Last year, I went to High Holyday services in Zurich and Berlin. The year before that, at my home congregation in Sacramento. In 2007, I was in Washington, DC, attending the Georgetown University services with Rabbi White. And this year, of course, in Stockholm.
It’s interesting to connect with Jewish communities in different places, to see how they practice (both the similarities and the variations, large and small). But I think I miss having my own community, and I found myself wondering, as I sat in the balcony at the Great Synagogue yesterday, if and how I will become involved with the one here.
It has a unique history — Jews survived here in WWII; Sweden became a refuge for other Nordic Jewish communities. The Progressive community here looks to be both young and old.
The new rabbi for the congregation here sounds as though he trained in Israel, but might be American (I can’t tell exactly). Yesterday for Yom Kippur, he gave his drash in English again, with a translation in Swedish on a sheet of paper handed around. And he made reference to the Shoah, to the people who have died in Israel throughout its history and more — and for some reason, he sounded so liberal compared to the Conservative and Reform rabbis I’ve listened too all my life. Perhaps it was the references he made to gender? To not having to believe in God to be praying there in synagogue for Yom Kippur? (I exaggerate, but he did exhort the congregation to meditate on certain issues, to not quite pray, which I find fascinating.)
I noted that while I was chanting the Hebrew prayers when I knew them, the people around me did not necessarily do so, nor did they read along in the prayerbooks. I wondered about their education and participation in Jewish life and if they were “High Holyday Jews” like me, coming to synagogue only for the big events.
I also wonder about the level of … how to say this delicately? … the level of awareness in the surrounding gentile community of Judaism. In the US the persecution complex is strong, and I recall people crying foul when public events were scheduled at the same time as Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur when I was a kid, particularly when school-related.
Yesterday, a block away from the Great Synagogue, in the large park nearby, a concert was taking place, starting at around 11:30 am, just as the Torah reading began. The bands were amplified and echoing through the streets. It was distracting, annoying even.
I felt my old American righteous wrath building up: Respect my religion! How dare you interfere with how I practice! The protection of faith in a land where church and state are separate. Don’t get me started on the topic of the Parc51 Mosque near the World Trade Center; it winds me right up, as I think that Americans, of all people, should be accepting of this mosque and putting down their xenophobia — a major sin counted in Yom Kippur tropes chanted by congregations across the U.S.
Elections in Sweden take place today, and the concert was part of the buildup for that civic ceremony, so to speak. Swedish people seem to like their politics; we heard a rally the night before that seemed to be taking place outside the Swedish Television studios, as we were walking home from dinner. So I’ve decided that the combination of modern audio and old temple walls, while not conducive to meditation, is okay.