Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Synagogues, Temples, and Shuls, Oh My

Krista's question forced me to actually, you know, educate myself. Here's what I found out:

Officially, one should call all places of Jewish worship synagogues, because temple is really supposed to stand only for the Temple, the one in Israel where at one point in history all the Jews congregated to pray. But today, the two words are mostly synonymous in both Reform and Conservative congregations, with the Orthodox Jews using only synagogue. So, for example, I've looked at Temple Sinai and Temple Emanu El, etc.--which is why I referred to it as joining a temple--but if I were going to be scoping out an orthodox place of worship, it would not have temple in its name. (Nor would its name be likely to be in English, but that's beside the point.)

The funny thing is, when Jews talk to one another about their place of worship, they more frequently use the colloquial term shul, which comes from the German word for school and denotes that these places are often the centers of Jewish education, as well as of worship.

See? Aren't you learning so much today? (Hey! You in the back! Wake up!)

Which is a long way of saying that, earlier this week, we joined a temple, a synagogue, a shul, a place of worship. Em starts religious school there on Sunday. We have 'tickets' to the High Holy Days services. We'll be attending Tot Shabbat services once a month or so to start getting N acclimated, in addition to others along the way. And I'm actually very excited about it all.

Here's the really shocking part, though many of you may not 'get' it: This is a conservative temple. As in, not reform. As in, a synagogue that keeps Kosher, that does large parts of its services in Hebrew rather than English. A shul that has twice-weekly religious school classes, rather than getting it all over on Sunday. You sort of need to have a vague clue about your religion to go there. I am going to be so lost.

So why did we join? A lot of reasons. Reason one was the mom on N's soccer team who, it turns out, I went to junior high school with (3,000 miles away from here, mind you) and is the exact same age as me and who I liked on sight. While we were talking, we realized that we had both gone to the same sleep-away camp as well, but at different times. This was a Jewish sleep-away camp, and so I took the opportunity to say to her, "Hey, do you belong to a shul?" And she gasped (again; we did a lot of gasping that day over weird coincidences) and said, "Yes, and we're having an open house tomorrow, and they're DYING for more families there, especially families with young children, young families, and you'd be perfect. You'll love it. You should come!" And so we did.

Reason two was the way we were treated at the open house. When we'd asked for info from the local reform temple, it took them a month to get back to us; the time I'd gone there in the past, it struck me as a little, um, cold. When we walked into the kinda shabby meeting room at this synagogue, people swarmed us. Friendly people. Warm people. By the time we left, two hours later, we'd not only chatted with the soccer mom and her husband and watched N and their boy play together, but we'd been invited to sit in on the religious school class Em will be in, we'd had a tour of the temple and had met both the rabbi and the cantor, I'd been invited to join the monthly women's book club, and I'd had some really nice conversations with a couple of other men and women. One, in particular, pointed out that she had chosen this temple--a relatively tiny (for this area) congregation of less than 150 families--when she'd arrived to check it out with her half-black daughter and found another mixed-race family already there. "I was looking for a place for people like me," she said. "And I found it here."

And reason three was that, when I got home and checked into it, I found that even though I'd long assumed I'd fit best in a reform synagogue, what calls to me most strongly about my religion is the traditional, historical aspect of it. And that is what conservative Judaism seeks to hold onto, moreso than does the reform movement, it seems. I think the problem was that I'd associated "reform" with "liberal"--not in the theological sense, but in the political one. The still-attached Kerry/Edwards sticker on the rabbi's car and the long political discussion Baroy had with the cantor (people who know him are undoubtedly shocked--SHOCKED--that Baroy would get into a political discussion) kicked that theory out the window. Those two men are going to give Baroy a run for his liberal money.

It was strange. Talking about it later on that day with Baroy, I told him that even though there were advantages to the reform temple (less expensive membership, for one, it's closer to our house, and my beloved pediatrician is a member of that congregation), I felt pulled toward what is now "our" temple by the simple fact that I felt like they NEEDED us. Like our choosing to become part of that community will not only make a difference in our lives, but it will make a difference to that congregation, if that makes any sense. And I'm sort of looking forward to the 'challenge' of being a member of a conservative congregation. I'm interested to see if I'll pursue a greater understanding of Judaism, or--more prosaically--if I'll make an effort to learn some Hebrew or begin to actually 'keep' the Sabbath.

So there you have it. We made a choice this week based on gut and heart and not on logic. Now I guess we just sit back and see where gut and heart take us.

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