ON THE RISING COST OF PRAYER

Last week was the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, the big one, the holiest day of the year that inspires even many casual, secular Jews to attend synagogue.

For most, this is the one day they attend. Why? Well, it is written (I always wanted to say that), even if you’re a sinner and never attend services, you have one last chance to atone and get a pardon from God.  It’s like a catchall for naughty Jews and God is like the president, only fitter and less orange.  Catholics have confession, which can be done all year, at any time.  Jews just do it all at once.  It’s like an intestinal flush for the soul, without all the messy clean-up.

Another thing to which Jews are accustomed that surprises some non-Jews is this concept of buying a ticket to go to High Holidays services.  You’ve heard of pay for play? Well, this is pay for pray.  The rest of the year, if you want to pop into a Sabbath service or other holiday, just stroll on into any synagogue on earth and you can take a seat and dig on the prayer thing.  Or just sit there.  Just like church, they tell me. But on the High Holidays, the demand is high.

Many people are members of the congregation, which requires paying dues, which depending on the size of the congregation and the cost of operations, can be pretty substantial.  I know one synagogue in LA where the membership dues are $5,000 per family (which includes the high holidays seats).  That’s why I’m not a member.  If I had that kind of disposable cash, I’d go on a long, nice trip to atone in Israel or something.

Kiki and I go to said services at a big synagogue with a few thousand family-members in the San Fernando Valley. I used to go there with my aunt, may she rest in peace, and got kind of accustomed (it’s Conservative, which means a lot of the songs and prayers are the ones I grew up with, plus the Rabbi is freakin’ hilarious) so for the last several years my aunt’s sacred memory has scored some free tickets from the nice lady who handles these things, because she loved my aunt, too.

We get “floater seats,” which means you can sit in any open seat but you need to move if a person comes who has that seat number on their ticket, kind of like a non-general admission Grateful Dead concert. (Side note: I just “say no” to Dead and Co.)

Well, the chickens came home to roost, as they always do, and we were asked to make a small contribution since they have allowed us to attend services gratis for about 10 years or so.  This was no problem at all. Happy to contribute.  Plus, the congregation does great outreach work in the community for the homeless, etc. and I could earmark my tax-deductible contribution directly to those worthy efforts.

us
Look at us all cleaned up to atone!

Now, I’m pretty sure other religions have memberships for congregants, but some rely on charitable contributions from the faithful. We attended Rosh Hashannah services at a small synagogue up in Kirkland, WA a couple of weeks ago, and the Rabbi joked that the membership dues pay the overhead, of which she is the biggest part.  That’s right, rabbi-ing is a job and they rightfully expect to get paid.

The synagogue in the Valley has 5 rabbis, 6 cantors, a giant physical plant including a school, and a partridge in a pear tree.  There are a lot of employees and taxes and upkeep, so it makes sense that someone has to pay for it, hence dues.  And of course, any person who truly cannot pay and wants to attend is welcome.  Otherwise, it’s not much of a house of worship, is it?

The ticket proceeds help supplement this budget, and they do give away a lot of these to people like me.  We pick them up at a Will-Call window, just like going to the theater or a concert. You show ID, they check you off the list and give you your tickets.

This begs the question: can I scalp these tickets?  Sure, I would atone for it right after, but is that Kosher?  They have value, so someone might want to pay good money for them. Oh well, maybe next year.

Unfortunately, the concert experience didn’t end there. I’ve always noticed that the LAPD parks a police cruiser right in front of the synagogue to deter any shenanigans, but in the world today, it’s not shenanigans we’re worried about.  So this year, we had to show ID at Will-Call, then again at the first check point, where the bags were inspected and the security guy was satisfied that my shofar was not a weapon, and then AGAIN at a third check point where we showed ID, AGAIN, and then went through a freakin’ metal detector!  Children and the elderly included.

shofar
Nobody move or I’ll blow this thing.

This is the state of the world we live in.  You need to go through airport-level security (okay there were no bomb-sniffing dogs, but still) to atone for your sins and pray.  That is sad.

Sorry.  I lost my comic mojo for a second there.

Anyway, we went, we atoned, and we broke fast (see last week’s blog), and all was good, but there is this lingering feeling of, for me, anger that decent people have to go through such nonsense to pray for themselves or the planet.  I’m angry at the people who have made it this way.  Because of the “no-politics” rule there will be no diatribe about who I think is responsible, so you can guess.  But it rhymes with “hen-are-ay.”

On the bright side, the people who ran the security, presumably non-Jews, were really nice and very patient and even laughed at my jokes, i.e. “I have Known Traveler TSA-prescreening. Does that count?”  Yes, they laughed, I laughed, Kiki rolled her eyes at me for making a joke (probably because it wasn’t very funny and likely not the first time these kind folks heard it that evening), and a good time was had by all.

So what have we learned? As usual, not much probably.  Seriously, I don’t need that kind of pressure.  In any event:

First, it’s okay to pay to pray; you don’t necessarily have to, but still, eventually it becomes time to pay the rabbi.

Second, it’s okay to joke with the security guys at temple, but the ones at the airport don’t seem to have the same sense of humor.

And third, although a shofar is not a gun, you can cause some serious damage with one, played the right way.

There are a few metal detectors in Smoking in Bed: dreams of love, sex and terrorism.  Of course, with terrorism in the title you need metal detectors.  But no shofars, which I kind of regret now because there is some good comedy to be derived from a religious icon that is made from the horn of a sheep and used as a trumpet.  You know they used like a thousand of these in the battle of Jericho to knock down the walls? True story… or is it?

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