Thursday, 23 January 2014

On Nachas

I’ve been reflecting on the Hebrew verb – nachat – probably more familiar as the Yiddish term – nachas. The archetypal experience of shepping nachas (incidentally one scheps nachas and schlepps a heavy weight) is the delight a parent feels when experiencing the successes of one’s children. Despite our instinctive sense of what nachas is, and how it operates, it’s a complex entity, folded in on itself as it reaches in entirely contradictory directions.


On the one hand nachas is vicarious. I did not schlep, as it were, myself. But my disconnect from the true hero of the moment is not complete. I retain a connection; in the case of the nachas shepping mother umbilically  - even many years after my initial disentanglement from primary responsibility. Nachas requires both a step back and a continued sense of accountability; in some limited sense I retain a sense I am somehow, at least partially, responsible. This explains why the realm of those who shep nachas extends far beyond parents, any level of a partial sense of accountability works to drive the nachas engine. I’m reminded of the lovely epigram, ‘success has many parents, it’s only failure that is an orphan.’


Nachas contains a further internally contradictory dynamic.  The happier I am for the other, the more pleasure I take. Nachas, perhaps like adult love, requires something to be given before it can be received. And the more one gives away, the more nachas one receives. Nachas is indeed a holy and most archetypically human emotion.


The prompt for all this reflection is the Civic Service and Induction of Cantor Jason that took place at New London last Sunday. I didn’t do the schlepping – and thanks are due to those who worked so hard to make the event a success (I want particularly to acknowledge the efforts or David Futterman, Jo Velleman and the professional team), but I feel a certain pride that I am, somehow, at least partially responsible, as indeed we all are.


The more applause I offered Cantor Jason and the contributions of, among others, Julian Dawes, the New London Singers and the Cheder – wonderfully led by Angela Gluck and Ezra Burke, the more delight I felt in the whole event.


If money makes the world go round, nachas is the driving force of a good Synagogue. The closer we feel to the heart of the community, the more nachas we experience in its successes even as those successes are not, strictly speaking, our own. Actually, forget about money making the world go round – at least for this Shabbat – and see if we can make nachas turn the entire globe. It celebrates and encourages growth beyond the direct impact of our own hands and the more we give away, the more of it there is to go round.


Thank you to everyone who played parts large or small in the success of last Sunday – and the fifty years of hard work that resulted in us having something so special to celebrate.


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