Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Temple Beth Ora - Refromed Jewish Synagogue

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

Welcome to Friday night 8 pm Shabbat at Temple Beth Ora! For those of you that haven't read much of my earlier stuff, this might surprise you.

Besides my mission to visit 100 churches, I have also decided that my project is not complete without visiting some other houses of worship besides just Christian churches.
So far I have been to a Unitarian gathering, A Tao Buddhist Temple, and now a Jewish Synagogue.

Some of you that are better educated in Judaism may assume that this Shabbat would be for the upcoming holiday of Shavuot (which was only 2 days away). Nope, this Shabbat was special alright but it was honouring another kind of celebration: GAY PRIDE WEEK!!!!!

To be clear this is actually their 3rd annual Gay Pride Shabbat.

I have had an uncle that has told me a lot of questionable things in my life.
Two of these things have been that:

#1 women can't be Rabbis', and #2 you can't be gay and Jewish.

I am sorry uncle, but you were a little off...
Today I sat in a room on Shabbat with many gay Jews, and I have watched a female Rabbi lead a service more than once in my life.

(*mic drop)

Its actually 2016 but you get the idea...

Speaking of our country's Prime Minister. Later on there was a young man in a suit that came up and spoke on behalf of a parliament member that wanted to attend, but was unable to. He sends greeting from the city, the province, and the Prime Minister. He explained that this was his first Shabbat and that he has truly enjoyed it and intends to come back! (he said this all with such enthusiasm that his Kippa (skull cap) actually fell off while giving the speech!)

It was a fun night.
Just saying.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

So I found the building, and it was not far from downtown, and very accessible by public transit. It was also surprisingly close to this famous Edmonton icon.

When I walked in the first four things I saw were a donation bin for the Fort Mac fire victims, a donation bin for the food bank, a info table with info on community activism, and a tall young African-Canadian fellow handing out program guides for the service, while wearing a rainbow skull cap and shawl around his neck.

There were roughly 70 people at this service. Ages on average ranged from 20-60. A lot of families with adult children were in attendance.

Some may think it to be a difficult and complicated task to attend a worship service at a Jewish synagogue. That fact is not necessarily true. But you need to know what you are looking for.  Some important things to keep in mind when Understanding Jews.

- This is not just a religion. It is a tribe with a religion built into it. A lot of theses people in this room have blood connections to the people spoke about in the Torah (aka Old Testament) . With the exception of some converts. Their faith is literally close to home.
- Judaism is traditionally very closed, and Jews almost never go around evangelizing.
- Jews believe that the messiah is still yet to come, and that Jesus was not the man that fit the bill. They have a very solid argument to back their position. Link- What Jews and Christians Should Know about Each Other.
 - Edmonton only has 3 synagogues (that I know of). They are in the denominations of Conservative, Orthodox, and Reformed.
- The "Sabbath" starts at sundown on Friday and goes to sun-down on Saturday.

I also must take a moment to throw my heart out to the Jewish cohort at Stony Point Centre in upstate New York, USA. If it was not for you wonderful people I would not be half as well educated in what Judaism is all about. That education is completely necessary for what I am doing today. To put an example to this, let me just say that because of that education I know that the reformed temple would be the only one in this city that I could easily walk into and report on. That is because I take notes. And that is considered working on the Sabbath, while inside the synagogue. At this synagogue they don't care, but anywhere else in this city I would be asked to stop, or possibly leave.

You gotta know your stuff when visiting our friends the Jews.

The service started out with a few acknowledgements. Including the acknowledgement that this gathering was being held on Treaty #6 Land. There was a prayer after asking for unity and peace, specifically with Canada's First Nations people. This service had some wonderful guest speakers, including some Christian pastors who came up and read while wearing the skull cap and rainbow shall around their neck. One of the main speakers was a bit of a surprise. It was a Rabbi from the other Synagogue in the local area (Beth Shalom) that was of the Conservative denomination.

Next came the lighting of the Shabbat candles. In this tradition normally two candles are lit (today they increased it to six to get more colours of the rainbow). And in a home setting, the mother of the family will go before them, and cover her eyes with both hands and recite a prayer in Hebrew, asking God to bless and protect the family. Today two women were asked to come up and perform this honour with their children at their sides. I need to say I found both of these women every interesting. The first was a Caucasian senior woman, who was caring for a young girl, elementary school aged girl who was of Asian or First Nations heritage? I was not sure. And the other lady was in her 30's, tall and thin with a short masculine hair cut. And she was caring for a young 12-year old(ish?) girl, who appeared to have some type of developmental disability. The girl hung very close to her and it was clear that this woman was very committed to the love and care of this young lady. It always feels good to see a child with a disability is in good hands.

One of the most beautiful things I saw that day actually had to do with the young girl . Like most children, they are not particularly good at sitting still. Which was perfectly fine here, and for part of the service she stood in the aisle holding her stuffy toy. As the service was going on, I saw her tracing the Star of David slowly with her finger (the engraving was in the side of the pews). It was a lovely sight to see, and I am sure many Jews would find this image quite heart-warming.

I made a point of mentioning this because the spirit of tonight's service was embodied in that image.  That Gods word and presence is not only active in the lives of the Israelite's, but also the entire world.

"My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."  

Then we sang the "Lecha Dodi" after which we all stood and turned towards the door to greet the Shabbat bride. One lady with a sense of humour started making hand gestures as if she was marvelling at the beauty of the bride. Even though there is clearly nothing visible that enters in through the door.

NOTE: Jews see the approach of the Shabbat (day of rest) as a joyful event. Joy that can be related to the feeling of a groom waiting for his bride to appear (and you thought you took your days off seriously).

And if any of you were wondering what the music is like in a synagogue, it is very similar to what you would hear in church. As many of you know there are a lot of songs in the Bible, and a lot of the style and music got passed down to us Christians. The major difference being is that the Jews still largely sing almost all of their songs in Hebrew.

P.S. I have tried many times, but I could not sing in Hebrew to save my life. It takes skill.

I apologize in advance for this article being exceedingly long, but there was honestly so much great stuff in this service, I would have a hard time leaving much of it out.

Such as...

Despite God not being defined as having a gender, the four letter name for "God" that the Hebrews use, actually has two letters that define God's masculine attributes, and two letters that define the feminine ones. Generally, God is referred to in the masculine sense, but that practice is not constant in the whole Torah (Old testament). For example, the Jews have a word to describe "the manifestation of God's presence, that fills the universe". That word is a feminine descriptive word known as Shechinah.

In the past, a lot of pieces of scripture have been thrown out at the gay community as a way of  oppressing, alienating and hurting anyone that falls into that spectrum. Much of this comes from the book of Leviticus. But I was very happy to see that even that can be turned positive! This was some of  what was recited.

Congregation: We are your lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children.
Rabi: Do not seek vengeance nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. (Lev 19:18) 

Congregation: We are Elderly lesbians, bisexual, gay men and transgender people.
Rabi: You shall rise before the hoary head and show deference to the aged. (Lev. 19:32)

Congregation: We are lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender victims of gay bashing and murder.
Rabi: You shall not stand Idly by while your neighbour's blood is shed. (Lev. 19:16)

There was also a talented woman that come up and sang twice during the service. One thing I  happen to notice is how she rocked her body back and forth over the table at the front of the room. As a musician, I have known drummers who intentionally rock their bodies to help keep time. But this is the first time I have seen a singer do it. I have to say that I have really noticed that us Christians are really the odd-man-out when it comes to this whole rocking thing, we don't do a lot of it.  Jews do it, Muslims do it, heck, even the Buddhists and more!

Speaking of our friends the Muslims, I was reminded on how shockingly similar the two faiths are when I saw the Rabbi face the front of the room while he covered his head with his Tallit (prayer shawl) and starting praying and rocking while also looking right to left. The shape that the shawl on his head made reminded me strongly of the high-backed robes of Christian orthodox priests. Which kind of doesn't surprise me. Judaism is our foundation of the Christian faith, and the orthodox love sticking close to the foundation.

But when it comes to Islam and Judaism, It blows my mind more each day that I learn about these two faiths, and how they are so extremely similar in so many ways. They have much more in common than Christianity has in common with either of them! And the more I notice all of these similarities, the more I am baffled at how there are still such raging conflicts between the two groups when their commonalities are clearly stronger than their differences? But let's just leave the politics at the door for now.

After all this, we heard from our guest speaker from the conservative synagogue just down the street.

He started out by making the announcement that today was significant in the fact that on this day, 13 years ago, he graduated seminary and became a rabbi. This was of course followed by applause. He explained further, that the term "Conservative" when relating to his synagogue, describes the style of rituals they follow, and not necessarily his own political views. He remarked, "If you are conservative that is fine, just don't tell my congregation!".

He went on to speak more about his graduation day, and how he gave a speech, while also being in protest. He and many other students that day were wearing rainbow buttons over their hearts, along with their grad gowns. The school had refused to graduate any students that were openly gay from the seminary. The good news is this policy was lifted a few years after his graduation.

He also revealed that he has a gay brother who is married and living in Jerusalem with his partner. He is also proud to announce that his brother and his partner are the first gay couple officially recognized by the state.... for tax purposes. And on an even more interesting note... in Israel there is something called lactation privileges. This is given to the woman of a married couple which allows her to leave work a few hours early to better care for her children.  law requires that one person in a married couple must get these privileges. So his brother has been officially granted "lactation privileges" by the state. The rabbi mentioned that he is fairly sure that his brother is not lactating.

"If you are into super-fabulous sermons! This is not it!!!"

Then he went on to a brief sermon which I am sure that I have heard somewhere before. This sermon asks the question as to why was the Torah given in the desert?  There are two points with this: #1, the desert forces you to think, and #2, the desert is a no-mans land. It truly belongs to no one  , and is yet accessible to all at the same time. He interpenetrates this as Gods statement of equality. Yet equality can be hard to come by in this world. He reflected on the numbers of people that were counted as the Israelite's left Egypt. In the Torah, only men that were old enough to see battle were officially counted. After some number crunching, it has been calculated that over 2 million Israelite's, including many women and children, left Egypt. Yet only a fraction of those people were ever "counted " as being significant.

He further explained the sadness he feels for the "uncounted" as he revealed that he is in a multi-faith marriage with his wife and one child. Even with the difference in faith between him and his wife, they have a positive relationship where she actively encourages his Jewish faith. Despite all this, he feels hurt living with the reality, that his wife is not allowed to visit and participate at the synagogue to some degree. She may be allowed to visit, but because she is not Jewish, she is still excluded from many "members only" events. He admits that seeing the woman he loves being excluded from important holiday rituals in his spiritual life, pulls him away from his own faith.  In conclusion, he is asking for more interfaith events to be organized, so him and his wife have a space to be recognized in their faith and celebrate together.

After that was all said and done we went to the back of the room where we blessed the Challah (Jewish egg bread) laying hands on each other in a chain fashion while one person held the bread. And then we blessed the cup of wine.

Yes, this is where the Christian tradition of communion is based out of.
But this was no regular Challah. Most Challah is just your standard yellow braided egg bread. This Shabbat we had the special edition "Rainbow Challah" for pride week. It made my day very joyful!

After indulging in one of the most wonderful buffets of rainbow-and-sweet-everything I could not be happier! Over all it was a great time and I would recommend anyone who wants a taste of Jewish tradition to drop into Temple Beth Ora. They are very friendly, I promise!

Here is a photo of everyone hanging around the table at the back of the room.

And here is the front of the room.

Don't forget to Refresh your Nefesh!
Until next time, Shabbat Shalom Everyone!

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