Sunday, March 13, 2011

forty-second visit: March 5th 2011 Conservative Judaism

9:45am saturday
Tree of Life*Or L'Simcha

5898 Wilkins Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15217

squirrel hill

(Thank you Joel Goldstein and Rabbi Charles Diamond - "Rabbi Chuck" - for welcoming me, and Lee and Harry Abrams (sp?) for your warm hospitality and conversation at kiddush. And to Rose for having a birthday, hence such delicious kugel on the table.)

I have been missing Judaism. If I can be so bold to make a brash generalization: In my experience so far, compared to other religious leaders, Rabbis are funny. As in a sense of humor. Lately I have been missing the freedom to laugh during service. I found it. I loved it.

A huge amount of congregant-participation during this service. Rabbi Chuck appoints "volunteers" by name for Torah readings, spontaneously. Most remarkable to note is the lack of self-consciousness with which teens and adults take the stage. At age twelve to seventeen I was a wreck to stand, unprepared with no notice, in front of a crowd. I credit the environment he orchestrates. Through the participation, Rabbi Chuck takes breaks. During several of those breaks he chooses to sit next to me and to ask about gatherings. Refers to me as 'one of the flock'. Introduces me to the congregation. It is inspiring to see someone so obviously happy in his work.

Sermon: regarding familial jealousy. And the former tradition of inheriting the life of priesthood (father to son,
patriarchally) with no other way to attain the position of high priest. But then there's Harry Houdini, born Erik Weisz, the son of a Rabbi, whose life-path strayed an escape. (Houdini: Art and Magic at the Jewish Museum in NYC... comes down in 15 days.)

At the end of the service, I am scooped up by Lee and Harry Abrams' conviviality and find myself at their table for kiddush. Early in our conversation Harry says: "Regarding all the different faiths, in the end, all that matters is whether you are good to others." Harry fought in WWII. Precious story about Harry's mother who lost contact with her brothers and sisters after leaving Russia before World War II—an Uncle in Russia finally located Harry's mother via a letter hand-carried from Russia to California by an American businessman returning to the US from work-related travels there. Yes: a hand carried letter, and word of mouth. Only to have contact thwarted due to spy suspicion. Still: value knowing in the existence of family, if that's all that could be achieved. For the family, a half-answer to memory and longing.

Just days before, while teaching my Obsessions painting class at the art school in Baltimore, we had talked about the importance of visual memory. And Anselm Kiefer's NY show (Dec '10), entitled "Next Year in Jerusalem." He is a non-Jewish German, born the year WWII ended and no stranger to controversy. Mentored by artist Joseph Beuys in Dusseldorf, who fought in WWII. We talked about Beuys' and Kiefer's embrace of the notion of the alchemic property of art: it's ability to change something (anything) from the physical to the spiritual.
Houdini the magician. A painting is not just canvas and paint, a letter is not just paper and ink.
Harry also tells me of a Rabbi who was present in the congregation of today's service, who many years ago, set out to pursue teaching positions in Catholic schools. His goal (pursued and achieved): to teach religion classes there, to specifically stop the perpetuation of the teaching that Jesus was killed by Jewish men acting in the name of their religion. I remember seeing this fore-mentioned Rabbi in the congregation when Rabbi Chuck pointed him out by name during the service. He is by no means a remarkably young man in appearance, but not as old as I would wish this story to warrant.
Several members insist that I return for another visit some day. I'd very much like to.

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