Arts & Culture
Following an afternoon of serious Labor Day sale shopping downtown, in which Lili and I each buy the same multi-colored, plaid dress, which is surprising because I am a good nine inches taller than Lili and we tend to have … Read More
Following an afternoon of serious Labor Day sale shopping downtown, in which Lili and I each buy the same multi-colored, plaid dress, which is surprising because I am a good nine inches taller than Lili and we tend to have vastly different tastes in clothing, Lili admits to me over an organic salad in the East Village, "I hate it that Judaism took anthropomorphism away. I mean, it makes more sense for God to be walking around and talking. It’s much more personal." "Me, too," I agree, and not just because we have bonded, improbably, over the plaid dress. "And animal sacrifices. I hate it that they’re gone." We’ve been talking about revisionist history for the past half hour. It started with me self-righteously pointing out that Elul, which is the current Hebrew month, is actually a word of Akkadian origin. That is, Jews took "Elulu" which might mean something like "to become pure and holy" in Akkadian, and adapted it as our own month, Elul. However, over time, we’ve imposed other meanings upon the word, and now it’s common to view "Elul" as an acronym for "Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li." A verse from the Song of Songs, it translates "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me." In this case, God is the beloved, and therefore Elul is all about drawing closer to God, which is not a bad thing under any circumstances and is particularly recommended in the month before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, judgment day. You’d best get on God’s good side. Nonetheless, this beloved thing is a much later interpretation, one that was imposed upon the word as part of revisionist history. Lili sympathizes with my purist, call a spade a spade, view of the world, and thus, she’s willing to concede that the God of the Torah who walked in the garden of Eden, who spoke with Abraham, who physically wrestled with Jacob, who is described as having loins and a face and breasts, has been sanitized, too, much like the month of Elul, and that’s why she says she misses the more primitive, anthropomorphic God. Today, our God doesn’t hang out at the local coffee shop, and goats are not slaughtered as sacrifices to God. The acceptable, party line is that God is distant but present, and that our prayers are our sacrifices to God. But who are we kidding? We know that that’s not the way it used to be. From whence is this urge to tweak history, we wonder. Is it because there’s a tacit understanding that the actual facts themselves need to be revised, perhaps because the real history is too embarrassing or reveals someone or some event in an unflattering light or is it because we want our history to reflect where we are today, not where we were then? We compare this propensity to how people will talk about going on lots of dates and doing all sorts of amazingly crazy things in college. We, however, suspect that those stories are vastly exaggerated. Mostly, it was the sluts and the slackers who were inclined toward that. (Of course, it’s possible they did actually do those things, and we’re revising their history since we weren’t. Sour grapes.) We finish our iced mint tea and walk outside into an end of summer, mid-Elul afternoon. The tattooed and pierced and unbelievably cool-looking young men and women of the East Village are fun to gawk at, as we don’t see many of them on our Upper West Side streets. Then, immediately after our bitter revolt against inauthenticity, we find ourselves behind two young women holding hands. Once they’re safely out of earshot, I turn to Lili and say, "You know, I can’t tell if they’re gay or not. It’s not that I care, but I just want to know who’s who and what’s what!" I rail tempestuously, as if there is a vast conspiracy out there of people trying to conceal the truth from us Truth-Seekers. Lili tells me that she once saw two elderly Asian women walking down the street hand-in-hand and she couldn’t decide if they were gay or not. It didn’t matter, "And I know I shouldn’t judge," but she wishes that there were more obvious signs one way or the other, because she figured that if they weren’t gay, they would be shocked that others might perceive them as such. "I don’t like confusing signals," she says. "The church lady who dresses like a church lady, I assume she isn’t into S&M." This analogy makes sense to me, though I am somewhat surprised that Lili is going immediately into S&M to make her point. The East Village is having an effect on her. Lili and I agree, once and for all, that it doesn’t actually matter what the "truth" is, as long as we know what it is. Naturally, Lili and I can’t impose our will upon others, and force them to reveal the truth, but we sure as heck wish we could. There’s another meaning that has been floated for the word "Elul" and that is "search." Search one’s heart in order to draw closer to God. Search to make things right before Rosh Hashanah. Search to reconcile with our beloveds, on earth and in heaven. I like this word "search", since it lends itself to so many possibilities. Search for the truth. Approaching Columbus Avenue and home, we conclude that our plaid dress is a real find and how fun is it that it works for both of us? Like Elul, which can contain a multiplicity of meanings (though only one true one!), the dress takes on a totally different look depending on who is wearing it. It reinterprets itself, re-fits itself, re-invents itself to suit its owner. None of this, however, justifies stripping God of His/Her bodily parts, and I continue to mourn the absence of animal sacrifices.