Since moving to L.A. nearly six years ago, I've celebrated Jewish holidays in true nomad fashion, from Hollywood to the Valley and back again.
The first year was at the Laugh Factory. The female Cantor played the guitar as she sang, swaying slowly and dreamily back and forth and making me think that at any moment she was about to ask us to cross our arms in front of us and hold hands with one another, a la Girl Scout camp. Another year was at a friend's family's house in Encino, which I believe may be a rite of passage for Jewish transplants in this city. And this year now marks my second (non-consecutive) year of services at the Chai Center.
The Chai Center is a non-profit organization that caters to "any Jew that moves," according to their website. Run by Director Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, or "Schwartzie," as he calls himself, the Center holds free High Holiday services – unheard of in this day and age – in venues around L.A.
This year's services for Rosh Hashana, which marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, were held last night at the Writer's Guild of America on Doheny. They were scheduled to start at 6:30pm.
Promptly at 7:00, Rabbi Schwartz began. To kick things off, he jovially remarked, "We're on time -- it is 6:30, Jewish Standard Time," drawing an in-the-know laugh from his audience.
He commenced the services flanked on one side by the Cantor and on the other by his son, Rabbi Mendel Schwartz. I could practically smell the perfume of the Temple Ladies that I grew up with as I listened to the familiar sound of the women around me singing, and watched the Cantor as he moved predictably forward and back in rhythm with the prayers.
Schwartzie interjected every so often with an explanation of the significance of a passage, an anecdote, or a response to the crowd. His white beard moved stiffly as he turned his head to address someone whose child had begun to scream.
"We have a saying in the Schwartz family," he said, "grandchildren can do no wrong. So, go ahead."
We made our way through the traditional Rosh Hashana prayers, sitting and standing and sitting again.
Towards the end of the service, possibly the most adorable, chubby, 9-year-old boy ever took the stage looking dead serious, ready to blow the shofar. It's always a tense moment, the moment preceding the actual blow, especially when it's a child. I've seen many a grown man stand on the bimah and become red in the face as they struggle to eek out a single coherent note. The boy, I'm happy to report, succeeded on his first try. The audience's tension broke into applause.
My night ended with a traditional meal of matzoh ball soup (yeah I know, wrong holiday) and a pastrami sandwich from Jerry's Famous Deli, and red wine. Happy New Year, and may our eccentric Southern California brand of Judaism never change.
Photo by maxnathans