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Isn't it pretty?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Through an Outsider's Lens

About a month ago, a women who I work with at my internship told me that she really wanted to go to a Jewish synagogue. She was just fascinated by the idea of it and really wanted to experience it. So, I told her that she could come with me the next time I decided to attend. She was ecstatic.

After making this offer, I started pondering. First of all, she was not going to understand a word of what was said. This friend of mine isn't even a native English speaker - her first language is Spanish. And at the synagogue I go to, even the rabbi's "English" is interspersed with so much Hebrew and Yiddish that I have trouble following along sometimes. And that's the sermon! The rest of the service is all in Hebrew - certainly my friend would be bored out of her mind and completely lost if she went to services with me.

Also, the separation of men and women - what would she think of that? Would she be upset by having to sit in the back half of the synagogue, behind the men? Luckily, my synagogue at least has a mechitzah (partition) that the women can see through, but still, I would think it would be confusing to someone who is not used to it.

I explained all these reservations to her, but she was adamant; she wanted to experience it. She's a very spiritual, religious woman in her faith, she thinks Jews are God's Chosen People and she wanted to see how we worshiped. Nothing more to it than that. So I told her that she could come.

In the week leading up to her joining me, she was having dreams about what it would be like. She was SO excited. She was telling everyone about it and just could not contain her enthusiasm. I tried to tell her not to get too excited, that it probably was not going to be like in her dreams, and she assured me that she knew that, that she was just so looking forward to it.

She quizzed me on what to wear so that she was modest enough, whether she needed to cover her hair, whether she should carry her purse. Friday afternoon, when I spoke to her to tell her exactly where to go, she asked if she could bring relatives. I explained to her that she could, but that if she brought any men, they would not be able to sit with us.

Saturday morning, I walk up to my synagogue, and there are four people standing in front waiting for me, very excited. My friend, her sister and both of their husbands are there to attend the service. Her sister and brother-in-law had driven in from Connecticut for the occasion! And it turned out that her brother-in-law was actually beginning to learn Hebrew, because it's the Holy language.

My first obstacle was that the men didn't have yarmulkes to wear. Apparently, my synagogue doesn't have any extras lying around either, so I quickly ran to a friend who lives very close by to borrow some. After that, we went into the sanctuary, my friend and her sister with me, their husbands to the men's side to fend for themselves.

Throughout the service, I gave short explanations to my friend, who was absolutely mesmerized. I have to admit, my synagogue is a beautiful place, with the stained glass windows and a majestic ark. She loved the singing and was touched at the end when the children were leading the closing songs.

Afterwards, we went upstairs to the kiddush where my friend and her sister were literally in tears describing how special they felt the experience was. They were blown away by the reverence and service shown by the congregants. My friend said she was just so moved by the Torah reading and she had not wanted to let go of the copy of the Chumash that I had given her. She loved the fact that the children were there participating as well and the fact that these traditions had been kept alive for so many years and years.

I told her how nice it was to get an outsider's perspective, because I take it for granted. To have someone else comment on how special the experience was made me try to look at it through those lenses.

I have to say that I was very pleased by how friendly everyone was to my friends. Many people walked up and introduced themselves and wished them a good Shabbos. I was very glad that it was such a positive experience.


  • Wow! That is really so nice. Pretty cool for a non-Jew to be so touched by the service. What a Kiddush H-shem you performed.

    By Blogger SaraK, at 3/24/08, 12:10 PM  

  • I was so worried the post would end with some chillul Hashem. I'm glad the opposite happened.

    By Blogger smoo, at 3/25/08, 7:04 PM  

  • This is a wonderful post and a good lesson that reminds us what an amazing religion we have.

    By Blogger Batya, at 3/30/08, 8:29 AM  

  • What a reassuring post! Now if we could all feel like that - we'd make some progress as a nation!

    By Blogger toby, at 3/30/08, 12:53 PM  

  • What a great story!

    By Blogger Gila, at 3/30/08, 5:09 PM  

  • Nice post.

    I had a similar experience when I invited Christian friends from southern Arizona to come visit.

    We were visiting from Israel and they were going to drive up to Phoenix to see us on Shabbat.

    I invited them to come a bit early and see what our services are like. I explained that synagogue ends around noon, and suggested they come at 10:30 or 11:00. They asked when services start. I told them 9:00, but that we probably wouldn't even get there until 9:30 or so. Well, when we got there, our friends were already there.

    They had woken up at 5:00 in the morning, so that they could leave by 6:00 and get there on time! They found the services fascinating!

    It was really interesting for us all.


    By Blogger RivkA with a capital A, at 4/1/08, 7:31 AM  

  • I love seeing the ordinary in the world as beautiful through someone else's eyes.

    By Blogger come running, at 4/2/08, 9:53 AM  

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