This evening I got to experience somthing new and completely beautiful. Before I go on, I want to apologize in advance at anything completely stupid I might say, or mistakes I might make, its likely I will sound uneducated at some point in this post.
As I mentioned previously, Beloved is taking her capstone course at University, and it is focusing on the lives of Jewish Americans. Her professor was kind enough to invite their class to visit synagog on Shabbat this evening and I went with her. We were the only people from her class, although there was also a methodist church visiting.
When we got there her teacher pulled in right beside us. She walked us in and as she hung up her coat she explained to us about the different words for the Synagog, which mean different things. It is called a "house of prayer" a "house of teaching" and a "house of communion" depending on the use for it. She also explained there is no special significance to the temple itself, and that often they will have service outside, because they believe that god is with them regardless of their location.
At this point she left us to explore before the service. I told Beloved a little about King David, King Solomon and what I new about the Torah, various Jewish traditions and such. (I am a bit of an Old Testament geek, so I know a lot about this particular area from an academic, Anglo Saxon POV)
We went into their fellowship room and were inspecting a copy of a tapestry/rug done by a famous Russian Jew that I am unfortunately unable to recall, and we were discussing it when a man cam eup to us and was kind enough to explain some of the images to us. Part of it was a depiction of the torah from the time Moses receives it to the reclamation of the holy land by King Solomon. There were also depictions of things like the Haunnukka celebration and a village being burnt in Russia. It was fascinating, and this man, like everyone we ran into, both geniunely cared about the contents, and also knew a lot about it. he seemed very proud and happy to share with us about it. I was very grateful to him.
We also took time to get our prayer books and sit down. While we sat I told her the sotry about the book of Esther and the custom of Purim. [Esther is my favorite book of the bible, and I am actually very knowledgeable about this particular subject] We also took time to try and decide which stories were depicted in the stained glass windows. I am proud to report I got 3 out of 4 right, which isn't bad at all. [for the record they were: Jacob wrestling with God, Miriam and her tambourine in the desert after the escape from egypt, and Moses and the burning bush]
When the service started I was really suprised, in part because there was so much singing, and chanting. I loved being able to follow along in the prayer book. I think I was also more accustomed to the format than my dear, she hasn't been to chruch as much and I am relatively familiar with the layout of a Reformist service. Either way, what really struck me, beyond the beauty of the worship was the honest love that was expressed by the people in the congregation. They showed remarkable respect and joy throughout the service, and it was really moving. As one who has spent time in a church, and religion, that had no and gave no motivation to love it, I was awed by the sheer appreciation and joy of the service, especially from the children.
The rabbi, a lady, actually talked abot Purim, which I think irritated Beloved, she was telling me I was running my mouth about it, and she gave me a dirty look when the Rabbi started in. This month is actually the month of Adar, the month in which Purim takes place. She spoke about it, and about learning to live with opression and to endure it, and...I can't put it the way she did, but it made a lot of sense, that they would not be conquored by it. I think it espescially hit home for Beloved's teacher [see this post] and we talked about that after the service.
After the service they also had a meal, and they invited us to share with them. Beloved's teacher broke bread with us and shared wine, and it was a really lovely experience. I got to talk to her about her class, and all the things I learned this evening. I was really struck by it. It was very beautiful. We also talked about how some Jews don't believe in god, and how you can follow the torah and its moral teachings without believing in god, and it was really interesting the way she was talking about it. Apparently its something she has been trying to teach in her class that some had a problem grapsing.
I also had a nice chat with the Rabbi, and we talked about Esther and the holiday of Purim and she took me to her office and gave me an article she wrote about Purim and Esther. We even talked about the mythology of Esther and how there were corollary myths in Egypt. She is a brilliant and fascinating woman. She was also kind enough to invite Beloved and I back to the synagog for the feast of Purim in a week so we could enjoy it, and so I might be able to experience something I had studied about. It was very generous of her, and I am afraid I am going to abuse her kindness and attend. [I do, however, have to find a costume to wear] Beloved's teacher is also belly dancing [part of the tradition, apparently] and there is going to be another bread breaking ceremony afterwards. Rabbi compared it to Mardi Gras for the Jews. I am very much looking forward to it.
I am extremely grateful for Beloved taking me. It is by far one of the most interesitng things we have done as a couple. It was also the most moving religious service I have ever observed. I am both touched and incredibly greatful to have been able to experience it.