The principal authority for contemporary American Jews, in the absence of compelling religious norms and communal loyalties, has become the sovereign self. Each person now performs the labor of fashioning his or her own self, pulling together elements from the various Jewish and non-Jewish repertoires available rather than stepping into an "inescapable framework" of identity -- familial, communal, traditional -- given at birth. Decisions about ritual observance and involvement in Jewish institutions are made and made again, considered and reconsidered, year by year, and even week by week. American Jews speak of their lives, and of their Jewish beliefs and commitments, as a journey of ongoing questioning and development. They avoid the language of arrival. There are no final answers, no irrevocable commitments.
As we think about rewriting our personal narratives in the New Year, adding new pages and chapters, several new books inspire new visions, renewed creativity and new relationships between the calendar and a sense of holiness.
In sermons on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur throughout Southern California this year, rabbis will continue to exhort their congregants to look inward and outward, to reflect upon and repair themselves, their families and communities, the nation and the world.
I am the Shiva Guy. When a member of my temple's congregation loses a family member, it is my job to take prayer books to the
house of mourning, where at least 10 people of bar/bat mitzvah age or above pray twice daily. And eat -- mostly bagels, lox and cream cheese and fruit, but those particular menu items aren't mandatory.
Sheryl Krok often drives from Irvine to Los Angeles on business for her cleaning products line. But before the South African immigrant returns home, Krok makes a kosher pit stop, buying a month's supply of chicken to feed her carnivorous family of five.
"Because, hello! Irvine doesn't know there are kosher Jews down here," said Krok, who would be happy to give up bulk buying.
He closed the cap on my gas tank, returned the nozzle and handed me a slip of paper.
"What's this?" I asked.
"A coupon for a car wash," he responded. "Kind of like a present." He smiled, dazzling me.
"Give me another present," I said, handing back the slip of paper. "Your phone number."