Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue, where Leonard Cohen celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. Courtesy of drhguy.com
I recently went to my first Bar Mitzvah, which seems to me a very strange thing to say. Purely because it was nowhere on my radar. There are some places you end up in life and you can say “Yup, saw that coming”, but other times you look around you and say “Wow, how did I get here?” This blog is going to show my utter and complete ignorance of the Jewish faith. Thank you to my Jewish friends for putting up with me. Shalom.
Where to begin? It was quite an enjoyable experience, however it was very, how should I say this, curious for me. Let me explain. It was like going to see a film because a friend has told you how good it is. You go, but you have no idea what the film is about, you have no expectations, you just go and wait to see what’ll happen.
For example, did you know that men and women do not sit together in a Synagogue? I didn’t, so guess who almost went in the wrong door. Thanks to a very nice woman who happened to be going in at the same time I learned this in the nick of time.
So I get seated, I have my kippah on, I’m good, until I realize that I’ve forgotten my phone in my jacket back at the coat check. That’ll never do. Up I jump, buzz back to the coat check and explain to the nice young man at the counter that I’ve forgotten my phone in my coat, which I would like. He looks at me like I have lost my mind! He says to me “It is Shabbat,” and stares at me. I look back at him, he looks back at me. Awkward pause. Blink, blink. I turn and walk away. I have no idea what he is talking about but I am smart enough to realize that I am not getting my phone right now. (Turns out Sat. is the holy day in the Jewish faith and they do not use electronics, found out later)
Back to the Synagogue with me.
As it turns out there is little to no English spoken during a Bar Mitzvah, well at least the one I went to, AND it’s a musical! Almost everything is sung, but it is sung in Hebrew. I will be honest, I spent most of my time wondering what was going on. I want to thank the three older gentlemen who were sitting behind me. Once they realized I was as out of place as a penguin on the beach, they gave me the heads up about a few things so I didn’t make a complete ass out of myself.
Getting back to the singing, it looks incredibly difficult. We’re not talking Church hymns here, where everyone jumps in and it really doesn’t matter what you sound like. We are talking one singer with the Rabbi directing, then everyone jumps in at certain points. It’s all very choreographed and cultured. So I sat there wondering how does everyone know when to jump in and stand up, what words to say, when to raise their hands, etc. etc. After about two hours I realized why. These people are here for the long haul!
I should have caught on when I asked my friend what time I had to be there.
I grew up Protestant United. If our Sunday morning services went over an hour the church elders started to cough politely and look at their watches while fanning themselves with the Service Handout papers. When I asked my friend what time I should be there for the service she said anytime between 9 and 10 AM. I thought ‘strange’ but ok. I got there at 9:30am, figuring right in the middle should be sweet. I think it was 1:30pm when we walked out. Jewish people do not mess around when it comes to Synagogue, let me tell you. I don’t know if it was only because of the Bar Mitzvah, or because the Rabbi had a full house (like I said, I had no idea what was going on) but we were there and the Rabbi was making it count. So yes it was long, but I have to admit they pack a bunch in there. There was singing (lots of singing), laughing, clapping, candy throwing, the list goes on.
The thing that stands out in my mind the most was the congregation, perhaps this is not the right word for the people that attend a Synagogue, but it what I was taught. They were beautiful. From the moment I walked into the Synagogue in my sweater vest and no tie (you think my friend would have told me it was a full on dark suit affair) I was welcomed. Almost every person who passed me, old and young alike, stopped to shake my hand, wish me peace, and welcome me. I left with the feeling that this wasn’t just something they pulled out of the closet once and awhile, dusted off and put back, this was what these people lived.
Truth be told it made me nostalgic for simpler days when I was part of a church, a congregation that cared about each other.