Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"This synagogue is 'very' Reform."

"This synagogue is 'very' Reform." But as the Rabbi said, this is meant as a judgment but, with the right attitude and for the right person, it can also be a good thing.

The Jewish high holidays have come and gone, and while it's certainly a time for reflection on the past year and what's ahead, I did most of my thinking about what type of synagogue I want to join. First, I saw my own temple in Atlanta through Adam's eyes when he was astonished by how much music was incorporated into the service and how few prayers are sung in Hebrew. An organ in a synagogue? What is this? Church?

I don't blame him. My Jewish identity was primarily cultivated at the religious summer camps I went to year after year starting at age 8. Where "pluralist" really meant "Conservative." I recited prayers every morning and before and after meals. And, yes, I do mean "recited." While I learned to read Hebrew for my Bat Mitzvah, I cannot read and understand word for word the Hebrew prayers. Does it bother me that I cannot translate them? No, most importantly, I understand the gist and I find meaning in the recitation of time worn Hebrew prayers.

Interestingly, in Atlanta, one of the rabbi's sermons focused on the history and contemporary role of the Reform movement. An ever modernizing and evolving (reforming) sect of Judaism, I admire the social action and political inspirations to affect Tikun Olam through practice of Jewish values and ethics. However, my sense of spirituality doesn't agree with reading English translations of prayers that read more like shmaltzy poetry than religious evokations.

Would a Conservative synagogue be a better fit for me? That raises my concerns of being raised a Reform Jew feeling "lesser than" to other Jews who are "more Jewish." I don't agree with what I put in quotation marks--I've actually heard people say these things. In a Conservative synagogue, I struggle to feel as if I belong when I don't know a prayer everyone else knows by heart. But what do I really have to apologize for, be embarrassed about?

What's a happy medium? How will Adam and I want to raise our kids? And how did we get here? I believe that the history of the Jewish American experience is one that has been a constant back and forth, from one generation to the next. Our parents are reacting to what their parents did, and now it's our turn. Assimilated as ever, I reach out and embrace Hebrew prayers as a stamp of what makes Judaism Jewish. I want to have Shabbat dinner in my home, so my children will appreciate being raised in a Jewish household. And will they reject that?

Anyway, so long as I'm asking questions, my Jewish identity is intact. ;-)

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