Kol Nidre at Beyt Tikkun

Tonight is Kol Nidre, the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of antonement. Usually I spend Jewish holidays with relatives at their synagogues. I could’ve gone to Etz Chayim where my aunt and uncle belong yet again, but I thought I would try out Michael Lerner’s Beyt Tikkun.

Beyt Tikkun is a part of the Jewish Renewal movement, which seeks to:

heal the world by promoting justice, freedom, responsibility, caring for all life and the earth that sustains all life —tikkun olam.”

There’s lots of singing and dancing and the prayers have a comparatively modern language. Michael Lerner is a pretty well known figure in the religious lefty world. He’s the editor of Tikkun magazine, author of The Left Hand of God, one of the organizers of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and all kinds of other stuff as well. His version of Judaism places great value on the concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. As a result, he frequently brings up Darfur, torture, the Bush administration, AIPAC, “Israel/Palestine”, and a host of other relevant political issues.

I’m not really sure what to make of my experience. I was raised in a very conservative synagogue where dancing and other mystic tools for achieving “a connection with the G0d-Energy” were not present. It was pretty buttoned-down. And even though I’m not a particularly buttoned-down kinda guy, I feel a little uncomfortable in mystical Jewish settings.

Actually, I’m sort of uncomfortable around dance in general. It’s the one thing I’m pretty self-conscious about. I don’t really care what people think of my looks or attire (I don’t own a comb or a brush) but I do have something left inside me from awkward middle school years that has me feeling weird dancing in public. Lots of alcohol helps ease the discomfort in a club atmosphere, but that’s a no-go during services. I’m not proud of my self-consciousness, a trait I view as a negative, but I admit it and am trying to change. I knew Beyt Tikkun was pretty touchy-feely and dance-heavy, and I partly chose it over other shuls to challenge myself. When I see the rhythm-challenged middle aged white people dancing their way towards the Divine I’m more than a little jealous. After a while I felt more comfortable dancing with the crowd of several hundreds, but I was still pretty restrained.

The services were nice but a little long. There was a really good band and the content fit my level of understanding of Hebrew, customs and traditions. One of the interesting things was the translation of the Ashamnu. The prayer seeks forgiveness for an alphabetical list of sins that anyone in the community has committed during the previous year. Most translations, in order to keep the alphabetical aspect in English, tend to be for sins like stealing, lying, cheating, etc. Tonight it was sins like poisoning the sea and land with toxic chemicals, homophobia, xenophobia, building weapons of mass destruction, etc.

The services really challenged me. I’m not used to my religion and my politics intersecting so closely, and I felt a little uncomfortable. Which is good. That’s why I pray, to get outside my comfort zone to expand my mind to a higher level of consciousness.

So to all those who are fasting, have an easy one. To those that I’ve wronged in the past year, sorry ’bout that.

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