Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shabbat Across Okinawa

Dear Siddur Sim Shalom,
It’s called transliteration. You should try it some time.
Respectfully yours,
Rabbi Yonatan M. Warren, LTJG, CHC, USN

The Jewish community here has been lay-led for more-or-less a couple of years. There was a rabbi who was here for a couple of months, but overall they were maintained by a “military appointed lay-leader.” As such, they used the Gates of Prayer.

I hate the Gates of Prayer – even the slim version. I take that back, I strongly dislike praying out of the Gates. Theologically, religiously, and linguistically – it just doesn’t work for me. One of the awesome things about being a military rabbi is that whichever book I say we use is the book that we use (as long as we have them in stock – and I can order any book for prayer purposes). Unfortunately, my current options are the Artscroll Interlinear with Transliteration (which causes migraines in lab rats), the Gates of Gray, and Sim Shalom. I chose my main man, Mr. Shalom.

Every other part of my first Shabbat on the island went pretty well. The chaplain in charge of all of the base chapels (a really nice captain who came in with big hugs for everyone – like an older, darker, Christian version of Jesse Olitzky) met with me first and then introduced me to the congregation. A little more than a minyan showed up (not bad for a holiday weekend) and we sang Shalom Aleichem. But then – L’chu Neran’na (no transliteration), Shiru Ladonai (no transliteration). We skipped and I tried Mizmor L’david (total bust). We had some traction with some of the other songs, but I just felt that with a little transliteration we could have been rocking.
Things that were awesome about the Jewish chapel: 1) The RP (Religious Program Specialist or Shamash with a gun) was hardcore about making the Jewish prayer space better. 2) There was a cute baby who was running around and having a good time. 3) People didn’t mind singing in tune or out of tune. 4) One of the congregants makes a pretty solid challah that I enjoyed eating very much. And 5) my d’var torah connecting the transitional patriarch (Isaac) to transitional moments in the community (in particular to transitioning from layled to a rabbi) to the holiness that can be found especially in liminal moments (see candles to mark Shabbat, ceremonies to mark beginnings of adulthood and marriage, etc. etc.). I think it was awesome; Leora can make her own comments below if she so chooses.
For the coming shabbatot, I think we’re going to use a lot of the siddur that I spent my entire summer compiling and editing (“The Siddur for Jewish Armed Forces Personnel”), and hopefully that will make things better on the prayerbook front.
I’m still nervous about the coming weeks: fitting in to my actual job, fitting in the Jewish community, making enough time for myself and my wife. But, I think it was a good first step. This week, there is going to be a big welcome event for me and Leora (and I’m also making it an appreciation dinner for the layleader). I think more people will be around, and I’ll have to raise the caliber of my game. But, for one week – I’m pretty happy.

Some other things happened this week: we got an apartment, we bought a car, we made some friends, and we discovered at least one really good (and affordable) restaurant. But none of that is as important as how my first Shabbat went.
Also, this is already too long for a blog post and we want to keep you thirsting for more. Leora will write about the rest of that stuff sometime soon. So for now, Shabbat Shalom and Sayonara.

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