Warm and homey
Two weeks ago, rather than going to a service, I called three of our community’s spiritual leaders and gave them a pop quiz: “What is the most important moral crisis of our time?” While I had Rabbi Myra Soifer on the phone, I took the opportunity to mention that nobody had invited me to the Temple Sinai (nudge, nudge, hint, hint). And so it was that Hunter and I found ourselves wandering the streets off Kings Row on Friday night.
Jake Margolis met us at the front door. He’s the current president of the congregation. He gave us a quick tour of the building. As is generally the case, the main place of worship is surrounded by a ring of rooms where the business gets done: offices, kitchens, community hall, classrooms.
The sanctuary was peaked, its interior austere and elegant. The ceiling was white-painted, tongue-in-groove wood. There was natural-blond paneling on the walls. The platform at the front—chancel, in Christian parlance, bimah in Hebrew, was simple: a lectern at the front from which the rabbi and participants spoke, and behind, the ark, the room where the Torah scrolls are held. There were candles to the right and a bouquet to the left. The ark was flanked by two wooden chairs with tall backs. Above it all was a representation of the 10 Commandments written in Hebrew. The synagogue is under construction with a new social hall and sanctuary scheduled to open in a few months.
It’s a good thing, too. About 155 families belong to this synagogue, and they’re spilling out of the sanctuary. I attended a regular Friday Shabbat service, but I’d estimate there were about 90 of the metal, blue-cushioned chairs filled in the 100-seat sanctuary.
The service began with an emotional lighting of candles by two members of the congregation. They were mourning a relative, but they were also there in support of a young man, Louis, 13, who was reading the Torah in his first service as an adult Jew, having become a bar mitzvah (literally, son of the commandment) in February.
We followed along with the service in the “Gates of Prayer for Shabbat and Weekdays.” The pages ran back to front (at least from a regular English point of view, Hebrew apparently runs the opposite direction). The service was a series of prayers in Hebrew and English and fairly simple rituals. For example, at one point, we all turned around to the entrance of the sanctuary to allow the congregation to meet Queen Shabbath and another where the scrolls of the Torah were carried up and down the aisles. People touched their prayer books to the scroll covering and then kissed the book. Some of the service was sung and chanted a cappella in English and Hebrew—upbeat tunes, surprisingly, considering their traditional nature.
The readings were from Genesis 6: 9-22. It was the beginnings of the story of Noah and his ark, starting with Noah’s lineage (three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth), running through the ark’s dimensions (300x50x30 cubits), then passenger manifest (two of each animal).
Rabbi Soifer gave a short sermon about Noah:
“Noah is every man or every woman who swims against the tide when the waves get high. … Noah is the living, breathing testimony that God doesn’t demand perfection.” He just wants us to do our best. “Noah is you or me at our best. … Noah is my hero this week, and if I work at it, every week.”
I think many people would be surprised at how much the Jewish service resembles a Christian service. Yes, there are differences, but I enjoyed having my inaccurate notions put aside.
Want to introduce Brian to your place of worship? Call 324-4440 ext. 3525.