Friday, November 19, 2010

Shabbat Shalom

Tonight we went to a Jewish Shabbat service as part of the middle school world religions program we are doing in our spiritual community.  We have almost finished our three-month unit on Judaism, so we took the middle schoolers to an actual service at a local synagogue, Beth Meyer Synagogue.

Beth Meyer is a Conservative synagogue, meaning it is neither as traditional as an Orthodox synagogue, nor as innovative as a Reform congregation, but tries to meld appropriate changes into the thousands-of-years old traditions of Judaism.  It is located in a lovely contemporary building that has just been adjoined with a state-of-the-art education center.

We were given a wonderfully warm and knowledgeable couple, Howard and Judi Marguilies,  as our hosts for the visit.   They explained to us what traditions we needed to observe, such as the men and boys wearing the kippah or jarmulke sitting in a basket by the door before entering the worship space.  They introduced us to the traditional Shabbat greeting of "Shabbat Shalom," which literally translates to Sabbath Peace (the Jewish Sabbath is Saturday rather than the Christian Sunday, but because the Jews follow a lunar calendar, their Sabbath starts Friday at sunset).  The prayers are sung or chanted rather than read, and they were all in Hebrew, although the Rabbi did give the page number and a brief title of each reading in English, and the prayer books had Hebrew on the right side and English translations on the left.  The service was mostly a blessing and celebration of the Sabbath, and consisted solely of the songs/chants without any readings from the Torah or lesson or message from the Rabbi.  The children of the congregation were invited to the bimah (front) to participate in a Kiddush blessing of wine, and everyone is encourage to meet afterwards for Oneg Shabbat (a dessert).  The entire service took about 45 minutes.

Afterwards, however, both the Marguiles and Rabbi Solomon met with our group to answer questions and to explain some of the building, traditions, history, and future plans for this dynamic congregation.  It turns out that this synagogue has existed for over 100 years, and this is its third location.  When they moved out of their former location near Cameron Village to their current site between Six Forks and Falls of the Neuse on Newton street, members walked their revered Torah scrolls the entire distance from their old home to their new home.  They also brought some parts of their old synagogue, including the ark that held their Torah, some of the chairs and lamps, and some stained glass windows, and installed them in a small chapel so that the history of the synagogue would be maintained.

The eastern wall of the worship space has a face of tan bricks inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and actually has an actual brick from the excavation site there.  My personal favorite part, however, was the ark, which was actually a translucent wall hanging with a beautiful abstract that evokes Mt. Sinai and the burning bush.  You can just barely see the Torah scrolls through the fabric, highlighting the importance of the Torah to the synagogue and the Jewish people.  I thought it was a wonderful contemporary treatment of an ancient tradition, combining the best of the old with the new--exactly the middle road that the Rabbi said is the struggle, but also the privilege, that a Conservative congregation like Beth Meyer seeks to follow.

I enjoyed the service, but I think I was more touched by the beautiful setting, the great stories we heard about the congregation, and the lovely people we met.  It had a great spiritual energy, and I feel blessed to have been there--and to have our middle schoolers get to experience the beauty of these ancient Jewish religions brought into our current world.  I think my son quite enjoyed as well, and told me on the way home that he thought he was "a little bit Jewish."  Plus, in the children's chapel, he found a humorous version of the story of Exodus, so he figures their children's program must be pretty cool.

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