Report to synagogue, midnight — sharp!

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Because everybody loves a Saturday night….

The night before last, all over the world, Jews began saying Selichot, the confessional prayers that ask God to forgive us for everything we’ve done wrong in the past year.

All this week, we’ll be getting up extra early (or showing up late to work) (uh, sorry, Daniel) in order to spend those extra few minutes with God. But for the first Selichot service, we want to get it in as early as possible, so we stay up late on Saturday night. Most synagogues hold services at midnight or 1:00 A.M. (a few do it at 11, so make sure you find out first). Hands-down, my favorite part is seeing the rabbi in his pajamas.

This year, I was in Philadelphia for the main event. I was out with my friend Odin, who used to play in a death-metal band with me in high school and has since (of course) started writing instrumental hip-hop music. He’s not Jewish at all (though we did meet because he dated this girl I knew from Hebrew school), but he’s always been curious about the culture. The 1:00 a.m. service, I’m pretty sure, earned another check-mark in his “weird-but-cool things about Jews I’ll never completely understand” notebook (a notebook that has, btw, been getting considerably stuffed of late).

We usually go out to the local diner, get tea, and linger for most of the night. Tonight, because I realized that drinking out of ceramic coffee cups probably isn’t so kosher, we hit up the late-night Philadelphia Israeli restaurant, named (as these places so often are) Cafe Espresso & Sushi. And the night crept on, and then he checked his watch — “Hey Matt, don’t you have to do the pajama praying thing?”

And so I did. As luck would have it, the synagogue was a block away.

It was a motley assemblage of people — many old, a few young, this one couple, very clean-cut and Middle American-looking, who were just at the restaurant, it appeared, on a late-night date. And the 80-year-old identical twins who always dressed alike.

This, I think, is the heart of what I love about Judaism. About God. Praying transcends cultures, but it also transcends age, sex, race, musical demographic, and just about any other way you can divide people. Pause everyone, smack in the middle of a Saturday night, and remind them all that they have a duty to their Creator. You’ll get people coming from everywhere — study hall, date, dance club and bed — into that room, with only one goal in common: say hi to God, and ask for some forgiveness.

We closed our eyes. We recited those lines out of the prayerbook that everyone always did, those same prayers that people prayed about a thousand years ago. The clothes and the vernacular might be new, but the message was the same as it’s always been: We messed up. We are sorry.

Posted on September 22, 2008

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