These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Singsongy Services

Posted on September 8, 2013 by Stefanie Groner

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From my blog:

901079_2412197989053_939910674_oOn just under eight hours of sleep, I was somewhat alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic for meeting Alisa to go to Yakar in the morning. The mechitzah minyan was recommended to her by a friend was liberal, easy-to-follow, and singsongy. We got a little lost heading into Katamon, the area neighboring mine, and asked a few people for directions. I was able to understand enough Hebrew to identify the synagogue as the one with the big tree. A handful of words can really get you by, but I still sometimes respond to strangers’ kindness with an excited ‘gracias!’ Wrong country.

The service wasn’t overcrowded, but full, so we had to move chairs four times because we hadn’t purchased tickets, as is customary for high holiday services. I also didn’t have a prayerbook with English, which really helps me keep engaged with the Hebrew words of the prayers. I missed America and Beth El and Northwestern and all things more familiarly Jewish.  Throughout the service, people seemed to burst into lai-lai-lais and bum-bada-bums arbitrarily but they all knew when it would happen, so it definitely was random. I had to stifle laughter in my total confusion. I got into praying for a good chunk of the musaf midday service, able to follow the shofar blowings based on what I learned in school this week, so that made me feel more into it. I really couldn’t see the service leader or totally hear what he was saying, half because he was mumbling and half because there was a curtain in my way. While I have a new appreciation for the Jewish prayer and study separation of genders, I can’t ever imagine myself truly enjoying a service where I can’t see the service leader. I’m a visual person. I need to feel connected to the voice I’m following, and it’s a lot easier when you can see the lips moving and the pages turning and the shofar being blown. The curtain gave me a good excuse to close my tired eyes and ignore the sort of randomness of what was happening around me. I would consider coming back, oddly, maybe.

I had to head back to my house quickly because my roommates and I extended an open invitation to our entire school group (about 70 people) to come and spend the afternoon reading and studying and conversing anything at all. We had a cozy turnout that allowed small conversations or bigger group discussions to flourish. I chose to ignore an argument about the binding of Isaac and instead read the most amazingly clarity-inducing essay by Former Chief Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (best titular name ever) about Rosh Hashana’s themes, purpose and current relevance. (Best of all, you can read it for free here, on the Amazon preview of the Koren Machzor!) I felt incredibly enlightened and totally overjoyed! Wahoo! This holiday DOES have relevance and purpose. I understood the holiday, God, the Jewish people’s history, and myself more because of a ten-page essay by a British guy. I’d say the afternoon was a huge win! I want everything I read to be this valuable. FCLR Sacks might be my new hero.

Late in the afternoon, I wandered to Shira Chadasha, a service with a curtain divider, but where women can lead certain parts of services and serve as visionaries with their male counterparts to design a meaningful prayerspace for both genders. I must have felt so at home that someone asked me to help her with the pages. I sang those prayers like the happiest Jew around.

The adventures continued at a faculty member’s condo for dinner, which included THREE kinds of meat. Everything was kind of my favorite, but if I had to pick one dish, it would be the meatballs. Hayim and Leah were such a relatable young couple who could ambiturn between pop culture references and Jewish life topics fluidly, with a sense of humor and love that makes you want to linger in their home or model yours after it. I left once again totally stuffed, walking through the warm night toward my apartment, thinking about how I had started the holiday from a place of complication and frustration and turned things around to read the best essay and join my favorite service so far in Israel. I went to bed, loving Jerusalem, feeling at home with the place and myself.