I felt compelled to go to synagogue this week. I think it has to do with rereading Beach Music last week. Pat Conroy did his homework in that novel; it does depict the despair and hope of the Jews. I am Jewish, by birth, and there is nothing I can do to change that. Unlike Christians, who often are able to choose their religion, mine is part of my heritage. It doesn’t go back a few generations, it goes back six thousand years.
I have not been devoted to Judaism because I never felt like the religion, in its pure form, dovetailed closely enough with my own personal beliefs. Separation of men and women, for example. Women’s roles within traditiona Judaism. The idea of a vengeful God. Despite all this though, last Sunday, the compulsion kicked it to return to it, to go back to shul. And it occurred to me – it is disrespectful to my ancestors not to go.
And I had forgotten how much I like going to synagogue. It does mean something to me to walk into the sanctuary at Shabbat, to chant along at the candle lighting. To be in a place, as part of a people, who have kept that ritual for that long. It is part of who I am, and what I was born into. And as I become more and more the nomad, it’s good to know that wherever I am in the diaspora, I can walk into a synagogue and have a connection to my heritage.
The synagogue I chose to visit was a Reform one – Beth Shir Sholom. It was interesting. It was very family oriented. Now, I’m all for family oriented. I used to be a Brownie troop leader, after all. I like kids. I just don’t like being the only person between 15 and 35 in a room. It was also the annual Ice Cream Shabbat, which is for families, so there were kids singing up on stage from the religious school, and the rabbi’s sermon was about Families.
The rabbi also played guitar, while the cantor played keyboard. And you could just feel the waves of kindness emanating off the rabbi. You could tell that he was a Good Person. The rabbi at my temple in Seattle was like that too – he was just the sort of wonderful, warm, kind person that one wants as a religious leader. But I have mixed feelings on having traditional Hebrew chants turned into contemporary folk songs. It has the feel of a Christian church where the hymns are turned into rock songs. Yes, it’s the same words that Jews have said for six thousand years, but does it detract from the meaning to sing it like a Raffi song?
It was still a lovely experience though. Everyone was, of course, perfectly nice to me. I might start attending Torah study again there. I’d like to brush up on my Hebrew, catch up on my Torah, and maybe get around to getting b’nai mitzvah’d. (I am Jewish by birth, but was never bat mitzvah’d because I wasn’t raised with the religion). And, of course, I’d like to go to Shabbat services when it isn’t Ice Cream night.
But it was during the Yartzheit remembrances that I realized why I’d felt so compelled to go, this weekend of all weekends. This weekend was my grandmother’s Yartzheit. It has been three years exactly since she died, on February 15th, 2002. Nana was the family matriarch. She was not lovable. Not even to my mother, her eldest daughter. But she taught us all our strength, my mother, my aunt, my sister, myself. She taught us to rely only on ourselves. She gave us the streak of granite that gets all of us through bad and worse times. I respected my grandmother, and I said her name and remembered her during the Yartzheit. I remembered her as she was when I was little, when she would let me play with her jewelry and watch her put on her makeup. And I remembered her as she was the last time I saw her, three years ago, two weeks before she died. I flew to L.A. to say goodbye to her, as she lay dying, from chemo and cancer, in a room above the ocean in Malibu. My mother and I were trying to convince her that everything would be OK when she left her body. “It’s OK, Mom,” my mother said, “you’ll go into the Light.”
So this was the weekend to be in synagogue, to pray that Nana has gone into the Light. Jews don’t have a system for the afterlife. We just say, “they have gone to be with their kin,” according to my old rabbi in Seattle. My family, however, does believe in rejoining a greater Light. And I was glad that my subconscious had compelled me to be there to say the mourner’s kaddish for my grandmother.
Friday, after synagogue, I went to meet friends out in Los Feliz at a dive bar.
I haven’t been to Los Feliz in some time. It’s Hipsterville out there, Los Feliz and Silverlake. Los Feliz is more New York style hipster, the East Coasters, the people that come here from NYC to work as screenwriters or in the offices of the music and movie industry. It’s the old suburb of Hollywood that borders Griffith Park, and that still contains the Dresden and the Derby. Silverlake, one suburb south, is more like Seattle’s Capitol Hill district, or Vancouver’s Commercial Drive – artists and musicians living in apartments carved out of the old middle-class houses. It also attracts people who thrive on that energy, and is home to a plethora of more gritty, underground-ish events. Spaceland, the most alt-rock of L.A.’s alt-rock venues, is in Silverlake.
Friday though, I was out in Los Feliz itself, in a dive bar in a strip mall. It was interesting enough. The bar wasn’t that big, but made up for it with a loud jukebox. The lighting was low, it was PACKED, and beer was cheap. And the bartender was awesome – a very buxom bleach blonde, a more zaftig Pam Anderson type. There were construction paper hearts all over the walls, and enough grime on the floors to show years of inhabitation by kids like us. I think the only way to describe places like that is to say that you could find them in Portland.
I sat down with my adopted cousin and our friend Kate and talked for an hour and change. Mostly about politics and pop culture, with the occasional pause while Kate and I seat-danced to a song we knew on the jukebox. We discussed the Internet, how our generation knows it best because we were the first to learn it. We discussed how kids today take the Web for granted, how they don’t know how it works.
And we wondered – what is going to be the defining impression and contribution from this decade? If the sixties was hippies and folk music and electric guitars, and the seventies brought us punk and glam rock and disco, and the eighties brought new wave and hip hop and metal, and the nineties brought grunge (metal practice, folk mentality) and hardcore rap and techno – what’s left?
And my cousin told me about the L.A. Bike Marathon, how cyclists ride the marathon route before the runners take off on it. That’s next month. I’d better get training. I can do 24mi, easily, but I should start practice runs on weekends first.
I left early because I was planning to go home and get some sleep so I could get up and do a Pilates class the next day. Instead, I ended up randomly driving up the PCH for a bit, thinking and looking at the ocean, remembering the Pacific as it looked from the PCH in Oregon or in Northern California, in those days out of time when I was travelling to L.A. And I thought to myself about how I haven’t done that badly for myself here. So far.
I didn’t actually go to sleep when I got home, either. I ended up talking to Monica for three hours. My sister and I are talking again – Mom’s Vegas plot worked. And I have missed my sister. She can answer my Simpsons quotes, can do a better imitation of our grandmother than I can, and, most of all, is really really smart. We talked a lot about politics and business, about how both of us are against the war and why. We talked about her upcoming birthright trip to Israel, about how she’s going to that and to Europe this summer. She will have a wonderful time at both.
I fell asleep around 3am, very happy, and woke up just in time to get those Nine Inch Nails tickets. Then I had an interesting Saturday. I think that’s another post though.