My First Shabbat Service

Before the Service

I’m writing this in the hour or so before I have to catch the bus to attend my first Shabbat service. I have all the standard worries – what do I wear? Where will I sit? What if I sit in the wrong place? What if I look stupid when I can’t follow the prayers or the music? Ultimately, I may well say or do something wrong. And I probably will look stupid. It’s inevitable, I think, considering I’m walking into an environment that is 100% unfamiliar to me, on my own, with no one to guide me along. But that’s okay (I think!). It’s all part of the learning process. I’m not sure if I want to sort of show up, hide in the background/go unnoticed, observe and slip out… or introduce myself, talk to people, put myself out there. I’ll probably figure it out while I’m there.

Honestly, I’m not as nervous this morning as I have been throughout this past week. I’m not sure why that nervousness is gone, but I’m glad. (That said, it’ll probably hit me full force when I get there. I have a decent dose of social anxiety; new situations, new people, can be very hard for me.)

I wonder how different it’ll feel, if it’ll feel different at all, attending a Shabbat service over, say, a Christian service. I attended a private Christian school from grade 7 to 12, and it was… well, it was awful. It completely changed my perspective of Christianity (and not in a good way). I haven’t been able to attend a Christian service without extreme anxiety in years. The last time I even tried I ended up leaving part way through the music at the beginning to sit in my mom’s car and wait for the service to finish. I’m desperately hoping that this is different. I think it will be, though.

Well, here goes nothing.

After the Service

I’m home now from the service and I know, technically using my laptop on Shabbat is a no-go. However, I’m phasing myself into the Shabbat thing slowly, and I really wanted to get my thoughts down before I forgot about them. By the time I start the classes in September I’m hoping I’ll be fully-Shabbat observant. Or at least much closer than I am now.

First impression when I walked in the door – people were very friendly. And while no one came over to me immediately, despite how lost I must have looked, when I went to ask the greeter where I was supposed to go as it was my first time there he was so quick to grab a passing member who was friendly and more than happy to guide me upstairs, find me a place to sit, and later come over to make sure I didn’t have any questions/knew I was welcome. I’m glad I asked for help – my overall impression of the synagogue might have been different if I hadn’t.

So I went up to sanctuary (is that what it’s called? I don’t know…) and got settled in. By the time the service started the place was pretty packed, and people continued to steam in as it went on.

I love the sound of Hebrew, and I love all the singing. The Rabbi was warm and engaging, cracking jokes and smiling often. I didn’t know what was going on, but at least he called out pages so that unfamiliar people like me could follow along. Not that I could read the Hebrew, or even the phonetics. But still, it was nice to have something to follow.

I’ve always been so impressed with the reverence that the Jewish people have for the Torah. When it was pulled out and walked around the congregation people reached out to touch it with their prayer shawls and then kissed the fabric that had touched the holy text. It was pretty spectacular to watch. The other thing I loved about the service was that it was so full of life. That’s something that, according to the reading I’ve done, is so important to the Jews. Life, and joy. Despite all the awful things that have happened to them, their religious ceremonies are inherently joyful. There was singing, and clapping, and laughing.

The most difficult part for me was having this longing to be part of them, and knowing I’m not. Yet. Sitting there almost felt like pretending to be something I wasn’t, but something that I wanted to be. They were doing a luncheon type of thing afterwards, and I was invited to stay, but staying felt wrong somehow. Like I hadn’t earned that yet. I was an outside among those who have historically (and even today) been the outsiders. But that’s okay, because I will be one of them some day. It’s kind of difficult to explain that feeling any better than this, and maybe it doesn’t make sense, but it’s a sort of stream-of-consciousness reflection. I may come in and tidy it up later, or not.

At any rate, I’ll be going back next week, and hopefully by the time the class begins in September I’ll be familiar enough with the rhythm of the service to be able to maybe even participate.

P.S. Despite my fear that I would feel the same thing at this service that I did at Christian ones (crippling anxiety, to the point of having to leave), I did not, and I was fine. It was a wonderful experience over all.

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