Monday, June 06, 2005

At home in the temple

I went to a bar mitzvah this weekend.

It was my first ever, and in fact my first Jewish religious experience of any kind. I had been to a secular Jewish temple in Los Angeles, and its very secular nature kind of kept it from being inspiring for me. So when my son was invited to the bar mitzvah of a neighborhood friend, I asked the mom if I could come along.

The whole thing resonated with me in a way I've never experienced before. I just wanted to share what meant the most to me.

First, I realized part way through the two-and-a-half hour service that I was completely comfortable with the God we were all praying to. This God is entirely Spirit, Almighty, the One Creator. Prayer after prayer offered praise to Him, and acknowledged His love for us. I've never felt this outside my own Christian Science tradition.

Second, the entire service [apologies to my Jewish readers if I'm using the incorrect terminology here] was singing. Very little of it was spoken. Much was in Hebrew, and I could even follow some of it. It was all that resonant, mournful, praiseful singing, and all a capella. They had a wonderful vocalist who led much of the service, both his singing alone and leading the congregation. Yet it was all free from personality, no one seemed like they were performing. It felt to me like genuine praise, humble. I could see that there would never be any conflict in this temple about musical style or instrumentation, just the continuation of the song and praise that has inspired people for generations.

Third, I felt right at home with the emphasis on books. Clearly, these people venerate the written word. The Torah processional, which I'd never seen before, moved me. The stage area (not sure what they would call it) actually has spaces in the d├ęcor that functioned as bookshelves. In the congregation, we were encouraged to follow along in the books at our seats, so I was holding a book in my hands almost the entire time, and was learning every moment. There was also a great deal of silent prayer, where you would read what was in the book silently. I talked about this afterward with the uncle of the bar mitzvah candidate -- in Christian Science, we are also oriented toward books, and study them daily. Our services are made up of readings that we've all studied all week.

Another point was the fact that this was a conservative temple. Upon entering, my son had to immediately don the yarmulke, the little cap that covers the head. And seeing him with all his young friends, all of them wearing the cap, just moved me. I felt we were a part of a several-thousand-year-old continuum, privileged to be there as their guests. Yet, as a Christian myself, I do feel a part of that same covenant that God made with Moses at the Passover. My tradition is an outgrowth of this ancient one, and I owe whatever blossoming I've been able to do to the deep roots of the past.

Then there was the bar mitzvah itself. What an incredible community statement, to have the entire congregation gather to encourage and support one young man's entry into manhood. What power is behind this tradition, to have all your rising generations greeted and embraced into the fold this way, right when they're at the place of decision-making about their futures and what they value. It was like one long "We believe in you" statement. How empowering.

So I'm so grateful to have been the guest of Temple Beth-Sholom, and I hope to speak again with the friends I made there and to learn more.


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