Shabbat is Everywhere
I’ve always been taught that when the Jewish people read from the Torah, it is not a random passage. When a congregation on Long Island (like the one I attend!) celebrates Shabbat, they open their Torah to the same portion as a congregation celebrating Shabbat anyplace else. Think about it: The ability for Jews all over the world to be on the same page, almost literally (with a grace period for time zones), is a staggering accomplishment. This holds true for prayers, sermons, and songs, not just Torah.
My family recently attended a Friday night Shabbat service at a synagogue other than our own, when the congregation where my daughter teaches was observing “Teacher Recognition Shabbat.” Not knowing what to expect from the service, my family attended with an open mind - but still, upon arrival, I instantly broke my promise not to compare congregations. Suddenly the large parking lot at my temple seemed tiny in comparison to the super-sized one I’d just parked in. The outside of the building was a southwestern motif in soft colors. Inside was a round table (my temple uses a rack) packed with fliers promoting events for every age group. I took some of the fliers to bring their programs to my temple.
The similarities were as different as they were the same. Both temples had similar origins – starting small, sharing space in a church, a bar, a firehouse, etc., until the necessary funds were raised and a building design was selected. My family was greeted by the “officers of the day,” who handed us a program for the Shabbat evening service. “We do that, too,” I thought, so that tradition felt familiar. The sanctuary was packed, though I decided that I like our seats better. We live about 10 miles from this synagogue, and we saw many people we knew; it is a small world, after all.
The cantor at this new synagogue and at my temple are similar in that you can see that they enjoy what they are doing. Both are gifted musicians who play guitar and enjoy teaching and talking to the congregation (coincidentally, they’re also both bald!) At the oneg, the rabbi made the rounds and stopped by our table to greet my daughter and my family. We learned that the congregation’s other rabbi already knew my teenaged son through an event with NFTY, the North American Federation of Temple Youth.
My family wasn’t temple-shopping, so there was no need to compare, analyze, or even read responsively, yet I felt as if I belonged, and I found myself participating. I opened my Mishkan T’filah (we use that book, too) to experience Shabbat in this new environment. It didn’t bother me that the order of the service was different in places because overall, the customs were the same. While the melodies and tempos were different on some of the songs, the words and prayers were the same, so I was able to sing. I adjusted easily because I knew that back at my synagogue, they were celebrating Shabbat, too – in many of the same ways.
I’m not planning to pack up the family and heading north from our south-shore temple, but our lovely evening at another congregation lead me to conclude the following: While I can celebrate Shabbat anywhere, being a member of a synagogue keeps us from feeling like wandering Jews!