite the Kaddish prayer and honor the lives of those we loved. Every morning.

Except recently. Our older members haven’t been able to attend with the same regularity. Age or illness or weather is slowing them down. And our minyan is in jeopardy. There have been days where we’ve failed to muster ten. People who wanted to recite the kaddish for a parent or spouse or child could not. Morale suffers. The service suffers.

Here’s the ask. Like those kids I met on the pueblo all those years ago who gave on their birthdays, I’m asking you to give thirty five minutes of your time each month on the date of your birth. If your birthday falls on February 20th, for example, won’t you please come to minyan each month on the 20th? It’s a small gift that will have a large impact.

Won’t you take out your smart phone right now, and put in a recurring appointment?

7:15 am. Zidell Chapel. Once a month.

Your community is counting on you.

Rav D