Saturday, September 19, 2009

Those Clergy Sure Put on a Good Show

I've been to, let's see.... three services so far this week. No, four counting Tashlich. Another one tomorrow morning.

Ner Tamid really puts on a rousing show. The music is spectacular. The choir really knows its stuff. Occasionally we get the kid choir, and they're not bad either. There was even a "shofar choir" today, with three kids blowing. They weren't spectacular, but were lots of fun. Tekiyah!

It's amazing to me how hard the clergy and staff work. All the security was in place, starting Friday night. We had to have a pink glowing badge to park the car, and her name had to match names on a clipboard. We entered a side door because Ruth has a key for that. Cool. And people would stop by to check in with her.

Got your cue sheet? Check. Got your machser? Check. White robe? Oh, yes. And they all meet in a circle before they go out there, like a football huddle, only, instead of plays, the head rabbi says a prayer. But then they put their hands on top of one another's hands, yes, like in a football huddle, and yell at the end. Hut!

It took us half an hour after the RH service this morning to get out of there. And then someone asked about the Torah scroll to be used the next morning just as we were leaving. And then someone called her on her cell phone just as we had made the first turn out of the parking lot, again about a Torah scroll.

They have six Torahs! All sizes and weights. One person told me the heaviest one is 35 pounds. I no longer envy those who get to carry it around in the Rosh Hashanah service for all to touch.

Tashlich was a hoot, just like last year. Once I got over the fact that it wasn't going to start on time (I learned that last year), I was fine with everything. Passing out crushed matzoh, service booklets. Saying the prayers. Tossing my sins and bad habits into the lake, and watching the stream carrying it (them) away. Watching the ducks devour my sins with feathery gusto.

Tomorrow the last RH service. Then we pack and get on a plane Monday morning.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rosh Hashanah, Year 5770

I'm sitting here in the synagogue in Henderson, Nevada, typing away on a borrowed computer. It will be Rosh Hashanah in a few hours.

In trying to figure out what Rosh Hashanah means to me, I've spent the last week wondering, sometimes aloud, on that very topic, all the way carrying on all the daily tasks one does. It's 95 degrees out. What do people here do about the heat? Why aren't there more people out and about in this neighborhood? Is it simply the heat, or is it because many of those people lost their homes and are no longer IN the neighborhood?

And then I heard about one congregant, whose name I don't know and will never know, who has had a frightfully bad time of it. Her husband died several years ago, and she not only misses him but the life they used to have, when they had money. He ran his own business, apparently well, but after he died, she leaned upon some friends of his who gave her their bad financial advice. As a consequence, she has lost her home, her car, her way of life. Friends wonder if she's thin because she's getting older - she's in her late sixties. Or because she can't afford the food.

There are many more stories like that. You know the stories. Some of them involve friends of yours, relatives of yours. The last two years have been financially devastating. I don't have to tell you that such a bad economy preys upon the elderly moreso than the young. The young have time to recover, resources to plumb. The elderly rarely do unless they've socked a lot away.

But I don't have to go all that far afield from my (extended) family for some hard-luck stories. I have a relative who is struggling not to lose his house. I have another relative who is living with a friend, thank goodness, but is just several inches away from homelessness. I have a young relative who is lost and separated from us, and doesn't know what to do. I have two close friends, probably more, who are struggling with day-to-day depression, some on medication and under doctor's care for that malady. I have a relative with an illness he was born with, one that every day denies him a normal existence.

So what does Rosh Hashanah mean in regard to this rather depressing topic. I think it means that we need to find our own meaning to life. What does life mean to us. I don't expect God to help that first woman I referenced, just dump a barrel-full of money at her feet. I expect humans to wade in there and give her a helping hand. If they can't themselves, perhaps they know of some social organization who can.

And the inevitable conclusion is that I need to wade in more and help my relatives, first and foremost, to deal with the lousy cards they've been dealt. And then, if I have anything left, I can help those people, like that aging congregant who lost everything.

I think the only meaning I'll get out of my remaining decade (or possibly two) will ooze out of the relationships I form. And the care I give to them.

L'shanah tovah. A good year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Slot Heaven

I've been spending a small section of each day at my new "home," Sunset Station casino/hotel. We briefly went to another Station casino last night, Boulder Station, and my God, I hated it. There were too many people, the aisle ways were narrow, and they didn't have the games I liked. (And the ones I liked were taken.)

But they did have a bank of my new discovery: community gambling with Reel 'Em In.

Anyone who knows about my gambling habits knows that I love Reel 'Em In. I discovered this fishing slot game at least 25 years when the old Frontier hotel/casino was still around. It was a nickel slot machine in those days, and I would play multiple lines at tremendous cost, but then win quite often. I was enchanted.

And then the cascading slot machines came along, just recently. My favorite is Invaders from the Planet Moolah, which allows you multiple chances for one pull, and a chance to get to their bonus round (which is actually the same thing, just over and over). But now there's another enchanting slot machine pulling at me.

"Community gaming" is what they call it. It's based on Reel 'Em In, at least that's the bonus round, but (unfortunately) the four single machines underneath the massive video screen are other games. They're horrible, but what are you gonna do. But the bonus round, which shows up almost randomly, is one of three games, and you compete with the other 3 during those games. The games are Best Fish (the biggest), most fish (the most and the biggest), and the Boat Race (who comes in first, towed by their fish). You don't know when the bonus round is going to hit, and the timer on your individual screen tells you how many seconds you have to play. If you don't make it, you won't be eligible for the bonus round. You can't even sneeze in case you'll miss it.

So the adrenaline is pumping the entire time. And each pull on the individual machine is 50 cents at least, so even though it's a penny machine it's expensive. I've seen many people lose all their money just waiting for the bonus round. So it's one to be approached carefully.

The Station Casino has one of these. Three Invasion of the Planet Moolah. And two Reel 'Em In. Almost heaven.


We both attended Selichot, and, I swear, I don't remember ever having attended this before. We had our choice of four teachers for an hour: Rabbi Achselrad, Rabbi Adar, Rabbi Chester (visiting his family in Las Vegas), and an educator. I decided to sit with Rabbi Chester because I wasn't sure anyone else would and I didn't want him to think that he had wasted his time by coming. I needn't have worried.

While I was standing around, waiting for something, anything to begin, a couple of women recognized me and said hi, and asked me which one I was going to attend. I explained, and one of them, oh, we should do that, too! Rabbi Adar would want us to. But the other one said, but I adore Rabbi Adar. Can't I go to hers? The other told her no. It was very funny. And, yes, we found ourselves with about 12 others huddled around Rabbi Chester in a very small room in the synagogue. We had a rousing discussion of the Book of Life and whether we're really inscribed.

Afterwards we gathered in the sanctuary for the Selichot service. I noticed that only about one-half stayed for the service. Rabbi Chester noticed me sitting all alone way off to the side -- I never know where to sit in the large room, mainly because there are designated seats, the comfortable ones, for donors. So he joined me.

It was interesting to watch him. The Selichot service pamphlet was composed by their student rabbi of a couple of years ago. He perused the entire thing during the opening remarks and songs of the service, just like a professional.

One thing about Ner Tamid: a lot of the arrangements of the songs don't encourage participation. What I mean by that is, they have a choir who sings, and most of the congregants just listen. This did not stop Rabbi Chester from singing along. He sang every one of the songs. I took encouragement from this, and I started singing along, too, at least to the songs I knew. The songs of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most beautiful and stirring, and I just love them. I got a little taste, and then the short service was over.

While we had been waiting for the service to start, a congregant named Julie, with whom I had had several conversations, brought one of her standard poodles with her, Simon. Simon had just come from the beauty shop. He's in training for being a caregiver dog, and was just gorgeous. I don't think he showed up in the photos because of his immense blackness. He was very well behaved. And since he attneded services, too, I was glad to see that he also did not choose to sing along with the choir.

Road Trip to a Very Familiar Place

It took us two leisurely days to get to Henderson, Nevada. Sweetie is the Visiting Rabbis during the High Holy Days, and we'll be here for three weeks (with a break in between to return home).

Our one-night stop was picked because Sweetie thought I might like to experience a casino/hotel just inside the Nevada state line, and she was right. So we pulled into Primm's Whiskey Pete hotel and casino, only to discover that it was the wrong Primm hotel. The one we made a reservation at was across the highway. But we were tired, and so the desk clerk quickly cancelled the original reservation and offered us a double room at ..... $15 a night. Oh, yeah.

The little cafe in the small casino had so-so food, but offered this so-so food 24 hours. And so we found ourselves eating dinner at about 9pm. There was one waiter at that point, and I unfortunately didn't catch his name, but he was very good. (The waiter the next morning was overwhelmed and her inherent talent wasn't up to the task at all.) So at that point, about 3 hours after arriving, Sweetie took a break from writing, and I took a break from gambling, and we shared a meal. Then we returned to our respective tasks.

We left at about noon the next day, pulled into Ner Tamid synagogue parking lot at about 1:30pm and got the keys to the company car as well as the private house at which we'd be staying.

The house used to be the home of an elderly congregant. She has since passed away and the owners, also members of the congregation, can't sell the place in this economy. So they very nicely lent it to Sweetie during the High Holidays so the congregation wouldn't have to pay the motel she usually stays in.

The house is very nice: a two-bedroom with a walk-in shower and a gigantic living room. There are a few things, however, which make it less than ideal -- a broken dishwasher, a washer that appears to have issues so that we can't use it, no internet, and no TV reception (because, after all, why would you continue with the last two if no one lives there?). But there's electricity - Thank God for air conditioning - and working water.

Every day Sweetie gets up early so that she can get some work done before going to the synagogue. Every day I get up not knowing what her schedule is, and drive over to the nearby Sunset Station casino because it's close. If she's free for lunch, I'd like to join her. But she never knows when that will be. Somedays it's 1:30pm. Other days, like yesterday, it's 5pm. I would like to drive off and discover some of the other casinos in the area, particularly the ones mentioned in my Las Vegas Advisor coupon book, but I'm not sure when that will happen.