Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Visit To The Local Synagogue

On my Visit To Machon Meir , the Rabbi I met with gave me an excellent piece of advice - he said that I can contact the Rabbi of the local synagogue, and that in most cases he would only be too glad to help me find my way through the the prayers and services.
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?


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

The siddurim marked S aren't for Sefardim; they're for Ashkenazim who use the so-called "Nusahh Sefard" text, which was grafted together by the Hhasidic movement out of pieces of their own native nusahh, Ashkenaz, and pieces of the siddur texts of the Sefardim and Mizrahhim. Real Sefardi/Mizrahhi "Rinat Yisrael" siddurs are marked ע"מ for ‘Eidot haMizrahh.

mother in israel said...

It sounds like you have already learned quite a bit. By the way, in most synagogues the mincha time only changes from week to week.

Maybe we can help you figure out whether your forebears used Ashkenaz or Sepharad nusach. Where did your father's family come from?

Unfortunately, in the city, people are unlikely to come up to a stranger. In my town there are hundreds of synagogues and people don't stick to their regular shul for weekday mincha; they go where it's most convenient. Not that I'm condoning this unfriendly attitude. We were shocked when we arrived. In the US if someone new walked into a synagogue they would get invited to a Shabbat meal, and where my husband went he was ignored. We did get invited by others though.

The synagogue we belong to seats well over 100 and does not have an office or phone.

Rinat Yisrael has Hebrew translations for the Aramaic prayers, but maybe only the first time they appear. The Artscroll siddur has more details about how to negotiate the prayers, but Rinat Yisrael is known for its accurate nusach. And RY is an Israeli, Zionist siddur with prayers for Yom Haatzmaut and the army and state.

Tamara said...

I just started reading your blog and I really enjoy it. I think your journey is commendable and beautiful. Not to mention something I can learn from. I'm far from secular but there's lots I don't know and it seems hard to find a structured class to learn many of the "how-to's".

I am an active member at my local Chabad shul and think Chabad in general is great. I did sit down with my rabbi early on to make sure he wasn't a Mechisist because the whole "rebbe is messiah" thing freaks me out.

I hope your chabadnik comes through for you because my experiences have been lovely and beautiful.

Best of luck and I'll keep reading.

Good Shabbos

Jerusalem Joe said...

thanks for the information, which leaves me wondering why hassidim wanted to change their own nusach?what bothered them so much?

my father was sephardi, although he did his best to ignore it.
I understand that on mincha the minyan is coincidental, so perhaps if I went on shabbat the attitude would be different?
maybe it is a question of coming consistently, until I am recognized as a part of the community, and not a passer-by?
the aramaic i was referring to is the shma israel. i just don't understand what it means, butI'll check the siddur next time to see of there is some explanation somewhere.
I also checked out the artscroll siddur - it is beautiful and very informative, but also pretty expensive.
thanks for your help.

Jerusalem Joe said...

Tamara: Thanks for dropping by.I have despaired of my Chabadnik, so I'm still looking for the right community.

I checked out your blog and I was absolutely blown away by your name in those letters - I don't think I have ever seen something so beautiful on a blog header. I also found the content interesting for me so I'll start keeping an eye on it.

Tamara said...

Hi Joe, You're totally welcome. :)

Check out the site I got the Hebrew writing from

westbankmama said...

I agree with mother-in-israel, there is a big difference between how people react to strangers in shul in America and in Israel. In America the Jews have to stick together, so they are friendly and helpful to other Jews, and will reach out to a stranger. Here, everyone just assumes that a stranger is there for a quick minyan, and they will never see them again.

mother in israel said...

What country did your father's family came from? Even though your father abandoned yiddishkeit, culture is harder to eliminate and you may feel more comfortable in a synagogue that shares your ethnicity. Do you have relatives you could question about this?

Shema consists of biblical verses, and is said at Shacharit and Arvit, not Mincha. If you are talking about a weekday Mincha, the only Aramaic would be the kaddish. One version of kaddish is said by mourners for a period after death and thereafter annually, but there are also types that punctuate different parts of the prayer service. They all start "Yitgadal veyitkadash." Rinat Yisrael (nusach sefarad) has a Hebrew translation of the "kaddish derabanan" on p. 26.

Jerusalem Joe said...

My father was half turkish and half morrocan.The turkish side was secular, westernized and hated jewish tradition, including the husband that came with the traditional shiduch...said husband was the Rabbi.
Now - how does that help?As far as I can see, synagogues do not advertise themselves according to their heritage - or do they? How can you tell?

About the shema - you are right, it was a kaddish, not a shema. either way, i didn't understand it, and unfortunately I don't have a rinat israel at home so I can't check the translation right now.
Anyway, thanks for the information.I'll get it all together

mother in israel said...

In my town many synagogues advertise the origin of the founders (yotzei iraq, morocco, etc.) . If not you would need to ask around. If you are talking about the difference between ashkenaz and mizrachi/sefaradi there are numerous clues: the siddurim, the sifrei torah (in a round case for sefaradim), and the accent used in the prayers. Even the names on the plaques. I would instantly know if I were in a sefaradi synagogue but it might not be obvious to you yet. On the other hand it might.

Jerusalem Joe said...

with the tips you gave me here I should be able to find my way.
thanks for the priceless info!

Karma said...

I think that its great that you're trying to make connections at your local synagogue. Something to consider is - what would your ideal shul look like/feel like/who would be there?

I tried to connect to my local shul (and still do) but its a struggle that leaves me feeling a bit disconnected. When I step away and connect to syngagogues that might be very far away from me but where I can have the experience I'm looking for, it helps me come back home and create that here. Just a thought.

There a couple of JewBu shuls in San Francisco that you might want to check out via their websites, just to know about. I haven't made it up there yet, but I feel better just knowing that they're there.