Tygerpen | Poodles, spiders and Torah, oh my

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I’ve been reading about members of a Jewish pro-gun group in Wisconsin who cite the Torah and Jewish law to support and encourage gun ownership. I’m always pleased to see American Jews maintaining their connection to Judaism! Years ago I learned how necessary that is in our assimilation-prone American culture after one of my very young sons, provided up to then with a fine religious education (I thought), attended Mass at a the funeral of a friend’s grandfather and, uncertain as to customs, ended up taking communion.  I didn’t blame our religious school director at the time because “How to Attend Mass” was not part of the curriculum.

Connection is important for all Americans, of course, not just Jews. Without connection, people can experience the consequences of the “loner” syndrome we read about, like the local woman who recently killed another woman by beating her over the head with a King James Bible. No Jewish person could ever kill another person in this manner because few Jews pick up that  bible. Even more important, the King James version at 1,213 pages weighs 2.4 pounds; A Jew reading “Tanach: The Holy Scriptures” would know he or she couldn’t possibly kill anyone because a Kindle weighs only seven ounces.

One of the best ways to stay connected if you’re Jewish, or trying to become Jewish, is to attend Shabbat services.  Synagogues, JCCs, and even non-traditional Jewish groups in the past decade have apparently hired cruise directors to create programs to attract worshipers, whatever their interests. Some examples: Library Shabbat, featuring writers or speakers; Tot Shabbat; Rock ’n’ Roll Shabbat; Outdoor Shabbat; Young Adult Shabbat.

Indeed the downside of these specialized Shabbat services, most of which are followed by food, is the competition created. For example, when my synagogue learned Temple Sinai in Los Angeles offers speakers like Elie Wiesel, actor/singer Theodore Bikel and the executive producer of “Will and Grace,” our temple board jumped into action. For spring, the temple’s religious affairs director has lined up, in lieu of a sermon or another guest speaker, a toy poodle act with pink and turquoise poodles trained to leap up and down from the pulpit while barking “Ein Keilohanu.” Two other programs planned include a troupe of Chinese-Jewish acrobats who purportedly can balance end-on-end four Torahs, and a Cirque du Soleil act that requires first flooding the bima (just briefly).

If you are tempted after a dry spell to attend services, you may notice even traditional Hebrew melodies have been exchanged for new ones. This is designed to attract younger people but unfortunately tortures the older congregants who rely on familiar tunes. There are so many new versions of “Adon Olam” that I’ve taken to tipping the cantor ahead of time to lead a traditional melody. Cantors: If new melodies are your goal but you’d also like full participation in singing, why not simply adapt Hebrew classics to familiar tunes, such as “Adom Olam” to the tune of “Yankee Doodle” or “L’cha Dodi” to “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”?

I firmly believe all of these reforms of Friday night services will deliver larger attendance, including younger Jews whose interest in Judaism has been alarmingly waning. At least that was understandable in my youth, when there was no deviation in any service, beginning with the rabbi’s dependable weekly sermon topic (“When you bad congregants miss good services”).  Occasionally that would be followed by an Oneg Shabbat featuring someone’s famous mandelbrot that had been baked earlier, possibly in the 12th century.

In truth, I often missed services as a youth because they conflicted with movie previews at a screening room where my mother worked. That ended when she took 7-year-old me to see “Tarantula,” the (100-foot) giant spider sci-fi classic. During the months of horrific nightmares that followed, I considered God had punished me for missing services.

So I (slightly) increased my attendance at Friday night services. Until the night the rabbi spoke about King Saul hunting David, who hid in a cave. A spider came along and quickly wove a giant web over the entrance so the cave looked empty.

Note to self: Suggest temple offer Shabbat service on “Arachnophobia.”

Trudi York Gardner lives in Benicia and can be reached at [email protected] or via her blog, www.tygerpen.wordpress.com.