This special holiday post comes from guest blogger Rabbi Matt Rosenberg, Executive Director of Hillel at Texas A&M University. Thank you, Rabbi Matt!
“Rabbi Matt, they’ve scheduled the Alabama game for Yom Kippur.”
Hearing these words while still living in Los Angeles did not mean much to me; more to the point, I didn’t understand just how significant they were. I was finishing rabbinical school and preparing to move to College Station, Texas to be the executive director of Hillel at Texas A&M University. I thought, “Why are they telling me this?”
How naive I was.
Now, two months into my job at Texas A&M, I have a far richer appreciation for the role of football in Texas. As a new rabbi just out of rabbinical school, where for the last six years I was immersed in the traditions of our ancestors, there was nearly nothing holier or more important than the Day of Atonement. Yet, here we were, with this dilemma: Alabama vs. Texas A&M, the biggest football game of the year, was going to take place on that very Sabbath of Sabbaths, Yom Kippur. Saturday, September 14, with a kickoff time of 2:30 p.m.
I was truly grateful for the 2:30 p.m. kickoff. It made my life so much easier. I realized I wouldn’t have to abbreviate services or start Yom Kippur morning services at a strange time. We could easily complete the additional musaf service and perhaps mincha well before kickoff, before alumni or students needed to rush off from our brand-new Hillel building across the street to Kyle Field, the football stadium where the Aggies would hopefully defeat their opponents from Alabama.
With such a kickoff time, I determined that we’d be able to resume our closing services at 6 p.m., which should coincide with the end of the big game. After the game and after my congregation returned from Kyle Field to Hillel, we’d be able to hopefully rejoice in not only the exhilarating feeling one experiences after a long day of fasting for Yom Kippur but also in the exhilaration of an Aggie victory. Alternatively, if the Aggies were to lose, the chest-beating of the confessional “ashamnu” prayer would take on new meaning for my new congregation.
One of the traditions of Kyle Field is that students remain standing throughout the game. For my students attending the Alabama game on Yom Kippur, they’ve elected to try to pull tickets in a special section for those who need to remain seated. I do hope, for my students’ sake, that the weather is mild and not the 100-degree-plus weather we’ve been having in these days leading up to the High Holy Days.
For me, this juxtaposition of atonement and football will be an enlightening experience, one which I have never experienced before but I was trained by my teachers in California to be flexible and creative within the bounds of our tradition. To meet our congregants where they are, and emphasize the importance of Jewish life not “in place of” other things we value, but right alongside them – and certainly not of lesser importance. With the Alabama game, I appreciate the opportunity to exercise that flexibility in bringing Torah to the world.
2013 marks the ISJL’s thirteenth year of existence.
Our B’nai Mitzvah Year.*
We will go through many of the same things any b’nai mitzvah student goes through: we will study, we will learn, we will hope for meaningful gifts, we will try to be better than we were. We will stand proudly in front of our supporters and say “Today, we are an organization!”
Throughout this year, we will be marking this milestone. This month, as we celebrate the “secular” new year, our mind is on resolutions. As a thirteen-year-old organization, what should our focus be? What do we want to continue to do, and what do we want to change?
With that in mind, we start our reflective process of The ISJL at 13 with some institutional New Year resolutions:
1) Stay in shape. No spandex required – this resolution has less to do with lifting weights, and more to do with constantly lifting expectations. We want to be responsive, reflective, and ready to go, when we’re on the road, and when we’re in the office. We know we’ve had some good workouts in the past, but we have to stay active if we want to stay in shape to keep seeing results!
2) Share with others. We love having our blog, our Facebook page, our Twitter feed, our CIRCA magazine. We want to continue to share stories and strategies, not only to inform but also to inspire. We are proud to be a transformational, trans-denominational organization with a collaborative, regional approach to programming. We want to share how we do what we do, so other areas that could benefit from our approach can see what’s working here. We also love the communities and organizations we’re privileged to partner with, and want to be good partners by sharing their stories and successes, too!
3) Celebrate Southern Jewish life. We believe in the universality of the Jewish experience, and we also value the uniqueness of the Southern Jewish experience. Through histories and contemporary reflections, we want to renew our commitment to celebrate, preserve and promote the people and practices of Southern Jewish life.
4) Travel. Okay, so we already travel a lot. But with our new education partners in Missouri, and trying to share stories of the Southern Jewish experience with a wider audience … we’re expecting to rack up a lot of miles this year!
5) Eat better. Well … this is the resolution we’re most likely to break … there’s still a lot of sweets around this office, y’all. So one way we’ll honor this resolution is by sharing some of our favorite Southern-and-Jewish recipes throughout the year, which will also be included in our upcoming Taste of Torah book. Hey, those recipes will also count toward fulfilling resolution #3 – and look, resolution #2, too! This might be the best resolution of all!! (Food always wins.)
Those are our resolutions as we begin our thirteenth year. From all of us to all of y’all, Happy New Year, Shabbat Shalom – and we hope you’re resolved and looking forward to celebrating with us all year long!
* We couldn’t decide on Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and we have a lot of staff, so we went with B’Nai Mitzvah. It seemed like the mensch move!