In my lifetime, I've visited numerous different Christian churches. I've even been inside Buddhist and Hindu temples, as well as a mosque. Never a synagogue. I remedied that omission Friday night by attending services at Easton's Temple Covenant of Peace. I wanted to show solidarity with my Jewish brothers and sisters. It was an amazing and wonderful night.
Friday night, you may recall, was rather miserable. Torrents of rain caused flooding on several roads. There was even a tornado warning. Was Someone trying to keep me away? Would I be hit by giant hailstones as I made my way in? I saw an elderly couple in the parking lot. I decided to stick close to them, figuring that the Almighty would let me slide if I at least looked like I was helping them. It worked.
Once inside, I was floored by the literature available. I grabbed a copy of Hakol, the Lehigh Valley Jewish monthly newspaper. It is both informative and very well written. Cantor Jill Packman, who told me I could sit anywhere, handed me a copy of the prayer book. It's called a Siddur, and you read it backwards.
That's pretty much the way I do everything.
The front of the synagogue is decorated with a "Tree of Life" mural, which made me think about what had happened the previous week. Unknown to me, "Tree of Life" is a symbol used by Jewish, Christian and Muslim mystics.
Reading the prayer book backwards is mystical enough for me.
As people trickled in, they greeted me with "Shabbat Shalom." Once the ninth person said this to me, I finally understood.
While waiting for services to start, Rabbi Melody Davis came up and introduced herself. She even invited me to have dinner with them. Apparently, the first Friday of every month is "Dinner with the Rabbi." Though the food smelled great, I had to decline because I had just finished eating.
I was by no means the only gentile in the crowd. Several Christians and Muslims came. Rabbi Davis thanked us during the service, and even read a letter from a Catholic priest in Easton, expressing his solidarity.
The service itself was quite cheerful. There was a lot of singing. Cantor Jill Pakman has a beautiful voice and sings with passion. People joined in. Because it was mostly Hebrew, I hummed while reading the English translations.
There is a similarity to the Catholic mass. At the beginning of the mass, we are told to greet someone. We're supposed to say, "May the peace of Christ be with you." I usually say, "Peace on you!" This often sounds like I'm saying something else and really does piss off the person I greet. The Jewish service has a greeting, too, but you're supposed to go around and talk to a bunch of people you don't know. For me, that was mostly everyone.
Rabbi Davis gave an election speech. It consisted of two words.
Part of the service also included a short speech by congregant Sara Camuti. She was born in Poland in 1945. Her mother and father made it through the war with assumed names. Her father even had some sort of job at the SS, where he would learn information and give it to the resistance. She spoke of her family's journey to the U.S. with the assistance of HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). Today, HIAS stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety, and freedom.
As he service ended, everyone was invited to share in a small cup of wine and some bread. Because I'm an alkie, I skipped that part, too.
The only way to rid this world of ignorance is to speak out against it and embrace people who might be different from us.
The Hakol, incidentally, had a story about the 57% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the US last year. Some of my readers tried to minimize this reality by saying that Jews are confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Wrong. The statistics gathered by ADL are assaults, vandalism and harassment.
Though Donald Trump himself is no anti-Semite, he appeals to people's darkest fears and prejudices. This emboldens white supremacists. But guess what? Anti-Semitism exists among so-called liberals, too. This is evidenced by the recent arrest of a black Democratic activist who was caught in Brooklyn as he vandalized a temple by writing “Hitler” and “Die Jewish rats” on its wall.
As Liel Leibovitz observes,
When the Democratic Party’s leaders, including a former president and a former attorney general, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Louis Farrakhan on the stage at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, is it any wonder that some are prone to listen when Farrakhan refers to Jews as termites?