Sunday, March 16, 2014

Blessed are you, Adonai, Sovereign of the Universe...

Yesterday, I went to Congregation Brith Sholem, a synagogue here in Ogden. If you didn't have a chance to read the update on the pre-service blog for this, my friend who is a congregant at Kol Ami was unable to make it due to personal issues. So, I chose the synagogue closer to home. What was my first time in a synagogue like?


Brith Sholem is not located in a good part of town. I assume that it was built back when this area was nice, but as it is today, it's not prime real estate. When you first pull up to it, it's a modest brick building with white columns on the facade of the building.

But, when you enter the doors of the synagogue, you are no longer in downtown Ogden, but transported to a sanctuary of peace and simple beauty. The walls are all white, and there is a simple area when you first walk in that's used for practical purposes like social functions, keeping kippot (yarmulkes), prayer shawls, prayer books, etc.

The main sanctuary is separated from this area through a doorway. The main sanctuary is also white with red chairs lined up facing the front.

At the front of the sanctuary is a raised platform separated by a rail. Upon this platform is a piano to the right side with a menorah, the Shabbat (Sabbath) candlesticks, and flower arrangements.

Of course the most important part of the sanctuary are the bimah, a large table decorated with fine cloths used for reading the Torah, and behind the bimah is the arc, a cabinet which contains the Torah scrolls. This is the most sacred space in a synagogue and represents God's presence on Earth through the Word.

Along the walls of the sanctuary are five modern, stained glass windows. One is a window which represents the menorah and the Torah.

The other four windows represent the four seasons. This first one  represents Spring and was my favorite.

The atmosphere at Brith Sholem was very lovely and I found it to be a very pleasant gem in Ogden.

The People:

The people were extremely welcoming and kind to us. I was accompanied by two of my oldest and dearest friends, Lisa and Heather. None of us are Jewish and this was the first time any of us had ever been in a synagogue. As soon as we walked in, a nice gentleman asked us who we were, where we were from, and showed us the prayer books and explained a bit about the service. Most members of the congregation came and introduced themselves to us. The one that suck out the most to me was the president of the congregation. She seemed like a lovey and kind hearted woman. After the service she came over and talked to us about about some of the traditions of Judaism and was very kind in welcoming us back later.

The service was truly a community effort with people from the congregation of all ages participating in the service in one role or another. I really enjoyed this as it made it feel like everyone was potentially as important as the other.

The community seems very close knit and full of joy. I felt very at home and at peace there.

The Service:

The service was breathtaking. The service was lead by the student rabbi, a young woman who is going to be a great rabbi since she's already a very good student rabbi, who is doing her internship at this congregation and visits once a month.

I very much enjoyed the Hebrew hymns. It was so beautiful to hear the Psalms in their original language, and, though I don't understand Hebrew, I could tell just from how these hymns were sung that they were saturated with meaning. I actually didn't like when they started singing the hymns in English, as I felt it lost something in the process of translation.

There were a number of hymns and prayers that were said, I couldn't understand most of it because it was in Hebrew, but I did read the translations below the text a lot of the time. If you asked to now to remember a lot of what was said though, I wouldn't be able to tell you. I want to go back and learn more about this service.

The service then moved to the Torah reading. They opened the arc and brought the Torah scrolls around the congregation. Everyone either touched their books or prayer shawls to the Torah before kissing the book or prayer shall. They then read from the Torah in Hebrew. There was a melody that went along with reading each sentence that made the reading very moving.

Afterward, the student rabbi delivered a sermon. More on that in the message section.

Afterward, there were a series of prayers for various things. First was a prayer for those in the community who were sick. They mentioned a few names of those suffering with an affliction. Then the rabbi asked to congregation to name any names of people needing prayers for healing as she met their eyes. She then looked each member of the congregation in the eye and heard the names of various people afflicted with illness. A prayer was then said for healing for them.

Next were prayers for the community and nation, followed by a prayer for the State of Israel, which mostly focused on peace.

After this was a memorial prayer for those who had died. As done previously, the rabbi mentioned several names of members who had passed that they were remembering in particular, then asked the congregation to name anyone they wanted to remember. There was then a prayer for the memorial of the dead. This was, for some reason, my favorite part of the service.

After the service, there was a light potluck that I wished I could have stayed for longer, but I had things that I needed to do.

The Message:

The sermon the rabbi gave was one I related to very well. She mentioned how the reading was about Moses investing Aaron as the High Priest. As the text is sung out loud, there is a special melody used at the moment Moses is about to anoint Aaron. This melody is only sung a few other places when reading from the Torah and always indicates a moment of hesitation. Moses hesitates at this moment because in this moment, if Aaron is invested as the High Priest, Moses shall never be the High Priest and must accept another role and find his place in the community.

The rabbi then related a personal story of how when she was a teacher, she had grown fond of a student, and how hard it was to face and tell this student that she was leaving him and her profession behind to become a rabbi. She mentioned that the transition scared her, and that often our biggest changes in life come with a lot of hesitation and anxiety. But these feelings often indicate that we are moving into a path that will change us drastically, but is where we need to go. Being that my personal life is making a bunch of huge shifts very soon I related to this sermon. I think this is a message we all relate to at one point or another.

I knew before this that Jews had a complex way of looking at their scriptures, but until yesterday, I had no idea just how multi-layered it was. These melodies that accompany the readings are codified ways of adding more depth and meaning to the text. In Judaism, it seems, the words on the page and the stories within are not the end of the reading. To only see that would be the same as only seeing your face on the glass of a window and not the world outside. I feel this is something Christians need to learn from their Jewish brothers and sisters. I feel in the modern world, Christians often take a very surface level meaning of their religion and holy text. I feel there is much that could enrich them from their parent religion, Judaism.

Overall Experience:

This service was an amazing and eye-opening experience. I very much enjoyed this and would love to go back and learn more about the Jewish faith and traditions.

Additional Notes:

I did attend the Oneness Pentecostal church I mentioned in my previous pre-service blog. You can expect that blog to be up tomorrow, so keep an eye out for that.

I haven't selected a denomination for next week yet, but hopefully will have that selected by tomorrow in time for the blog post.

Until then, peace be with you.

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