The first step on my path to Judaism was attending my first worship service. At that point in my Adventure Girl journey, it was important that I go alone.
So on a Friday night, I went to the nearest reform synagogue, took a deep breath, and I walked in. I almost left right away because the person greeting me said what I perceived to be a secret code, and I didn’t know the response. (They said, “Shabbat Shalom,” and I responded with a nervous “hi.”) He handed me a book and into the sanctuary I went.
I stepped into the room and looked around. That’s when I remembered something about men and women sitting in different places, and I turned around and went back to the greeter.
“Is there a special place where I’m supposed to sit?”
“Preferably not in a seat where someone is already sitting.”
I smiled and walked back in.
Down towards the front I saw a woman about my age sitting alone, so I asked her if the seat next to her was available. She smiled and welcomed me to join her.
She asked if I’d been to that synagogue before. I told her I this was my first time at any synagogue. She was intrigued, so I told her I was there exploring my options.
She thought that I was brave for coming alone, and she agreed to help me through the service.
Pure luck brought me to a very rare “Ask/Stump the Rabbi” service where people were invited to ask challenging questions. I wasn’t used to being able to question a religious leader, and this was a huge plus in my book.
Thanks to my wonderful guide, I made it through the service without embarrassing either of us. Although there was a meet and greet afterwards (an oneg), I was a bit overwhelmed and went home, pleased with what I saw and for going at all.
Years later I ran into the woman whom I sat next to at a Jewish social event. I thanked her for making my first Jewish experience a positive one. She had no way of knowing what a huge impact her kindness had had. I was glad to be able to share my experience and gratitude with her.
When did you last try something completely new? or Have you ever been able to thank someone years after they did something for you?
8 thoughts on “First Synogogue”
I have gotten to thank someone after the fact and what a wonderful feeling that is to have. What is worse, perhaps, is the opposite. When you’ve wronged someone, friend or stranger, and they disappear. In the meantime you carry the regret and hope to bump into them again to make things right again.
Ryan, you are right about the regret that comes with not being able to apologize. It is definitely something I carry with me, hoping I can see the person again and free us both from the bad memory.
I’m glad you’ve also had the opposite experience: being able to thank someone much later. I’ve even written to some of my high school teachers years after graduation when I found myself using something they taught me.
What a great story. I’ve never been in a synagogue before so that would be an interesting experience. I’m glad you found someone to help you along. It’s always harder when you do it alone so even someone you don’t know who can help is great.
A guide definitely made it a much less confusing experience, especially since not all of it is in English. Later this year I have a post about going to an Orthodox service – a very different experience. I’m saving that one for the High Holy Days (in September). Yup, I’m that much of a planner!
Being grateful is what our generation always has hard time with. But we should definitely thank people for help any time that happens.
I wholeheartedly agree. Thanks for stopping by, Elena!
We never know, do we, what a small kindness can mean to someone?
I was particularly interested in this post, because I’ve been toying with the idea of going to a local synagogue for their meditation service. It’s hard to find one. Lots of church services. But I want a place, non-denominational really, to go for group meditation. And a synagogue in town has them – twice a week.
I haven’t done it yet. I found them on my GPS and I even circled the parking lot. But didn’t go in. Have you been to a meditation service at your synagogue? Would I feel like I’d invaded something where I didn’t belong?
I highly recommend trying out the meditation service. As a matter of fact, I have attended my synagogue’s meditation service and really enjoyed it. At least the one I attended was not religious at all. It started with a guided meditation to get us into the groove, and then there was a chiming sound to help us return to the real world.
While each synagogue is different, I’ve never encountered a feeling of not belonging. Some I haven’t liked the service, but I never was given the impression that I shouldn’t be there.
Especially with something like the meditation service, which is very different, I imagine that they are trying different things to attract different people. They are looking to bring more people in, so I can’t imagine them trying to push anyone away.
Take a deep breath and go for it. If you have a friend who would be up for the adventure, bring him/her along. Otherwise, just remember the words of advice I was given: 1) don’t sit in a chair where someone else is already seated, and 2) if you go on Friday night or Saturday morning, the secret password is “Shabbat Shalom” (which means “Sabbath Peace”).