I’m back from filming in Lisbon, Manchester and the Cotswolds while also managing to party in Spain and Venice with family and friends.
It’s been a truly great summer, with too much alcohol and late nights in the bag. So it feels fitting that the time has come to return to Good Old Blighty and face a spot of redemptive praying on the Days Of Awe.
The Jewish New Year has come round ridiculously early. Yes, the sun has barely had time to remember that as a True Brit it should be hiding behind a cloud. But the upside, for once, is that the raincoats don’t need to be dragged out of the wardrobe, because this year, with any luck, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur could be played out in boiling sunshine.
I always associate the turn of the season with the High Holy Days: the darkening nights, a damp smell in the air, and frizzing “Jewfro” hair that accompanies that dampness, on the walk to shul. But this year it may be more a case of prayer book, tick,sandals and sunglasses,tick, factor 30 suntan lotion, tick.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: the days when the frequent flyers (regular shul goers) mingle with the once a year Let’s Blow It All On Club Class variety of Jew.
Recently the son of a frequent flier asked me if my daughter was “really Jewish”? I was confused, what did he mean? Had he once overheard her three-year-old self refer to the Jewish Holy Days as “the doughnut festival, the cheesecake festival, the honeycake festival”?
But he went on: “Well, she doesn’t go to a Jewish school, so she can’t be a real Jew”.
Now I’m sure that he is too young to know what he said, and I’m sure that no Jewish school adheres to that sort of thinking, but even so it worried me.
Shul should be inclusive and happy for everyone
I am taking the children’s service this Rosh Hashanah and I’m expecting to see the usual culture clash of the beady-eyed children who know every word and every prayer and every answer to religious questions and the bashful, slightly resentful faces of the children who do not know all the answers and feel marginalised.
No child should feel this coming to shul. It should always feel like an inclusive, happy, family experience.
I truly believe that the Good Lord loves us all, and it’s not the answers we know, or the loudness of our perfectly-enunciated prayers that makes His love grow, it is the purity of our heart, the sweetness of our soul and the desire to partake, even with the smallest knowledge, that makes a “real Jew”.
Do you know the Talmudic story about the boy who comes to shul and prays like a cockerel? It’s a great story. The gist of it is that even if you know no words, but truly want to be in there, be part of that community and have Hashem hear your prayers, it doesn’t matter what sounds you make. He’ll understand it.
Even if you refer to it as a honeycake festival.