Posted on January 21, 2014 by Yisrael Ben Avraham
It was a paradox in the space time continuum. Two spaces that were but only a few meters away was actually worlds away. What was an inconspicuous courtyard I felt was actually a wormhole to that connected two very different worlds that seemed like other dimensions.
What I’m talking about is the courtyard between the Lauder shul and the Rykerstrasse shul Berlin. The former your standard orthodox fair of black hatters and the latter a tear in the fabric of space and time to the 1840s.
Speaking of paradoxes, how does “non-egalitarian Reform Judaism” sound for a paradox? That’s right, separate seating albeit no mechiza and no girls allowed on the bimah. I had the unmitigated pleasure of participating at the Rykestrasse shul in Berlin on my Germany Close Up trip. I have not been to a “high Reform” service before; I’m pretty sure the Rykestrasse shul is about as high Reform as you can get.
It was pretty awesome service. The Hazan was belting out prayers that could have the ministering angels looking for another job. He also wore a hat that I safely assume was modeled after the same hat Moshe wore at Mt. Sinai—this hat was mamash hat mi’Sinai. It was difficult to describe the beauty of the shul without actually going inside the shul. This is partially because the shul was one of the few to survive the war; this further accentuated the regal arches and columns, the heavenly dais and painted roof. I am a little biased; being an Irish Jew I especially enjoyed the Celtic-knot-like patterns painted on the arch encircling the dais. A fellow on the trip took a picture and he was chided for doing so and then invited for the kiddush.
I already had plans to attend kiddush at the Lauder shul in spite of also being invited to the kiddush at the Rykestrasse shul as well. The Orthodox shul also had cholent. I’m not totally a selfish schmuck who shamelessly shul hops for the best kiddush (well… I actually am) but I do keep kosher. I’m sure the Reform shul’s kiddush was kosher enough for government work though.
What bothered me though is that these two shuls, in spite of having very different hashgafa and modes of worship, weren’t having the oneg together. I didn’t strike me at the time when I went back and forth to at least pay a brief visit to the other shul’s kiddush; a few days later though it dawned on me—how many a Berlin summer has passed without the two communities enjoying kiddush together in the courtyard?
Personally, I keep halacha and therefore value the orthodox community’s commitment to halacha. However, one thing I find bothersome is that many orthodox communities feel the need to feel more orthodox by completely wishing not to associate in any way with other communities. One of the orthodox rabbis in Berlin would not be in the same room as the conservative rabbi. That just makes you look like an ingrate in my opinion. To his credit, if memory serves me correctly, this orthodox rabbi is now on at least speaking terms with the conservative rabbi.
I hope that the two shuls can one day share kiddush in the courtyard and put aside their differences for a nice nosh and perhaps a little argument. What’s a Shabbat kiddush without some good noshing and a little machloketh? Let’s not forget the 10 year old single malt scotch to go with the cholent.