The High Holidays
I was brought up in a Reformed Jewish household. We were not religious, but we went to temple on Friday night and attended most holiday services. My Rabbi was a wonderful man, who was kind and wise, gentle and strong, just an amazing leader. He had welcomed me into the group of recently Bar/Bat Mitzvah students to continue our Jewish education. We met weekly for the next two years and I felt like I was an important member of the temple family.
At 17, I started getting high on a regular basis and it effected my religious activities. I still attended services, but now I would go out and get “baked” before holiday services and I found it changed my perspective of who the congregation was. I had, for the longest time, looked at the other temple goers as older, more religious than me, and of a higher moral character. Boy was I wrong! Showing up to temple stoned made me rethink organized religion and those who spend all their time praying.
The first thing I noticed was the way the people dressed. My mom and dad always dressed up for services. A suit and tie for my dad, and a dressy outfit, but conservative for my mom. What I noticed was that half the congregants were wearing tennis warm-up suits or other casual wear. I was taught to follow the service in the prayer book and take part in the service. That’s not what I saw when I started looking at other people. A large number of temple goers were talking and not paying attention. I saw older members of the congregation shushing the middle aged members and asking them to stop talking!
I could only sit for an hour or two without needing to walk around, maybe take a bathroom trip. I made it a habit of taking breaks and did my best to not get bored in the 4 plus hour services, but it was challenging. Then came Yom Kippur 1985, and it turned out to be the last time I attended religious services. I had been fighting with my parents about many issues, and my mother told me if I needed to talk to someone, go see our Rabbi, so I did.
After talking with him, he called my parents to discuss the constant abuse they were leveling at me. My mother was furious! “How dare you tell our problems to the Rabbi!” She went on for weeks and we stopped talking, but the Rabbi encouraged my family to attend services and work out our problems. My mom told the Rabbi to fuck off! But somehow, over the summer we had started talking again and in September we decided to attend services for the High Holidays.
We quarreled in the car. I was upset about how awful the people of Great Neck were and how unreligious they truly were. When we arrived, people were standing in front waiting for services to start. My mom went and talked to her friend who was a member of the temple board and the head of the sisterhood group. She acted high and mighty when she started talking at me about how I treated my parents. I was told to be respectful and to treat the temple with respect and honor, I thought I did?
The fact was that I was too stoned to deal with the hypocrisy and my parents bullshit was getting massive. So I walked away, but I never really felt part of the congregation, so I stayed to the side by myself. I sat with my parents at the service but we were not happy with each other. I got a sharp look from my parents when I got up to take my break after several hours of service, but I needed a break. Out I went to the bathroom and to look around.
On my way back from the bathroom, I passed the coat check room. There on the floor, was my mom’s married friend with another man, having sex on some lady’s mink coat. I stood by the doorway and listened for a moment, and he kept on saying how she wanted it on the coat and it turned her on. I was shocked and weirded out. I then walked outside and started to laugh. Was this whole thing a con? Was organized religion bullshit? I didn’t return to the synagogue, I elected to stand outside for the remaining time of the service. After, I talked with my Rabbi and told him how overwhelmed I was, I had no idea what was right or wrong anymore!
His answer was something along the lines of “We keep trying, and we don’t judge others.” Funny, that’s not how I saw it. What I learned is that individuals that act the most holy are the ones with something they need to hide! I stopped attending temple and stopped being part of organized religion. Who would have though getting high at temple would allow me a chance to see religion in another light?
Sex, drugs, lies, all during Yom Kippur, wow! My view of religion has changed vastly since that day, I believe in moral behavior and being kind, but I don’t believe a book can teach us to be good human beings. Now I celebrate my heritage in a different way, focusing on what gives us strength and kindness, and I never let other dictate what I believe is right or wrong!