The same moon which ends Ramadan this year is the moon that ends the absolutely hectic month of Tishri. It's also the first approximation of a weekend I've had since I got back to Sweden. I haven't made the best use of it; I didn't really get going with my domestic chores yesterday, and today I've mostly spent curled up on a sofa drinking ginger tea and reading LJ. I'm being gentle with myself because did I ever need a break!
I I talked about preparing for Yom Kippur, or rather about failing to. adrian_turtle asked me some good questions in the comments, and caught me at a time when I was feeling, um, confessional, so I ended up talking about religious stuff more directly than I normally do.
YK itself was all right. I brought my own prayer book into the synagogue and took some time to read the inspirational stuff in that rather than rushing to keep up with the Conservative liturgy throughout the day. Shul was packed, even at the low points of the day, but they did have a really awkward three hour break in the middle. I spent quite a lot of it asleep in the library, and the rest reading through the Reform HHD machzor, Days of Awe. I think that hour was probably the most meaningful part of the day for me, that and hearing the shofar blown so beautifully to end the fast.
I am a little peeved that the community here refused to blow the shofar during the day because it was Shabbat, even though they accompanied the liturgy with an organ. Musaf, the additional service which should be the high point of the day was cut to three paragraphs, (the three confessions of the High Priest with no context), and no martyrs' service, yet they insisted on the traditional Torah readings. The service was led by R Dow Marmur; it turned out that the religious committee were so excited by the fact that he speaks Swedish that they hadn't figured out that he is actually Reform...
We had another Progressive group extravaganza for Succot, this time with R James Baaden as the visiting rabbi. I'd met him before in the late 90s, through interfaith activities and Leo Baeck college outreach; I was really touched by how well he remembered me. He asked tenderly after pseudomonas and another mutual acquaintance from those days, Lisa G.
The weekend itself was hard work but pretty successful. The Progressive group is really starting to gel; we're at that lovely stage where it's hard to stop people from chatting for long enough to run the official programme, but at the same time we had a lot of new people and I hope we were welcoming to them. R Baaden led some really good discussions, using Swedish poetry as trigger texts, and an absolutely beautiful Friday night service. Our Shabbat morning service was in the Orthodox premises, and they were not only nice enough to invite us in the first place but also shared Kiddush with us in the succah afterwards, and made a nice speech about how we're all friends even though we have minor differences in our styles of liturgy. Oh, and a party for the kids on Sunday. There were also some nice get-togethers for the Progressive committee, which ended up being more social than business-y, and great fun. I didn't get home until well after midnight on Sunday night!
The downside was that I was so exhausted I didn't make it to most of the actual festival bits of Succot, but never mind.
The Saturday immediately after all this, we had another Progressive service, which wasn't really good timing but the guy who founded the group was visiting from Israel so they wanted to celebrate that. I had to miss both a meeting with some visitors from the Norwegian Progressive group and the secret Talmud study cabal in the afternoon, because I found myself invited to BB's third meal, and I was guilted into accepting because I had to accompany my elderly neighbour to BB's place. I really like said neighbour, she's a fantastic woman, and she's just starting to feel a little bit frail and confused after some heart trouble earlier in the year. So accompanying her was both fun and a worthwhile thing to do. The party was actually quite enjoyable; indeed, my only reluctance was because it was short notice and clashed with other things. And because my neighbour was tired after only a few hours, I didn't end up staying really late, which often happens with those parties. There was also a random oud player present, which was kind of cool!
This week I've been working rather long hours, partly because I'm making up for having to leave early and miss days on several occasions over Tishri, and partly because I've got a lot going on and I'm a little bit panicked about how little time I (potentially) have left.
Yesterday evening I went on a field trip to the Jewish community of Västerås, which is an old town about an hour to the west of Stockholm. It was founded by refugees, mainly from Poland, and they're at a point where they're starting to investigate the more explicitly religious side of Judaism and wanted some contact with a relatively more established Progressive community. So our chairman and I went along as ambassadors. The view from the train as you head into the interior of Sweden is rather attractive; it was one of those lovely late autumn days, very cold (the first actual freeze of the year) but totally clear.
As I half expected with that sort of background, not everybody in the community speaks as good English as younger, native-born Swedes. My Swedish is at the point where I could make reasonable small talk, which I was quite proud of, though I was flagging as I got tireder and the room got more crowded and noisy. I led a small Friday night service to showcase our liturgical traditions, and then we had a delicious meal involving salmon. After the meal, the chairman gave a speech about how our community works and how we fit into the very complicated but essentially pluralist Stockholm situation. I gave a brief rundown of the history of Progressive Judaism, with her translating for those who couldn't follow English.
I think we made a good impression, although some of the older gentlemen spent the later part of the evening "entertaining" the assembled company with the kind of stupid jokes where the punchline is that Progressive Jews are completely ignorant of the basic underpinnings of Judaism. I don't think it was pointed, just tactless in the way that people like that have more than earned the right to be.
The train journey home was absolutely hilarious. A group of three slightly (but not obnoxiously) drunk guys decided to chat me up, dealing with the fact that I was travelling with a 70-year-old woman by chatting her up also. They asked us what we'd been up to in Västerås; the chairman is of a generation who hesitate to let strangers know that they are Jewish, but I couldn't think of any plausible lie so I just answered truthfully. This led to a big discussion about Judaism; when they realized we were actually giving them sincere answers they started asking sincere questions and what had started with them being annoying turned into a really fun and interesting conversation.
Still not caught up with my reports from my summer holiday, and not even slightly with the book reviews, and I've only made the smallest of dents in my email and communication backlog. I think my life is going to be a bit more manageable in the next couple of weeks, though.
I am a little peeved that the community here refused to blow the shofar during the day because it was Shabbat,
Huh? What tradition blows the shofar on Yom Kippur day!?
even though they accompanied the liturgy with an organ.
I was under the impression that the organ would be played by a non-Jew, whereas the shofar is normally blown by a Jew. (Okay, for Rosh Hashanah the מצוה is to hear it, but (a) this is not Rosh Hashanah, (b) I don't know what the halacha is.)
Our Shabbat morning service was in the Orthodox premises, and they were not only nice enough to invite us in the first place but also shared Kiddush with us in the succah afterwards, and made a nice speech about how we're all friends even though we have minor differences in our styles of liturgy.
secret Talmud study cabal
Surely a secret cabal meets to study Kaballah? ;^b
Yeah, you're right, I'm not making sense re shofar, I was muddling several different issues.
I think the Ortho lot are politicking a bit, tbh. I mean, it's still good that they were welcoming towards us, but I think they have ulterior motives as well. They're really caught between the so-called Conservative main community and Chabad, and I think they see the Progressive group as potential allies. Religiously, anyone who wants to be Progressive is probably a lost cause from their pov, whereas the Conservative and Chabad communities are similar enough that they can easily be rivals. But politically, they can count on us to stand up for pluralism and diversity, because that's what Progessive people do.
Hi, I found a reference you made to Jews in Västerås, Sweden--the only such reference Google picks up!! I very much would like to ask you a couple of questions about this. I'd appreciate it very much if you would email me at email@example.com. Thanks in advance, Jeff Meshel Beer Sheva