Chabad of Northern Nevada
Reno, NV 89509
Perhaps the most significant detail of the Chabad synagogue is the simplicity of the building. There aren’t any signs. The synagogue is set beside a home with hardly any identifying detail, with the exception of the mezuzah hung in the doorway. Yet, the chants of the Torah are unmistakable upon approaching the building. The synagogue is not elaborate: a tiled floor, low ceiling and large square windows which reveal the trappings of a sunny day.
Shabbat, or the day of rest, begins at sundown on Friday evening, yet the Sabbath service at Chabad begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The service is comprised almost entirely of men, with the mechitza, or dividing wall, separating the women for this orthodox Jewish service. The reason for this separation is to assist the attendants in prayer and devotion, with the thought that men and women can be distractions to one another. Each man wears a kippah (skull cap) and tallit (prayer shawl), though the attire is primarily informal.
Rabbi Mendel Cunin leads the congregation in the service, as the Torah is raised and carried through the room. The Torah is wrapped around two wooden handles with a crown placed on the top. Each man uses a corner of his tallit to touch the scroll before it is taken to the bimah, or podium, in the center of the room. All the while, chants of praise fill the space.
The Hebrew chants are led by Cunin from both the siddur (prayer book) and the haftarah (book of prophets) with the congregation following from each book, which reads from right to left in Hebrew, with English translations annotated. The service is inclusive, with nearly every man in attendance walking to the front of the synagogue to chant a section of the Torah. After each man reads his section, he shakes hands with each person in the congregation, adding a strong sense of community and camaraderie to the proceedings.
The service is conducted entirely in Hebrew, with the occasional English word for a page number or name. Cunin chooses a specific section to read from the Torah and then reads that section to the congregation. The congregation stands and recites the Amidah, a formalized prayer said repeatedly, toward the end of the service. As the worship is brought to an end, the Torah is wrapped and stowed.
A small banquet is held at the end of the service in honor of a returning member of the congregation, who only days before made it home from Iraq after a nine month tour with the army as a surgeon. The dividing wall and podium are removed, and the space is transformed with the aid of tables brought in for the meal. Before anyone eats, everyone ritualistically washes their hands in a basin beside the door. The men and women share kiddush, which is blessing recited over wine, and the congregation drinks together.
The smell of fresh fish and fruit fills the small hall as each member takes a seat and begins to eat. Cunin offers a toast of praise for the returning surgeon, speaking on the selfless virtues that people should aspire to and which the surgeon has exemplified. A large bottle of vodka is passed around, filling most glasses, which are raised in unison with the toast “L’Chaim!”
Following the meal, there isn’t a formal dismissal. People gradually make their way to the exit, say goodbye, and go out to enjoy the day.