Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Great Religious Struggle

[NOTE: This is a re-post of the May 14, 2010 entry to my form Open Salon blog.]
The Shabbat 
Observance The 
Philadelphia Flyers Observance
For the first 17 years of my now quarter-century marriage, we were an interfaith couple: I was Jewish and my husband was Protestant until he chose to convert to Judaism in 2001.  So you’d think I might know a little something about managing competing religious commitments.  But nothing could have prepared me for the conflict between maintaining our home-based Jewish Shabbat rituals and observing the religion known as The Philadelphia Flyers.  

On Friday nights, we gather around the Shabbat table together.  My son—my youngest child—is home from college for the summer, and he knows well the expectation regarding this each week.  We light the candles. Hug and kiss each other and wish each other Shabbat Shalom (a peaceful Shabbat). Recite the blessings over the wine and homemade Hallah (ritual bread).  Eat a large, festive meal.  And spend time reflecting on our week of activities.

On this Friday night, The Flyers are playing in the 7th game against the Boston Bruins, having come back from a three games to zero deficit in the playoffs.  On such nights, in this religion my son devoutly follows (with my husband not far behind), they gather around the television set.  They light the room with the TV’s glow. Loudly bless the feats of The Flyers (and curse the inroads of the Bruins).  Spend time reflecting on the extraordinary road to Game Seven.

How to rectify these two great religious rituals, when they are scheduled to compete with each other?  How indeed, in a household where there is not even a television set on the first floor, so the altar of The Flyers is uncomfortably far from the altar that one creates by breaking bread together at the Shabbat table?

This great religious struggle began late this afternoon, while I was in my office in center city Philadelphia.  My cell phone rang.  It was my son.
What time is Shabbat dinner?
I haven’t even left work yet.
I know, but you know The Flyers play tonight.
I know.  What time do they play?
Around 7.
I’ll try to time it for between periods.
Between periods is only 20 minutes.
I know.  I can only do my best.

I try to listen for the yells that emanate from upstairs, as I prepare our dinner, set the table, set out the ritual candles, wine glasses and Hallah plate.  It is an attempt to interpret the religious experience in the TV room, understanding as best I can by the yells, jumps, stomps and moans whether they indicate blessing or curse … and how far we may be into first period.  I ring for dinner (yes, we actually use a dinner bell) and hear not the sound of feet on the stairs, but the bellow of “five minutes.”  So I cover the hot food with foil and I wait until one religion is ready to give way to another.

My son is remarkably patient.  We complete the blessings, serve the food, enjoy conversation about our week.  I learn that, in fact, these two religions must not mingle. As I begin to mention The Great Flyers Comeback, I am told that such things are not to be uttered until the game is over.  Clearly, the mysteries of this religion elude me.

Our lovely Shabbat nourishes us with ritual, food, drink and conversation as it does every week … for exactly 20 minutes.  Then my son politely says May I go back now? And he returns to the other altar.  He is a loud and appreciative congregant.  And he is not alone.  When I finally rise from the table, my husband—who has been remarkably patient and calm as he struggles with what must be a roiling internal conflict—truly sprints up the stairs to join the Great Observance in front of the TV.

Between the 2nd and 3rd periods, with the score tied, my son does re-emerge long enough to tell me that, should he be quiet for long, I should come check on him to ensure he hasn’t had a heart attack.  Great religious experiences can have intense physiological manifestations, after all.
 As I finish this, The Flyers have just pulled ahead.  Thank God.

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