When we first got in, we first just walked around and marveled at how modern and clean the temple felt. People were starting to come in, and greet each other. It was obvious that the community was very close; everyone seemed to know one another. My friend and I were immediately picked out as being visitors, and so some people came to us and wanted to know who we were, and what we were doing there. Upon hearing my reason for being at the temple, a man kindly offered to first explain to us a little about what was going on. First of all he began to tell us that every synagogue must have three things in order for it to be considered holy. One of these things is the Ark, the cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept. The second thing is a sanctuary lamp or an altar lamp; a light that shall burn continuously. The third thing he mentioned was a 7 branched candelabrum, or menorah.
We walked into where the service was being held, and considering that this specific temple is one of the largest in the state, the room was huge. I was told that the congregation was made of over 300 Jewish families, and there was room for everyone to be comfortable. The pews were set up, and they were all blue behind the rows of pews, blue single chairs were set up. The chairs were all set up to face the ark, which was surrounded by beautiful, white blue and grey brick looking stain glass. Again the building is very new and modern, so the lights where very interesting shaped, they reminded me of tire wheels. The wall on the side of the room had slits of the same stain glass that surrounded near the front of the room where the arc resided. The Star of David and a menorah were also present on the walls. The ceiling was very interesting; it was wood pleats and reminded me of an olden wooden sleigh.
The Rabbi who was conducting the service was Rabbi Joshua Aaronson. He was a little younger than I was expecting, I would put him maybe around 35 or so. He was wearing a full length white robe with a Tallit around his shoulders, which was a more yellowish collar, and had what looked like leaves to be on it. He was also wearing a Yamaka. He greeted the congregation by saying Shalom which means welcome. I noticed that there was different books all around, there were prayer books, called Siddur which contained Hebrew, and English translations, there was also the Chumash which is the book that has the torah readings in it, each week a different part of the Torah is read, starting in Genesis and going through to Deuteronomy, once the torah has been read all the way through, it starts over again in Genesis. Rabbi Aaronson spoke to the congregation and told some stories about his wife and family, the whole congregation seemed to enjoy him, and he was quite funny.
Rabbi Aaronsons sermon was about happiness, he talked about how he had never really thought about the idea of happiness and Judaism going together, of course he was happy, and had studied the religion for many years, the persecution of the Jews, the nature of God, Faith in God, the rules, the laws, he joked that through all the movies he had seen about Judaism he had never left in a happy mood, with Fiddler on the Roof being the exception. He talked about how he realized that happiness was actually found many places in Judaism, the first of which would be the Tanakh or Jewish bible, one of the sons of Jacob is named Asher, meaning happy. He talks about how the word happy is found most often in Psalms and Proverbs, and mentions that the very first word in the very first Psalms is happy, he then repeats the first Psalm, first in Hebrew and then in English.
He explains the Psalms which basically says that a person is happy when he or she has a strong moral compass, and is not persuaded by liars and cheaters. He mentions Psalms 84 and mentions that the Psalms is so important that it is the first phrase in one of the most important prayers of the Shabbat, the prayer in English roughly means The Happy Prayer. The point to his message was that being close to God, and more so being religious and studying God and religion brings people happiness. He talks about a poll that was done with 600,000 Americans which showed that people who considered themselves religious or very religious said they were much happier than those who said they were moderately religious or not religious at all.
My favorite part of the service was when the Torah was read. The reading of the Torah was done in the middle of the service, Rabbi Aaronson opened the Ark, and it is custom for everyone to stand when the Ark is opened, to show respect. Everyone rose and chanted a verse from the Torah, which I was told again shows their recognition of the importance of the Torah. The different Torahs were all neatly placed in the Ark, which beautiful covers on them, while the Rabbi took them out, I noticed he carried them to the altar almost like a new born baby, which makes sense considering how sacred the Torah is in the religion. He took off the coverings and there were two other people around him who were the Torah checkers they make sure that whoever is doing the reading is not making any mistakes and is there to correct if a mistake is made reading the torah.
They carried the torah around the room and people bowed when it came near them, I was told that I did not have to bow if I did not feel comfortable, but felt I wouldnt get the full experience if I didnt. There was a whole intriguing ritual in reading the torah, a man went up to do an Aliyah which is Hebrew for going up, this is like a blessing on the torah before the reader reads that weeks passage. I had never heard Hebrew spoken before attending this service, let alone heard another language in a church so that was very interesting. I had also never seen a book that was so sacred, of course Christians have the bible but it is not transported around the room, while people bow to it. I thought that showed a lot of tradition and strength in the religion. It is clearly a religion that is very important to those who follow it.
I would go into more detail about the torah reading, but I left my notes and my program on the pew when I left and didnt realize until much too late. The book that allowed us to follow along the torah reading was very great, and I was pleasantly surprised that they did the reading in English as well as in Hebrew.
The service ended and people came up to me and shook my hand and of course as always, wanted to know what I thought about it. I have to admit this was one of the most intriguing church experiences I have ever had. The sermon was interesting, the people were great, and there was such a feeling of being close, close to one another and close to God and to a religion that I was very overwhelmed with positive emotion. I am very glad that I attended this service, and am glad this class has allowed me to open my mind to different religions.