Saturday, March 11, 2006

Shabbat Shalom

This morning, G and I visited our local Reform Jewish synagogue. They had a small Saturday morning prayer service, which was quite lovely, and very intimate. About 14 of us, including the rabbi and canter, basically recited prayers and sang hymns, for, oh, maybe about 45 minutes or so. Really, that's it, just reading and singing prayers, some in English, most in Hebrew, from this little book. No big deal, especially since I'm pretty good with the Hebrew. (I bought G a Rosetta Stone "Learn Hebrew" CD for his birthday last October and have gone through a few lessons with him.) And I must admit, it was nice seeing G in a yarmulke, with a talis wrapped around his shoulders. It was really nice.

The whole experience was really nice. We sat together in this half-circle surrounded by people we didn't know, but who weren't unfriendly, and prayed. Simple. And also a surprisingly intimate experience with my husband-to-be. A couple of times I'd get lost, as my prayer book was well-used, and had some pages missing and out of order. He'd get me back on track and we'd stifle giggles. I was better with the Hebrew than we was. More giggle stifling. But there was a palpable feeling of connection between us, me seeing a part of him that few have seen, me sharing his faith with him, him actually practicing it, and us standing up as a couple in this place, with these people. It was all very profound.

Afterward, we met with the Rabbi for a nice long chat. We talked about my having been married to a Jewish man before, and my disappointment at the lack of religion and spirituality in our lives, and how I'd realized I needed a spiritual community in which to practice my faith, and a partner who felt the same. G smiled at me, and I blushed. We also talked of how I've been searching for the right way to define my faith, or the best path for me to follow. I spoke of my membership at the Unitarian Universalist church and my love of Moon Circling. We talked about the political problems between myself and my Christian family. We talked about feminism and the place of women in Reform versus Conservative Judaism. We talked about G and I wanting to raise Jewish kids, in a Jewish house, and my continuing struggle for identity. We talked of how I have been surrounded by Jewish friends and boyfriends for so many years, and how comfortable I felt with them, and how we seem to share so many common beliefs, spiritually and otherwise.

I mentioned that I had researched a lot of Jewish holidays, just because I thought they were cool, and felt a connection to the rituals. "I once did a Passover meal with my ex-Mother-in-Law," I said, "but since my divorce I've been researching Rosh Hashana, Chanukah, Tu B'Shevat, and Shavuot. I've also downloaded and learned a lot of Hebrew prayers for those specific holidays, and made some traditional ritual foods."

"You did this on your own?" the rabbi asked.

"Yeah..." I said. "I just liked them."

The rabbi told me a story. Some people say that, for some of those who are not raised in Jewish families, there is a latent Jewish spirit within them, which is reignited, like a flame, when they experience Jewish ways.

I bit my lip, fighting back tears.

I remembered in 2003, when I was part of the Weaver's group, and I wrote those songs, what my Jewish Weaver-Sister said to me at the time. One of the songs I wrote was very long, very epic, and very dramatic. I rocked back and forth with my eyes closed as I sang it. It was about the creation of the universe, the earth, the rise of humanity, the destruction of civilization, and the endurance and sort of rebirth of humanity. I heard an entire orchestra behind me as I wrote it, and as I sang it. The melody wandered in places, and there is some primitive wailing in parts. I was told, at the time I presented my song to the group, that the cadence of my voice and the movement of the melody sounded very Hebrew. My Jewish Weaver-Sister actually invited me to attend services at her temple, so I could hear what she was talking about. I've never heard Hebrew music before.

I never got a chance to attend services with her, but my interest was peaked. I got to know a Klezmer singer at my church, and we had a conversation about tribal music from various cultures.

I had placed those primitive vocalizations in my song because they simply felt right. I felt, at the time, that this was my Irish side, getting in touch with my roots. A lot of celtic singers wail and yodel, and this goes far back in Irish Traditional music. It’s a vocalization that seems to come from the depths of your soul. Native Americans have similar sounds, often uttered during prayer rituals. Apparently the Hebrews have the same thing, and Jewish music has never lost this traditional sound. The minor keys, the flipping back and forth between a few notes, the holding of certain notes over others… it’s the same mystical sound and feel to music that you hear in Gaelic and Native American sacred song.

I keep coming back to the connections between Ancient Judaism and the Celtic Pagan beliefs that I’ve so much enjoyed exploring over the last few years. Now I have a musical connection as well.

The rabbi seemed to glow with welcome. He is a soft-spoken man, appearing about my age. He has a wife and three small children. God is in everything he speaks of, but not in an offensive or pushy way. He told us he’d been sick recently – his voice rasped – and apologized for not shaking our hands. He said normally, he’d be hugging and kissing us in welcome. His face is round and smiley and his eyes are wide, like a child’s. I felt this was a good person for me to ask all my questions, and I think I did touch on every concern I have with Judaism, and how my life and my values and practices work with it.

Of course we couldn’t go in depth with everything, but it was a good, long talk. I have to say, the one thing I value most in the world is a good, long talk about important things with people from whom I can learn.

We’ll be meeting again.


Lee said...

Wow! Wonderful post! I was raised in a reformed Jewish family. I'm basically non-praticing (I haven't been to services in ages now) but still consider myself Jewish (but with some Buddhist ideology thrown in). (Also am a Celtic music fan)

This reminded me of an article that appeared back in December in the local arts weekly that may be of interest (it's on a cantor who is trying to preserve Jewish liturgical music and set up an archive):

Also, I know someone (Catherine) who converted to Judaism a couple of years back. Her blog is:

She's a nurse and lives in Matawan, NJ. Very nice person.

Steven said...

I envy your spirituality and faith. I was raised a Catholic, and don't feel any connection to it in my adult life. I have felt over the past few years that I have faith, I just don't know where it is. This is one area where my life is lacking.