Yesterday I was honored to attend Friday night Shabbat Services in Lombard, Illinois. My cousin Linda invited me to join her family at the celebration for her husband, Bruce's conversion to Judaism. I visited with their children, my third and fourth cousins, whom I have never met before as adults as well as their young children.
Approximately two hundred people attended the service which not only celebrated Oneg Shabbat but also celebrated Bruce's conversion, the next day's Bat Mitzvah celebrant, and the Rabbi's sister and future brother-in-law who are getting married the next week in Florida.
The female Rabbi lovingly, as well as with humor, guided the congregation through the prayers; the Assistant Rabbi thoughtfully discussed this weeks Torah passage; the Cantor was accompanied by music performed on guitar, piano, and flute.
The Torah (Jewish Book of Law) was respectfully, ceremoniously carried in parade around the synagog by the Rabbi, the Cantor, and the first time Jewish Bruce. People touched the Torah with their prayer book, or Tallis (prayer shawl) or hand and then kissed the object which touched the Torah. The idea is that the Torah blesses you ... not that you bless it!
Through the evening, people stood, bowed, listened, or sang along. Various honors were given like opening the Torah Ark, blessing the Sabbath Candles, or reading part of the service. After the service, refreshments were provided by the bride's family and the necessary thick taste of "Mogen David Concord Grape Wine," was available.
This is the conversation I had with myself on the way home:
It was lovely to be part of a community who gathers in worship and friendship as a family of like thinking members. The music was familiar and the words, in Hebrew, drifted back easily ... although my singing took place in my head as the congregations singing vibrated through my ears into the core of my body.
Memories of celebrating Jewish Holidays at Temple with family, attending Hebrew School, studying for my own Bar Mitzvah and singing my Haftarah with my mom, dad, and sister in the audience as well as family, friends, and school mates.
The Prayer for the Dead, which never mentions death but only celebrates life; brought a few tears for my mom, dad, Gregory, and others who have moved on before me.
I was sorely aware that while this group of people embrace many of the ideals I also embrace, there was a difference. A personal experience with God, hearing "his word," the sense of community, and Peace of Mind which religion supposedly offers, has never been part of what I take away from the Jewish Experience.
I call myself a "Cultural Jew," meaning I love and need the tradition, the holidays, the food. But the organized religion aspects of being a Jew just don't seem to mean much to me. The chanting, the prayer repetition, going to Temple, hearing and believing the "story," traditions like fasting for certain holidays, etc just don't speak to me.
I do feel a level of regret that belonging to an active Jewish community is lacking in my life. I do feel that I may have caused my own missed opportunity. I know there are Jewish groups out there that accept homosexuality (the Rabbi of this Temple is a Lesbian, with partner and three children) but still I feel like I do not belong.
In many ways, I do not want to "buy into" what it means generally to be Jewish. I like to make up my life as I go along. That is perhaps the cause of the regret as well as the joy of the confidence in being my own person? I may never know.