The best part about college, among many other fabulous things, is the chance to get out of my comfort zone and dive right into new cultures and experiences. The latest opportunity to escape my comfort zone was to attend a service at a Jewish synagogue.
For most this wouldn’t be a big deal, but for a girl from a town of 9,000 people with about 99.98 percent of those people being Caucasian Christians, the chance to attend a Jewish Shabbat service wasn’t exactly an opportunity that came around very often. Needless to say, when I saw World Religions on the list of classes to take for my international studies minor, I jumped at the chance. Part of the learning experience of this class is to get out and experience other religions. Throughout the semester we will be required to attend two other religious ceremonies or rituals – one Muslim and one other of our choosing.
After hearing a horror story from a classmate who called another Jewish synagogue in town and got a very pointed “no” when she asked if she and a few others could attend their service, I was a little reluctant to call random synagogues across Portland to see if I and two other students could attend a service. Finally I decided I just needed to take the first step and make a call. Much to my surprise, the woman on the other end of the line was very happy that I was interested in attending a service and was quick to inform me that it wasn’t necessary to call them as they gladly welcome the public at their gatherings. I had been that stressed about this phone call, so just to get that response was a big relief.
When the day of the service finally arrived, I dressed in my ankle-length skirt and long sleeve sweater and headed into Portland for a day of cultural gleaning. After much debate whether or not that “No Parking” sign was for our parking spot, or the one in front, or whether or not the car would fit in the tiny city street parking spot, we finally headed into the synagogue.
We walked through the maze of the building, and found exactly where we needed to be. The room was gorgeous. It wasn’t the stained glass room that I had seen online, but it still took my breath away. High ceilings, plenty of light, gold accents, a stained glass window; I could have easily sat in there all day admiring the architecture. As we were five minutes late, thanks to the ever-confusing City of Portland parking situation, we had to quickly take our seats, find our Torahs and pretend like we knew what we were doing.
The service was over two hours long. But I was amazed by the beautiful room, the interesting traditions taking place, and the Jewish prayers, chants and songs, so the time flew by. Fortunately, this week’s message was on the Ten Commandments, something that as a Christian I was very familiar with. Both rabbis related the Ten Commandments to our daily lives, explaining to us the importance of each one. The rabbis also took time to explain the importance of reading Hebrew correctly; that even taking a breath in the wrong spot can mess up the entire meaning of the verse. We also learned the importance of the rituals, like kissing your own Torrah and then tapping it on the synagogue’s Torrah to symbolize that the Torrah doesn’t just belong to the rabbi or the church, but to the Jewish people.
After the service ended, the rabbi approached the three of us to ask if we had any questions, and even told us to e-mail him or the other rabbi if we had any questions while working on our assignments.
All in all, my journey to a Jewish synagogue was a good experience. I appreciate the fact that I am encouraged to get out of my comfort zone, to experience new cultures and to gain a better understanding of those in the world around us.