Saturday, April 26, 2008

Red hair and another seder recollection

A VERY late arrival (about halfway through the seder) at my table was what I took to be a mother/son couple. The son was a serious but polite young man who arrived wearing what the Scots would call "trews": pants with a sort of loud tartan check in them. I gather that he was a rock musician of some sort (I know nothing about popular music. I am a Bach man). I am searching for the right word to describe the impression I got of him: "Eccentric" comes close but only in a way that is in my experience rather to be expected of pop musicians. I was for a time involved in selling music computers (Atari STs) so I got to see a lot of pop musicians at that time. And they do rather seem to live in a world not much influenced by convention.

He had VERY red hair which he wore VERY long -- and a short red beard to go with it. And his skin was VERY fair -- the sort of light-red colour that I recollect my father as having. My father was also a redhead. So how was this unusual person greeted by those present? He was greeted with great affection by many people. They had obviously known him for some time and loved him for the individual that he is.

I was greatly impressed by that. I too value individuality greatly and tend to find eccentrics most interesting. And I am MOST biased in favour of red hair. My first girlfriend was a redhead; The first lady I lived with was a redhead and two of the four ladies I married were redheads. And it gives me great joy to see redheaded children -- which I often do in the places that I frequent. I am most pleased with my son the mathematician (Yiddisher Mommas stereotypically like to refer to "My son the doctor" but I have a feeling that "My son the mathematician" trumps that) but there is a tiny twinge of regret that he is a blond rather than a redhead. There is red hair on his mother's side as well as on mine so it could have been.... I don't really know why I am mentioning these things but why not?


Just a few notes for any overseas readers

Australia's main national day today, when we remember members of our families who died in the many wars where Australian troops have lent a hand to other people far away across the sea. And in one case -- the war with Japan -- we were actually threatened ourselves.

In WWII, the Japanese were stopped in their advance through New Guinea towards Australia by the CMF -- the "weekend warriors" of whom I was myself once a part. There are few weekend warriors any more. I myself served full-time for part of my enlistment and half of the American army in Iraq is made up of reservists. The CMF is now referred to simply as the "Reserves".

Commemoration of Anzac day traditionally includes attendance at an interdenominational "Dawn service" -- held at dawn to commemorate the time when the original Anzacs landed at Gallipoli. After that there is a huge march through the city featuring "ex-diggers" (former members of the military) and their relatives. It is a long time since I have attended the service or watched the march but my heart nonetheless goes out to the families who have lost loved-ones. Perhaps fortunately, the relatives I lost were distant ones whom I never knew personally.

But this evening I will do one very Australian thing: I will attend a family BBQ to celebrate a birthday. The picture above is from Brisbane's shrine of remembrance. It is most pleasing to note that the commemoration seems to get bigger every year -- with many young people involved.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pesach seder (Passover celebration)

I went to my first seder last night. It was with a local Conservative congregation so there was lots of Hebrew chanted and sung -- and we used an Orthodox haggadah (order of service). I enjoyed it. It was a relaxed and happy occasion, as it should be. We even had some very pleasant Israelis present.

The haggadah was read out loud by various people during the seder and it was mostly read in English. During the reading I was at one stage called on without warning to read a paragraph, which I was of course delighted to do and immediately did. I actually took an active part in the seder rather than being a total visitor. It is lucky I was following what was being read, though!

Will I attend another seder one day? Perhaps. I am not religious so that is a counterindication. But I enjoy Biblical exegesis (rigorous interpretation) so if an opportunity came up to attend one in very scholarly company I would be keen. I have only a Christian knowledge of the Torah so I would appreciate a deeper discussion of it. But there are no Yeshivot (Jewish Bible schools) in Brisbane so I am not holding my breath.

I would be particularly interested in an exegesis of Exodus 12: 43-49. On the face of it, the Lubavitchers have got it right and the seder should be restricted to Jews only. But, as with all good law, there is a loophole: verse 48. I would fail the loophole myself but there other cases where defining the exception would be interesting.

I think that I should in closing express my great appreciation of the inimitable Garek Fish, who led the Beit Knesset Shalom congregation through the seder ceremonies with thoroughly admirable gusto.

A note about the shul (synogogue) that I went to: Like Christianity, Judaism is very fractious, with all sorts of sects. Beit Knesset Shalom is nominally a Progressive shul but is apparently at the most conservative end of that definition. They had a breakaway or threatened breakaway a little while back from a group of members who thought they were not progressive enough.

Interesting that the usual word used for a synagogue is "shul", which really means "school". It is a small hint of the intellectual orientation of Judaism.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Seder attendance arranged

I have long had a considerable correspondence with Jewish readers of my various blogs so I was quietly confident that my Jewish readers would do what they could to facilitate my wish to attend a seder. And that is why I reported online my difficulties with the local Lubavitchers. I have no quarrel with the chabad movement at all and wish all Lubavitchers well but their rules did prevent me from fulfilling my wish to attend a highly traditional seder with them. I am in fact rather glad to find a religious group that resists secularization of its rules.

One of my Jewish readers even went to the extent of emailing the Brisbane chabad leader and arguing my case with him. But that did not work of course. Another reader suggested some local reform congregations that might be more accomodating and I have now been accepted as a guest by the Beit Knesset Shalom congregation on 19th. I am of course completely delighted.

An amusing footnote, though. The congregation concerned has a seder for Ashkenazim ("Western" Jews) on 19th and a seder for Sephardim on 20th. It is only the seder for Ashkenazim that is open to non-Jews.

A busy weekend

On Saturday night, Anne and I were invited to dinner by my stepson Paul and his wife. Ever since he was a kid, Paul and I have always enjoyed a chat -- and dinner is a good occasion for it, of course. Paul is rather serious-minded and thinks a lot about the best way to live and behave so the fact that he has a psychologist for a stepfather is a useful coincidence. He always seems to find my viewpoint interesting, anyway. He can see that life has gone well for me so likes to draw what lessons he can from that.

Paul has very good memories of when he was a child living in my house. And he showed that by remarking that he would like to buy the house that we lived in at that time. It is a rather magnificent 6-bedroom "Old Queenslander" (traditional Brisbane timber house) with two large iron-lace verandahs -- so that is an understandable aspiration. The house I live in now is bigger but not quite as traditional.

Sue is a great cook so we had a feast. She served her own home-made calzoni as an entree followed by a sumptuous lasagna. She must have been in an Italian mood. And we had a very rich chocolate cake to follow.

Throughout the dinner we had the music of Philip Glass booming out -- which Paul and I both particularly like. I hope the neighbours liked it too!

And on Sunday we had another meeting of our Westside music group. Particularly notable was a Rachmaninoff piano and violin concerto. The third movement in particular had everyone transfixed. The violinist was a young guy who I believe was Jewish -- another brilliant Jewish violinist! Anne and I drove out to the Pullenvale venue in the Humber, which to my simple mind added to the occasion.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Passover Seder on 19th

As a non-Jew and an atheist, I have never attended a pesach seder but I have great respect for Judaism (note the flag that I fly on all my blogs) so I thought that I would like to attend one. The local Lubavitchers do advertise a seder so I thought I might go to that one. Alas! They are of course very strict so, even though I explained that I knew something of the teachings of their Rebbe, their person in charge told me as politely as he could that it was for Jews only.

He got a bit incoherent when I pointed out that the Rebbe preached love but that did not sway him, of course. As the Lubavitchers are very fundamentalist, I think we might perhaps conclude that we see the basic difference between Jewish love and Christian love there. Jewish love is for Jews and Christian love is for all mankind. Exclusivity is a feature of many religions so I support their right to be exclusive but I don't think it is wise -- as I have pointed out at some length elsewhere

There are not many Jews in Brisbane so I think I have now missed any chance of attending a seder this year.

Although I have been an atheist for all of my adult life, I did of course grow up into a Christian milieu -- with its characteristic devotion to outreach and proselytization -- so the attitude of the Lubavitchers was rather shocking to me. Nonetheless I should not have been shocked. There were gnostic sects of Christianity in the distant past and there are some survivals of that into modern times (Masons, Exclusive Brethren etc.).

But anyway, I think I may renew my contact with my Christian roots this Sunday by going to a service at my old church -- Ann St Presbyterian. Just the smell of old French-polished wood will make me feel good as I walk in there -- and the handshakes at the door won't hurt a bit either.