Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saturday Morning Shabbat

*This post contains religious bits. I've tried to be as objective as possible.* 

Last Saturday I began my "attend 10 different religious services" challenge with Shabbat Service at Town & Village Synagogue in New York City. I considered a Jewish service to be appropriate as I am currently researching my Jewish heritage per challenge #22. From the Town & Village website:

Traditional, participatory, and egalitarian, T&V has members from throughout the New York area. Our members look to T&V, as did our founders, as our sacred space, our spiritual home, a place where Conservative Jews, lay and clergy, men and women, adults and children, together, create community and commitment.

So, yeah. Almost the entire thing was in Hebrew. New experiences! 

It started at 9:30. I arrived at 9:31 and opened the door to a large, beautiful sanctuary. There were four people inside, including the Rabbi. Curse my punctuality. It could not have been more awkward. My plan to hide in the crowd and quietly observe now foiled, I immediately attracted attention. The Rabbi came over to introduce himself and make me feel as welcome as possible. That was nice. I settled into the pew and tried to follow along as best I could. Slowly but surely, people trickled in. By the end of the service (ahem...three hours later), the sanctuary was more or less at capacity.

Here's my completely green, religiously-uneducated account of what took place at Shabbat Service:
An hour of praying/chanting/singing (my apologies as I do not know the legit term) in Hebrew with English translation provided, followed by the opening of the Ark, where a large scroll (the Torah) was extracted and laid upon a large table. An hour of reading from the Torah in Hebrew by multiple readers, young and old. A brief sermon from the Rabbi. Closing prayers and songs. Announcements.

And here is what actually took place:

It was long, yes, but there were some rather enjoyable parts, the first being the Prayer for Peace, the only prayer spoken in English:

May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease
when a great peace will embrace the whole world
Then nation shall not threaten nation
and humankind will not again know war.
For all who live on earth shall realize
we have not come into being to hate or destroy
We have come into being
to praise, to labour and to love.
Compassionate God, bless all the leaders of all nations
with the power of compassion.
Fulfill the promise conveyed in Scripture:
"I will bring peace to the land,
and you shall lie down and no one shall terrify you.
I will rid the land of vicious beasts
and it shall not be ravaged by war."
Let love and justice flow like a mighty stream.
Let peace fill the earth as the waters fill the sea.
And let us say: Amen

Without tapping into my own religious beliefs, I would argue that the above prayer has a particularly universal appeal, despite a few nuances. No one shall terrify you? That sounds nice. Let peace fill the earth as the waters fill the sea? That's just good writing. I read this one out loud.

The second enjoyable part was the weekly Torah portion. I followed along via the English translation provided. The excerpt told the story of Jacob's journey to Haran, Jacob's Ladder and Jacob's marriages to his uncle Laban's daughters, Rachel and Leah. Not only did the Torah in the pew have English translations, it included footnotes galore so the story was easy to follow. I learned quite a bit.

The third enjoyable part of the service was the Rabbi's sermon. Apparently he is a psychic Rabbi and knew I was coming, for the sermon was about advertising. He spoke of a recent Israeli government campaign designed to entice Jews living in the U.S. to "come home" to Israel. Outrage has ensued amongst the Jewish community as a result. It was the Rabbi's opinion that this campaign was created out of fear that Jews will become more casual in their faith outside of the mother country and the belief that Israel is the only place where Jews can both "survive" and "thrive." Ending on a positive note, the Rabbi argued that Jews have the ability to reestablish and redefine themselves wherever they go, just as Jacob had done in that day's reading from the Torah.

Shabbat service felt more like an interesting class on Judaism rather than an uncomfortable preachy experience. The singing (accompanied by occasional foot stomping) was pleasantly hypnotic at times, and there was a distinct feeling of community amongst the members. Not sure if I'll be converting to Judaism anytime soon, but I do have a greater appreciation for the Jewish faith, and I am now able to imagine more clearly what my Jewish ancestors might have been doing on a Saturday morning more than a hundred years ago.


  1. I've been wanting to visit a Jewish service and brush up on my Hebrew. Your report is fresh and enjoyable.

  2. I LOVE the prayer for peace! what an awesome (and I think you're right; universal) sentiment.

  3. Rookie mistake showing up on time. No self respecting Jew shows up to services on time unless they are the Rabbi or on the board.