Part of being an uncle is not laughing at synagogue. I don’t go to temple often so it’s usually not a problem.
I was commanded by my sister, the almighty Ariel, to attend Dylan’s Hebrew baby naming at a reform congregation in Deerfield, Illinois. Since I already knew Dylan’s Hebrew name was Shoshanna Chava, it took the element of surprise out of the service. Plus I’ve heard the prayers before so it’s not like I was going to experience anything revelatory.
“It’s important. It’s Dylan’s biggest day of her life,” said my sister.
I guess when you have only been alive for two months getting a Hebrew name that no one will ever call you is the biggest day of your life.
My brother-in-law Brian’s family, the Silvers, were out in full force. All the stars came out: Brian’s parents, Howard and Barbara, Uncle Mitchel, and Aunt Valerie, cousin Barry and his hot wife, Scott and Amy, and a bunch of other people I’m not related to. As the lone Steingart, I had to represent. Literally, I had no choice.
I found my main man, Cousin Robby, Brian’s brother who, like me, is also Dylan’s uncle. While Rob was busy greeting relatives I was scoping out the Jewish literature in the hallway finding time honored classics such as “Pray Ball” the spiritual insights of a Jewish sports fan and “My Life in Swim Trunks: the Life and Times of Mark Spitz.”
Rob and I entered the sanctuary without yarmulkes or prayer books. As if to say, “Step aside for the Uncles who aren’t very Jewish.”
The sanctuary was beautiful and modern and the stage was filled with two rabbis, two cantors, two guitarists, a bassist, and a bald bongo player. Once the music started I was drawn into the beauty of the one cantor with a voice like an angel sent from high up in the heavens of Skokie.
“That cantor is pretty hot,” I whispired to Rob.
“I think she looks like Ariel.”
“No,” I lied. “I was talking about the other cantor. He’s a very handsome cantor.”
“Tonight is a very special night,” announced the Rabbi. “We have a baby naming.”
As the rabbi introduced Ariel, Brian and Dylan to the podium, another baby started crying.
“This is not your night, you big baby!”
The entire congregation kept that same glowing smile at the sight of baby Dylan on the bimah. Even though Ariel said she was nervous earlier in the night, she did not seem so for all she had to was stand there and not look anything like the hot cantor.
“We’d like to welcome Shoshannah Chana, daughter of Avriel and Ben Moshe Silver.”
It was interesting hearing Ariel’s hebrew name because I always thought Ariel’s hebrew name was Ariel.
“Shoshannah means Rose and Chava means life. We look forward to seeing Shoshannah grow to become the beautiful Rose that she is.”
The Rabbi lifted Shoshannah and the band kicked into a wild rendition of “Siman Tov, a Mazel Tov.”
Rob and I along with the rest of the congregation clapped our hands in welcoming Shoshannah to this suburban Illinois folk concert/religious ceremony. Shoshannah began crying and was promptly escorted out by Brian and Ariel, leaving the rest of us to sit through the next hour of the service.
I zoned in and out of conciousness until the Rabbi mentioned the story of Isaiah in which God spoke to Jesse. Upon hearing the name Jesse, I turned to Rob.
“I don’t remember God ever talking to a Jesse. Does God chill with hipsters?”
I was too busy making wise cracks to hear what God said to Jesse. I bet God said to Jesse something about KCRW.
Jesse was a passing symbol en route to the Rabbi’s allegory about the holiday of Purim in which Esther stands up against the evil Hamen who determined to annialiate the Jews. “Each day you have the opportunity to fight against injustice,” told the Rabbi.
I’m probably more like Jesse in that I’d rather stand up against the man by watching “Real Time with Bill Maher” than thwarting an evil dictator.
The service began with the naming of a baby and ended with the names of those who died, a somewhat curious, but fitting juxtaposition. The rabbi slowly and carefully pronounced each member of the community who passed away. Each name was better than the next.
“Solomon Rosenzweig… Albert Kantrowitz… Harvey H. Maldovan,” the Rabbi began.
The names continued, and continued, and continued until the Rabbi arrived at one particular name.
“Elmer,” she stated, before taking a long, drawn out breath. “Freud.”
All I heard was “Elmer Fudd.”
Sweat dripped from my arm pits and my pants began sticking to my ankles. I looked at Robby for a quick second, and cleared my throat and immediately looked away. If I couldn’t get it together my name would be the next to be called.
I was defenseless thinking that Elmer Fudd had just died, along with half of the congregation this week. And the names had just started. There were so many more!
“Is she even Jewish?”
And more names….“Burt Hamburger,” Pause. “Lazer Weinbaum,” breathe. “Murray Lipsitz,” wait for it.. “Ziggy Tanzer.”
I looked at Robby once more who was now biting his upper lip. He let out a tiny squeal and I looked down at my shoes hoping that I could conjure the slightest bit of sadness. I thought of Jesse and it didn’t help.
Fortunately, only half a dozen or so congregants died thereafter. And we had survived!
Dylan was still crying in the hallway. It was a lot of Judaism for one night, but it was a celebratory occasion. For she will be the next in a long line of family members to laugh at synogagogue.