Archive for 'Religion'

A Makeshift Synagogue and Me

Posted on October 8, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, Religion.

I am not sure what my family or my synagogue did to me while I was growing up, but I have such a soft spot in my heart for my religion. I don’t think I believe in God, and I can never keep the stories of Jacob and Isaac and that coat of many colors straight. And yet, put me in shul with a congregation singing Hebrew prayers to the tunes I recognize from my years at Temple Beth Shalom or my summers at Camp Eisner, and I melt. I want to do nothing more than smile and enjoy the music with my friend or family member sitting next me. Yes, I admit it, I become one big ball of cheese.

As of sundown tonight, it is Yom Kippur, the most important time of the year. Between last week’s Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, God writes the book for the upcoming year. He decides who is going to have good things happen to them, and who is going to have bad things happen. And so during the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Jews say sorry to all who they have wronged over the past year. They think about what they did, and who they hurt, and how they sinned, and they ask for forgiveness. (Or at least that’s how I remember my dad explaining it. Feel free to visit factcheck.org.)

And then, on Yom Kippur, when it’s the final hours before God seals the deal, Jews pray and pray and pray, asking God’s forgiveness for their sins. Jews fast both to atone for their sins and, according to the rabbi tonight, because they have no time to eat since they are so busy praying.

Since Yom Kippur seems all about one’s relationship with God, and since I don’t think I believe in God, it would seem logical that I need not celebrate this holiday. I could skip it. And I almost did, for many good reasons. I just started a new job and didn’t want to upset my boss by taking off a day of work. I like to eat and am a really bad faster. I went home for Rosh Hashana last week and didn’t want to schlep another two hours home this week.

But then there’s that whole God-deciding-the-year part. Yeah, just in case, I should probably make sure I’m on his good side.

I hurried home from work, did the candles prayer (are you supposed to light candles on Yom Kippur? Why not – always a nice touch), filled up on two plates of stir-fry and rice with my Buddhist Burmese husband as I pretended not to notice that the sun had already gone down, and hurried off to meet a friend at the synagogue.

Well, “synagogue” is stretching it. My friend and I went to a service for Jews in their 20s and 30s who live in New York City and don’t belong to their own congregation. It’s a brilliant idea – a way of giving people a chance to celebrate the High Holidays even if they don’t belong to a temple or can’t afford the high High Holidays ticket costs.

Given the non-profit nature of the idea, the chosen location for our services was not exactly high class. It was a big empty space in a building on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. Construction ladders leaned against the walls. The windows were all boarded up; some had black sheets hanging on them by a thread. At one point in the service we heard a loud thud as if a piece of construction had just fallen down. The congregation chuckled.

And yet, despite the lack of proper heating or comfortable chairs, despite the absence of a congregation of families who grew up with one another, despite the loudspeaker near my seat that kept having technical problems and buzzing at inopportune moments, it was one of the more beautiful Yom Kippur services I’ve been to.

The rabbi made dorky jokes that were totally endearing. And then he went into short sermons about what Yom Kippur represents, and how you can make it meaningful in your life. He talked about the need not to develop new values but instead to reevaluate your life so you are living out the values you already have.

A young woman with a beautiful voice served as a cantor. One of my closest friends, who also has a beautiful voice, sat next to me singing along to the prayers.  We sang in Hebrew, and read in English.

Listening to the prayers, I remembered my years in Hebrew School reciting those lines. I thought about my family, and the countless holidays I have spent with them. I thought about sneaking out of services at the Concord to run around with my younger cousins. I envisioned my mom and sister chatting during a service in our local temple, and me being embarrassed and repeatedly trying to hush them up.

Now that I am older, and my family members live in different cities, I know that I have to make my own congregation and will likely spend many more services without my parents and big sister. And yet, even though it’s sad to know that we can’t be together as much, nothing brings me emotionally closer to my family and my childhood than praying in a – makeshift – synagogue on a High Holiday. I know that my mom is doing the same in Monroe, my dad in Westchester, and my sister in DC.

When people find out that I strongly identify as Jewish, they often assume I believe in God. To them, that’s what being religious is about. To me, it’s much more than that. What about all the God stuff in the text of the prayers? I usually just gloss over that. I focus on the music and the memories and the lessons about how to live life. And most important, about my family. I think about the role Judaism has played in shaping who I am, about how it has taught me to value learning and helping others. I think about how even sitting with a congregation full of faces I don’t recognize, I feel like I belong. To me, that is religion at it’s best.

And just in case there is a God, I will try my hardest not to eat until sundown tomorrow. I want to make sure only good things are in my Book of Life profile.

This has been cross-posted on the Huffington Post.

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Oped in Hartford Courant

Posted on August 26, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, Media, Politics, Religion.

Check out my personal essay in the Hartford Courant this Wednesday. It’s about driving cross country and learning about the presidential campaign and American culture from the radio shows along the way. It was on the Los Angeles Times/ Washington Post wire and also ran in the Chicago Tribune.

My husband and I just finished driving from our home in Los Angeles to my parents’ in upstate New York because I will be taking a job on the East Coast. The trip was a great success: We slept in a budget hotel each night and never got bed bugs — just one night with a spider — and we made it to New York without crashing or getting a speeding ticket. More important, we learned about this country we live in, yet know so little about.

Neither of us had ever been to most of the places we visited along the way. My husband was born and raised in Burma, and I have never traveled in the South or much of the Midwest. We got to check out the vistas in the Grand Canyon, art galleries and jewelry shops in Santa Fe, beautiful brick mansions in Tulsa, Cardinal fans in St. Louis and cornfields in Illinois. But what was most interesting to us about our trip was listening to the radio.

Throughout the entire country — between Los Angeles and New York — we couldn’t flip through the radio stations without finding multiple shows dedicated to people talking about Jesus. Some were singing songs about him; most were discussing how their lives had changed since they had accepted the Lord into their heart. On one station a host was interviewing a child about which Biblical verse was her favorite.

Read more.

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Occupation Diplomacy

Posted on May 20, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under International, Politics, Religion.

Check out my latest blog on the Huffington Post’s Off the Bus.

One thing is certain about the outcome of this November’s presidential election — whoever wins will have the monumental job of improving America’s standing around the world. He or she (I’m one of the few who won’t pronounce Hillary Clinton’s campaign dead until it’s official) should start by loudly proclaiming his (or her) anger and repugnance at the American soldier in Baghdad who used a copy of the Koran for target practice.

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