Saturday, November 26, 2005

Saul's Essay

Head of the Year Address.

There's so much I'd like to say about this past week, and yet it's almost like nothing has happened of note to warrant an essay.
I will say, for one, that I am riding a wave of spiritual renaissance, with which my life holds meaning and security.
To go into a few details:

In the past I always had a love/hate relationship with going to any formal religious services, I would do my best to sleep in Saturday mornings, come late to the mandatory morning services in school and leave before being dragged into evening prayer. It wasn't that I disliked prayer, it's that I disliked being forced to pray; and by their rules.
In Israel I came to know something strange, when a prayer service would literally fall from the sky and grab you by the arm and say "Come, join us." This, my friends and I came to call a "divine yoink". You could be walking through the streets of Jerusalem, minding your own business, when an elderly Israeli man would spot you and make you the 10th man for a Minyan of prayers. These, you could never turn down.
But morning services, still the bane of my existence, were neglected, as were many other services along the way. I learned alot about myself as a person and an artist in Israel, but it would take dunking myself into the hedonistic world of a New York art school to develop my sense of drawing the line and moralistic upstanding.
I suddenly went from being painted as the outsider and rebellious one in my religious circles to being the Jewish Guy at Pratt. The one that keeps Kosher. And Shabbos. And now I represented a religious and moral standard to the masses who never really got to know an Orthodox Jew.
And so I was on my way.

Last year I finally connected with a local Rabbi, who began having events on campus here and there, and I motivated myself to build stronger bonds. Staying in New York this Summer solidified all that, it made me more than one of the Pratt kids who show up to the Shul in Brooklyn Heights for Friday Nights and a meal to get drunk at afterwards, I was now becoming a part of the community.
The Shul is completely unique, a mix of tradition and modern, where there are as many people showing up to services who need to borrow a yarmulke as there are Chassishie Rabbis with long beards. Friday night they sing Carlebach, hippee-like songs, and dance around clapping and singing afterwards, dragging everyone into it, including the guy with the mohawk who's never been to a Synagogue before.
There is no pressure to show up there. There is only self motivation and the smiling faces when you do come. For the first time, I feel at home in a shul, and want to return as often as possible.

Which brings me to my real point here.
This past week was a 1-2-3 punch of Friday night, Rosh Hashonah 2 day holiday, and Friday night again. On R"H, I showed up at every service, happily getting myself up both mornings without the service of an alarm, and walking the 25 minute walk downtown after having walked back home at midnight the night before. Needless to say, it was exhausting. But it was also stunningly moving and gorgeous.
For some reason, the holiday moved me this year- the first blasts of the Shofar the first morning brought me to tears, walking with the entire synagogue to down by the Brooklyn Bridge to do Tashlich, the casting off of sins, throwing away my transgressions symbolically and physically into the East River as the sun set behind the Manhattan skyline in front of me- these are moments in my life that I still can't really wrap my mind around.
By the time it was all over I found myself fasting the next day, going to classes for pretty much the first time in a week, and questioning what the hell my life is now, feeling empty being away from the amazing experience I had.

This past Shabbos ressurected that, and Friday night, sitting there at the head table with my Rabbi, sipping Johnny Walker Blue, the Rabbi looked across the table at me and said "Saul, I feel like we really get one another."
And he's right.


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