I took the advice and tried to phone the synagogue offices but nobody ever answered. I was wondering what to do, when The Chabadnik That Got Away - got away again! He called me an hour before we were supposed to meet in order to cancel, due to an emergency. I was very disappointed, especially because I was counting on him to give me my weekly dose of Judaism. So there I found myself on Thursday with no where to go. I finally decided that nothing terrible will happen to me if I go the local synagogue unannounced. I had already been to a minha prayer twice so I had a pretty good idea what to expect, and in any case, I felt that for my own good I should go and stop making such a fuss of it. So I went. I arrived way to early - I remembered four o' clock but the time changes dramatically from day to day which is just another thing I have to learn.
Anyway,that gave me some time to check out the place - and I found that it looked very well cared for. It is a synagogue which can seat about a hundred people, and a few adjacent rooms for lectures and a small library and kitchenette - all done in wood paneling, well-lit and very clean. It was obvious that the community takes very good care of the place. Finally I entered the synagogue itself. I said hello, directed to the one old man who was the only one there but he didn't answer me. Perhaps he didn't hear me? I looked around, and found myself attracted to the book shelves lining the nearby wall. I was searching for a siddur, and finally found a whole shelf full of them. They were marked "Rinat Israel A" and others were "Rinat Israel S". I thought that was weird - if there were two parts, shouldn't they be marked "A" and then "B"? On the other hand something was familiar here...yep, I got it eventually - one for Sephardim and one for Ashkenazim!
I took one out and found that it was very clear, and enabled me to follow the prayer almost perfectly. I still don't understand everything I read, especially not the Aramaic parts, and I hope that I will find somebody to teach me these things.
I decided to use the time left till the prayers begin in order to at least study something on my own. If I recall correctly it is considered proper to read or study torah before the prayer, so I took out Exodus and started reading the current parasha. Meanwhile people were slowly coming in. Most of them were indeed older men, and they seemed to know each other, at least they said hello to one another, but there were also some younger people, and altogether there were maybe twenty people there which I guess is a lot for a prayer in the middle of the day. Eventually the service began, although two of the older guys decided to ignore the proceedings and continued reading some pamphlet. The service was short, and it was followed by a sermon about the parasha, to be followed by the Arvit, and delivered apparently by the Rabbi. Along with a few other people I stayed to hear it. I tried to follow the guy, but he was jumping from one reference to another without any clear connection between them that I could make. He was mumbling and stumbling his way through what seemed to me to be a very badly prepared explanation of...something from the parasha. I don't know, and I did not stay to find out.
All in all I'm happy that I went. I got a good look at the place and the people there, and a good feel of the atmosphere that I can expect. To be honest, I did not like what I felt - it seemed pretty cold and alienated, and it bothered me a little that no one said anything to me, not even a hello. Is that weird or is it standard behavior? I have no idea. I have an image of the synagogue as a spiritual home, so if a stranger comes in wouldn't you want to know who it is? I have no idea where this image comes from, and if it is true or not, so I'll ask my knowledgeable readers - what is the accepted practice in your standard synagogue?