“Are you here for the naming ceremony?” said the woman at the door. She threw me off, as it made me think that what I thought was going to be a normal Friday night Shabbat service was some sort of family service. She saw the look on my face (confused, no doubt), introduced herself, and kindly directed me, letting me know that there were many things happening at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue that evening, including readings by two young men becoming B’nai mitzvah, a baby naming, and a confirmation. She also let me know that she was a professor, and her class was visiting this Shabbat service as well. Mercifully, she pointed to where I should sit. I walked through a community of people who obviously knew each other well, found a seat and sat down.
As the rabbi lit the candles to begin the service, I contemplated the fact that I have felt an overwhelming sense of community in every synagogue that I have visited – from Temple Sinai in Atlanta, which I visited several times with friends of mine from high school (the first time being in Week 48 of The First 52 Weeks), to the Kol Nidre service I attended in Week 38 at Temple Sholom in Chicago (where I, ironically, also ran into a friend from high school.) I did not see any friends from high school on this evening (but when I told one of my co-workers that I was visiting, she let me know that her husband had attended that synagogue and that I would likely see friends of his from high school, go figure.)
The theme of community was the focus of so many of the things that happened during the service. Friends and family attended to celebrate with the family of the baby whose naming ceremony was taking place. One of the boys who was being Bar mitzvahed talked about what Judaism meant to him. The Rabbi, when congratulating those being confirmed, discussed how Jewish life doesn’t happen only in the synagogue and how one “can’t live Jewishly doing Jewish things by (one)self” – again stressing the importance of community.
Throughout the service, as I sat and read in halting fashion from the prayer book (I can read phonetically, but I was out of practice!), listened to prayers I had heard before (like the Mourner’s Kaddish, which I heard for the first time in Week 36 at Kam Israel Isaiah), and participated as the congregation shared news of happy events that took place in the month of June as well as requests for prayer for the not so happy things that were happening in the lives of those in attendance, I thought a great deal about community.
One of my coworkers, a devout Catholic, asked me, when I told him about My 52 Weeks of Worship: Won’t you missing one of the essential components of worship, which is worshipping in community with others? I couldn’t really argue with him. Although I believe the benefits of this now seven year journey have been great, there have definitely been moments where I miss my home church in Chicago, Trinity United Church of Christ, the only church home I have really known, and when I wonder when or if I will find another church home. As I sat in the pew in the synagogue, I felt slightly out of place, not because people were not welcoming, but because of the overwhelming sense that those in attendance were part of each other’s lives, not just on a Friday night, but always.
I know this is just the beginning of My52WOW-BK, and my ability to slide into a pew and feel completely at home will come back to me. I look forward to what Week 4 will bring, and to the lessons that I will learn during this 52 weeks.