Monday, March 20, 2006

Temple

I want to write about the trip to the synagogue while the details are relatively fresh in case I want them for a point of comparison later on in the semester.
Before parking we were stuck for a minute behind old people being let out of their car at the entrance. We turned off our cell phones and got out of the car. The building looked pretty much the same as most of the newer churches I’ve been to. An obvious front entrance with a couple of doors and immediately inside an area for talking and meeting without actually having to enter the room where services take place with access to bathrooms. We were directed to a coat room, something conspicuous to me. The bin of flimsy black Yarmulkes was mounted on the wall next to it and I took one rather then one of the two bins which were between the doors we used to enter the service. A women approached Dr. Rein to welcome him to the temple and bid us please enter. He seemed surprised by this but explained we were a class visiting and we’d enter as soon as all of us were out of the bathroom. There were a few families talking in the room we were in and they largely ignored the class. There was a large man talking to most of the families as they entered his elaborate and unconventional dress made me think he was the rabbi, he wasn’t but he did sit facing the congregation in a special chair on an elevated platform. As we actually entered the room in which a girl had already begun chanting in a foreign language a little girl handed us a pamphlet which contained an explanation of that days reading from the Torah. We took up most of a row sort of in the middle of the room. The class before had prepared me for a lot of staring at us, but I noticed only a little. As the room started to fill up I remember noticing how different a lot of the prayer shawls were, and how some of the women had sort of token head coverings while some didn’t. There was more reading from the Torah in Hebrew, the rabbi would tell us “now we stand” or “now we sit”. Some of the people seemed much more familiar with the readings then others, sometimes they joined in without any visible invitation to do so. The girl who read was also way way better at it then the boy. I remember liking the musical way in which they read, but it was hard to listen to it for too long in another language. I starting reading all the cards contained in the back of the seat in front of me. One explained the windows on the right side of the building; they were things relating to Jewish achievements. One explained the days reading from the Torah and then extracted a message from it. One of the pamphlets seemed to be addressed to students visiting like us because it had a list of things you can’t do on the Sabbath and how to act in temple. After that I worried for a little while if my Yarmulke would stay on while I got up and sat down, which it did not which I never noticed immediately. I got the impression the guy behind me was annoyed by how long it took me to get it back on, but I may have been imagining that. Then the rabbi started explaining the days reading from the Torah to us. He stood with his right hand raised and had people call out answers to him for why coverings were important. I found his conclusion divergent from what I‘d just read the “meaning” of the passage to be on the card, from which I concluded that the meaning of building a tabernacle wasn’t actually particularly important. At this point I got the impression that the mitzvahs changed the regular course of the service. I remember both children introducing something. I remember their language being very adult, but not very interesting. They each walked with the Torah, the boy got it out and the girl put it back. Since I was in the aisle the family that walked behind each of them shook my hand and said shalom each time. I just sort of nodded as a response. Then one of the older women present came up to me to ask how tall I was. I think the four tallest people there came with us which seemed very strange. The two children then were congratulated by someone who must have been important, he had sat in front of the congregation all mass, but I don’t remember who they said he was. He gave them each gifts and said something specific about what a good kid they were (the girls was better). He also made a reference to that sometimes relationships come out of sharing this experience, which seemed strange not only since the girl was a good foot taller, but also unprecedented. They ended the service with a couple of announcements about where to go if you belonged to this or that family and a song or something that all the youth were invited to participate in. I saw a guy recording this with his cell phone which I’d just read violates the Sabbath. I hurried to the bathroom, got my coat off of the rack and noticed Dr. Rein was already at his car. That’s all the information I remember.