Several months ago a friend of mine called me up and asked if I could hook him up with a place for Rosh Hashanah in San Francisco that was open with the idea of him leaving after yuntiff (yom tov) I didn’t realize the conundrum until he told me that Rosh Hashanah would be going into shabbos this year and that he needed to leave sometime on Friday before shabbos – I told him that in San Francisco Jews were of a different breed and that it shouldn’t be a problem. As a formerly religious fellow, he still wanted to have meals and shul set up, but not feel like he was offending anyone with his “off the derech” lifestyle.
In general the Bay Area Jewish community is open to lots of different conundrums that would be blown out of proportion in the east coast Jewish centers, like the fan of mine who had emailed me a few months back wondering if I knew any frum people who would be open to hosting her and her partner for shabbos, a frum lesbian couple really isn’t a big deal around these parts and I already had several families in Berkeley or SF I could host them at – they never ended up coming, but still it is a conundrum that I could never imagine approaching anyone I know back east, save for maybe one or two open minded frum families.
So with my apikorus friend in tow I went into yuntiff, although I kept telling him he was the yetzer harah coming to get me to sin and due to the fact that he had just been at the Burning Man Festival and needed to describe the debauchery that took place he definitely had me sinning by listening with rapt attention to the tales of sex crazed naked people running around the desert with goggles on, while I was trying to be kovesh my yetzer at the same time.
For instance, on the first day of Yuntiff, I sat in shul for a short while, I had recently heard to my surprise that the halachic requirement for shofar blowing was just 30 blows and not the full 100 – which meant that I could freely roam during musaf. So I said my silent musaf (on the high holidays I tend to skip the prayers and just consult with the lord in my native tongue) and then walked out side with my friend to discuss a wide range of topics that included the Kinky Jews bondage seder in NY, Yanky Horrowitz’s good deeds and why my friend left the path.
On the second day of Yuntiff I decided to walk to the Mission Minyan for a change of scenery, I also really wanted to walk because the weather was the most beautiful all year. San Francisco is one of the strangest cities I’ve been in when it comes to the weather. It can be shrouded in fog and you can walk 2 miles east and it will be sunny and 15 degrees warmer and this is how it always is. Rosh Hashanah this year was fogless and cloudless, at 70 degrees it was perfect – the Lord really delivered his majesty on these days – with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands and Mt. Tam and this curious layer of fog underneath them that never seemed to engulf much of anything besides for Lands End.
The walk to Mission Minyan was 4.7 miles from the place I was staying by in the Sunset District and it’s a beautiful walk that takes you up and down the crazy steep and long 17th street hill and takes you past Dolores Park, The Castro and loads of other views and beautiful San Francisco architecture. On the way to the minyan my friend, despite my pleas, hopped into 7-11 for a coffee. I find myself busting out ghetto kiruv on my non-religious friends, by taking them out to eat at kosher places or trying to get them to shabbos meals and so on. I was standing out side 7-11 on 18th street when a man gave me the Jew look (the look that someone who is Jewish and wondering why an orthodox Jew is standing on a street corner in a random town he thinks that no orthodox Jews live in) the man walked down the block and then walked back to ask me about Jews in the area – he was an Israeli tourist.
We got to talking and I kept nudging him to come with us to shul, it was Rosh Hashanah after all. He asked if the shul was frum and I wondered a bit about that, since secular Jews don’t use the term much. My non-religious friend convinced him to come and we got to talking, we learned that this dude was in Touro College and since they gave off for Rosh Hashanah he has come to SF for vacation. We got to shul a little before shofar so him and my buddy talked why I prayed to the Lord for clarity and forgiveness – I have noticed that I pray for clarity much more than anything during the high holidays. I mentioned to my friend that although the haftorah was being said by a woman, I wasn’t turned on by it and we joked about frummies getting turned on by women saying the haftorah.
After hearing the first 30 shofar blows (the halachic requirement) the Israeli guy left, my friend made plans to hang out in NY and he turned to me to tell me that it turns out the man was an ex-Belzer chossid from Israel who had to get out of there because it was too much for him, too many bad memories. The man left orthodoxy because it didn’t do anything for him, but I kept wondering if hearing the shofar had any effect on him – I have heard all about how the shofar is supposed rouse up even the most forlorn Jew to help him/her cleave to the lord. Crazy talk since I myself had issues with Judaism and yet found myself wondering about the effect I was having on other Jews. My friend turns to me and says “see if I wouldn’t have stopped for coffee, that dude never would have heard shofar”
The best and most interesting meal of the Yom Tov was the first night meal I went to in The Richmond, a fairly far walk there and even farther walk back because I was filled with an insane amount of amazing food and loads of wine. If you take a look at the most popular frum cookbook (kosher by design and other editions) you will see that the author has a romanticized view of how the shabbos table should look, Suzie Fishbein feels that pictures of tables with loads of cutlery and china and fancy settings are how frum people eat – while most frum people try to figure out how to make Dixie settings look fancy (unless they have shidduch aged kids which they want to retain their shidduch market value) But these people I ate by, their table WAS set up like the cookbooks. It was a full fledged Rosh Hashanah seder, with some very colorful and fresh homegrown veggies.
I was kind of shocked that at a table full of liberals (I assumed they were considering that there were only two orthodox Jews and Bay Area Jews are notoriously liberal) would actually say all of those Yehi Ratzon’s about God smiting our enemies, but we did and no one got into a tizzy, that would happen later in the meal. The food was amazing, I was seriously in heaven and I haven’t really been in a true food ecstasy for a long time. It’s not that the food isn’t good, the Jewish community of San Francisco contains two of the best cooks in the Bay Area, rebetzin Strulowitz of Adath Israel and Deena G.
So naturally when you have a bunch of raging liberals at a table you’re bound to get into some interesting discussions and this one couple just couldn’t understand why the kosher meat industry wasn’t more cognizant of free range, organic, locally sourced and other luxuries that only the wealthy or really ideological can enjoy (in this case both) If there is a market, it will be made available, but it’s pretty obvious that there isn’t such a huge market. Still they couldn’t understand, how someone who calls themselves orthodox not want to help the environment and other classic left wing jargon that assumes everyone has the luxury to care about the environment. I don’t think that frum families with 10 children to feed and put through yeshiva could care less where their meat comes from as long as long as someone who wears a black hat and beard cut the jugular at some point.
Of course my brilliant friend shut them up throughout every argument until it came to Reform vs. Orthodoxy and their differences, the lady portion of the couple was getting pretty riled up and my friend was super calm – he later related that whenever someone got angry in an argument – you knew that you won, on the walk home I went into a little rant about the crazy liberals who feel they need to force everyone to do something – like buy organic meat. On the flipside you have the crazy right wingers as well.
Then at another meal, a buddy of mine got into a fight with another older fellow about art. Two folks at the table were talking about Makers Fair, Burning Man and the push for really new, exciting and abstract forms of art. The older fellow, did one of those waves of the hand and said that it was all a waste of time, which ticked off both fellows who were obviously very appreciative of the artistic contributions of abstract artists.
I myself am not a huge fan of abstract art, I’m a romantic, I like folk art, Americana and impressionist stuff – but the argument at the table was that if someone was doing something that was lifting people’s spirits and bringing joy to people’s lives it had to be a good thing. Of course he didn’t take it farther and question what the man himself did for society, but he got quite pissed and once again it was nice to see some good heated debates at a table – because that is something I truly miss from the east coast – everyone in the Bay Area is too nice.
I picked up this book “The Practical Guide to Teshuvah” by Shaul Wagshal and was getting totally into it, it really helped me weave through the maze of Rosh Hashanah, one of the biggest problems for me is saying a bunch of stuff I don’t understand and I wonder how many folks just say the whole davening without actually knowing what they said, or agreeing with it, so this year I just did my own thing. I even had the passing thought that I would hike to favorite spot in Yosemite and camp there for Yom Kippor and consult with God, but I have to be at work on Saturday night right after the chag so I scrapped that idea, although it is enticing.
The more I talked with God on my late night walks back to where I was staying, the more I was free to admit which areas I felt I needed working on and which areas I couldn’t believe that I messed up on, the problem is that the more I spoke with God the more I rejected the idea of attending the services and less I paid attention to what was going on and the more happy I became – it was the first time in my life that I didn’t just sit there glumly counting pages and seeing how long we had left, I was overjoyed at the prospect of not feeling guilty that I had missed portions of musaf. It’s pretty freeing to realize that something other than the norm works for you and works well and that is why I had one of the most enjoyable and meaningful Rosh Hashanah’s ever.
I do want to mention that on the first day of Rosh Hashanah there was this awfully cute girl in shul wearing a yellow shirt, at the end of shul I was trying to catch her eye when she turned around and smiled at me, I debated with my friend if it was a flirtatious glance or not (I am seriously clueless when it comes to flirting, I have no idea if the ladies are doing it or if I am doing it) but I didn’t get to talk to her, the rabbi told me she was 25 and from NY – not sure why I’m writing this….
I should also mention that Tashlich was held, I missed it, at the strangest reservoir ever. The thing is covered in concrete and solar panels.