...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Erev Shabbat at Temple Beth Israel

Friday night I went to Shabbos evening services at Temple Beth Israel, the local Reconstructionist synagogue. Since P'nai Or was my first real experience of Jewish services, I'm always interested in seeing how other synagogues, and other Jewish denominations, compare and contrast with what I've come to know at P'nai Or. Some things that are seen as totally commonplace at P'nai Or--for instance, blessing a baby by laying it on the Torah--are apparently so unusual that when I mentioned them my thesis advisor Sylvia or Kugler, their eyebrows nearly shot off their foreheads. Kugler chuckled in surprise and said something like, "Better kasher that Torah," whereas Sylvia's response was more of wide-eyed shock mingled with horror.

Despite TBI's official affiliation, my impression is that the Jewish community in Eugene isn't really large enough to support several synagogues, so TBI attracts everyone except the Orthodox, not just those who have a spiritual or philosophical commitment to Reconstructionism. There's a pretty strong Renewal ethos at TBI as well; in fact, the senior rabbi at TBI received his smicha, or rabbinic ordination, from Reb Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, the founder and rebbe of Jewish Renewal, and is good friends with Reb Aryeh of P'nai Or. We actually sang one of Reb Aryeh's songs during the services. The other rabbi at TBI received his smicha from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Some day, I think a fascinating avenue of research would be on the philosophical, spiritual, historic, and social relationships between Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionism.

Compared to P'nai Or, Kabbalat Shabbat at Temple Beth Israel was different in some ways and the same in other ways--of course, right? A couple of the songs were the same, but sung in a slightly different way. Other elements of the service were sung with a totally different melody than what I was used to, like the Barehu. We probably sing a little more in English at P'nai Or, but at TBI we read a couple prayers in English right out of the siddur, which we generally don't do at P'nai Or. Reconstructionism has an official siddur, or prayer book, called Kol Haneshama, while I think each Renewal congregation puts together their own, though drawing from some common Renewal sources. Kol Haneshama had some interesting notes and annotations accompanying some songs and prayers, but sometimes it was difficult to find the transliterations of the Hebrew, especially when we skipped around in a song.

During the oneg after the service I talked for awhile with the woman I was sitting next to, who is in the process of converting. It turns out that both of us had assumed that the other was a born Jew and when we discovered that neither of us was, we had a good time talking about our journeys. The oneg itself seemed a tad more halakhically observant than at P'nai Or. They salted the challah, which I had never seen done before, and there was a pitcher and basin for anyone who wanted to do the ritual handwashing. I don't think anyone did it on Friday, but when I've been to Shabbat morning services at TBI I've seen some people do it. Overall it was an enjoyable and meaningful service and made me look forward to the next Kabbalat Shabbat service at P'nai Or.

Blog updates have been, and will continue, to be sparse until I get my computer situation figured out (my wireless card is either damaged or broken). I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!