I went to one of the congregations I had researched online for Kabbalat Shabbat services last week, and I really enjoyed it.
In the past, I’ve tried to hide in the back, hoping they wouldn’t notice me. I could come for services, and slip out before oneg. I was too embarrassed to say “I’m here to try you on for size and maybe ask your rabbi to sponsor me!” This time, I’ve lost a lot of my former anxiety or nervousness and decided to alter my approach: I was so bold as to sit in the front and introduce myself to the other congregant already in the pew and the rabbi when I got there. I didn’t remember there being a female rabbi on the staff, and she confirmed my memory by announcing that the congregation’s rabbis were on vacation, so she was pinch hitting.
It was the middle of summer, so of course attendance is really low right now—half of the people were out of town guests from New York, Boston, and Europe, and the substitute rabbi made sure to introduce herself to everyone and ask if they were here to say kaddish.
It’s strange to see how much Hebrew I’ve forgotten, and yet how familiar the liturgy’s patterns still remain. Her d’var Torah was amazingly simple in content, but complex in structure. She connected the people-wide fast of the week in remembrance of all of our historical losses to the comfort G-d orders us to receive this Shabbat—nachamu, nachamu, ami. Solidified by a repetition in the Torah of our mitzvot, we are encouraged to turn inward and to prepare for the Days of Awe, when G-d reveal’s G-d’s greatness, and goodness, and forgives us, grants us life, and starts the cycle again. I loved it.
The thing is though, I still struggle to take JOY in Conservative services. I absolutely loved Reform: it left me each week with a little pep in my step, with an emotional and spiritual hug. I loved singing along, I loved the small chapel filled with familiar faces, I loved the exuberance.
I don’t get that feeling from Conservative services. They’re a lot more serious in nature, which ironically enough, I would think I enjoy MORE. I’m pretty serious, pretty simple, and pretty to the point—it seems like we’re a good match. Part of the problem, I know, is that I can’t keep up with the Hebrew in Sim Shalom. It’s incredibly defeating and frustrating to want to participate fully, but to be forced to stay mute while reading the English silently or making a fool of yourself stumbling along in a very foreign tongue. I need to learn Hebrew stat. The other part is that while I read the English translations offered of the Hebrew, I feel like I might as well pull out an ArtScroll siddur. It is not gender-neutral, and it employs so much of the King James language and imagery I don’t like about my grandparents’ church that it’s simply off-putting to me.
Yedid Nefesh is more than enough to make me stay, however. I remember the shortened chorus version we sang in Reform services, but Holy Moses, it doesn’t even begin to compare with Conservative services. I absolutely love this version. It’s the first thing I want to know how to read in Hebrew.
I stayed for oneg and talked to an older couple for a while. She is black, so I suspected she converted, but did not ask because, well, we’re not supposed to remind people of their status. She volunteered it though, through our conversation on travel, and she recommended some books to me. She’s this quirky, very well read woman with a bit of a kick in her; it’s just so funny to hear Yiddish word after Yiddish word drop so naturally from her mouth as though it were the language she grew up hearing. Her husband is a bit quieter, and seems to have resigned himself to his fate as her mate. They were adorable.
I liked the new, contemporary, building, the rabbi, the people. I liked the size of the congregation, I liked that they offer transliterated versions of Sim Shalom (though I didn’t realize that until after), and I like that I was finally “brave” enough to linger during oneg without feeling cornered.