High Holiday Sampler Plate Adventure–Part IV: Humbled at Hadar

This series has been crossposted to Jewschool. Here is the Intro.

To those of you who were worried that I was unhealthily smug, worry not. My day of davening at Hadar was the most humbling prayer experience of my life. Many have complained, mostly in the comments here, that this High Holiday Sampler Plate Adventure series has been rather smug. I’ve often been accused of smugness and I won’t go so far as to deny it.

First, let me apologize to anyone who was actually looking forward to my reflections on watching Kol Nidrei live streaming at Jewish TV Network. I couldn’t get it to work right, so I just went to bed frustrated. I was gonna live-tweet it and everything. But alas.

Uv’chen, I’ve been hearing about Kehilat Hadar since I moved into this part of the world and I’ve been told for a couple years now that I need to check it out. I dunno if Yom Kipur was the best day to make my first trip to Hadar or not, but I had a great time. And by a great time, I mean a deeply reflective time.

Inrecent years, I’ve had Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist prayer experiences, not to mention post-, non-, anti-, and multi- denominational ones. Hadar is the closest I’ve ever come to Orthodox. Despite the deeply various backgrounds of the people who come to Hadar, the founders and the feel is certainly as close as you can get to Orthodox while remaining egalitarian.

Which is to say that I can’t remember the last time I spent about 50% of Jewish service as confused and lost as I was for most of yesterday. I’m normally someone who prides himself on his facility with the sidur. Even the machzor, which I don’t know as well as the daily or Shabat sidur, has never been hard for me to navigate. So normally, when things in a service don’t got just the way I want them to, I’m frustrated or annoyed or exasperated.

I was certainly frustrated yesterday, but in a good way. I felt challenged yesterday by a lack of knowledge. And when it comes to gaps I discover in my liturgical knowledge, my instinct is always to fill the gaps. Mostly, I was humbled. Yes, you read that right. I said I was humbled. There were tunes I’d never heard before, sung loudly and raucously with clapping, dancing and podium-pounding.  It was an attitude I’d never encountered before on Yom Kipur. There was excitement, but the proceedings still managed to remain as somber as I ordinarily think of Yom Kipur as being. These nearly joyous outbursts of song nicely paralleled Rabbi Shai Held‘s sermon, easily the highlight of the day, in which he spoke of a bizarre Talmudic verse which calls Tu B’Av and Yom Kipur the most joyous days of the Jewish year.

Aside from the new (to me) tunes, this was my first encounter with an entire congregation that prostrates itself during the Avodah service! Not to mention the part of the service when everyone at Hadar lays flat on the floor, face down. That one was new to me, so if anyone wants to leave a comment with an explanation, it’s much appreciated.

Yesterday was an endurance test. I arrived at 8:50 a.m. and shacharit has started five minutes earlier. Finally, at 7:30 p.m., about eleven hours later, we wrapped up Ne’ilah. (That’s eleven hours of davening, with only a one-hour break, for those keeping score at home.) Yes, I thought! Now I can go eat. Without skipping a beat, they launched right into Ma’ariv. I briefly entertained the idea of sticking around, but my grumbling stomach and aching head said otherwise. Luckily, Hadar was handing out candy, juice boxes and water bottles on the way out!

I’ve never felt so truly reached by the liturgy of the day, so I’m glad of Hadar’s part in helping the fast and the davening do their intended work on me.

I’ll now move on to a few thoughts about Hadar as a community. Keep in mind that I’ve never been on an ordinary Shabat, so I don’t know what Hadar is normally like.

I’ve heard the charge leveled at Hadar that it is elitist or cliquey. I suppose I can see that from this limited experience, but it is not as if I arrived not knowing anyone in the room. Within the cavernous, packed church multi-purpose room we occupied for the day, I spotted about five bloggers I know (including a few Jewschoolers, including our BZ and Jen Taylor Friedman). I also spotted Tamar Fox, who gave me my first break blogging anywhere other than my own blog, sitting directly in front of me. My boss, a former coworker and about a half-dozen of our volunteers were there too. I ran into a few other friends as well, some of them Yeshivat Hadar alumni and some current Hadar students. So I felt comfortable because of all the familiar, friendly faces, but I can see how others would not have the same experience.

All in all, a good gmar chatimah, I think. Hoping yours was good too.

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9 Responses to High Holiday Sampler Plate Adventure–Part IV: Humbled at Hadar

  1. Ben-Yehudah September 30, 2009 at 2:45 am #

    B”H

    Personally, this is the kind of post I like. I don’t have to agree or disagree. There’s nothing to agree or disagree with. You’re just sharing your experiences and impressions.

    If you want, when you’re in Israel, I can take you to Machon Shilo, where the halacha is emphasized, and the nonsense built up over the past few hundred years due entirely to our Galuth mentality, the associated drive to survive, as well as confusion that Torah is always compatible with Western ideas and sensibilities {It most certainly is not.} put in its proper place,…the trash can.

    You might not like the apologetically all male environment, though.

    ;-}

    I am glad your Yom Kippur was meaningful.

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 30, 2009 at 12:53 pm #

      You’re right. I probably won’t like that it’s all-male, but I’m intrigued nonetheless. I’ll be sure to hit you up next fall when I’m back in Israel.

  2. Ben Sternman September 30, 2009 at 7:09 am #

    I’m glad you found your community.

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 30, 2009 at 12:55 pm #

      Who knows if Hadar is my community? For now, I’m content to say I had a good experience there once and that I’d like to go again. I also think I’m content to live with different feet planted in a few different communities.

      Even toward the end of my time in Austin, I spent time occasionally at CAA and didn’t feel weird being comfortable in different davening environments.

  3. Ben-Yehudah September 30, 2009 at 3:27 pm #

    Sure. Of course, you don’t have to do anything or go anywhere you don’t want. But, it’s an option.

    What’s the worst thing that could happen when we meet? Decide that we’re not meant to be best friends? I believe we already know that we’ll disagree on many issues, so that gets that out of the way.

    Sounds like minimal risk to me,…if we both end up having the time.

    ;-}

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