Monday, September 27, 2010

sixth visit: Sept 25th 2010 Orthodox Judaism

9:15am saturday
Congregation Poale Zedeck
6318 Phillips Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15217

squirrel hill south

As mentioned in my last post, Carol, whom I met the night before at Bet Tikvah’s service invited me to Poale Zedeck’s worship. A gift from someone who had just introduced herself minutes before. I can’t be more grateful for an opportunity to attend an Orthodox service with someone who is able to answer my questions and brief me on observances: Do you have a scarf that you could bring to cover your hair? Oh, and it’s best to wear something with sleeves. “Collarbones and elbows should not be visible,” chimed another contributing to the conversation. “But there are always the ‘weird visitors’ and everyone knows they are just the ‘weird visitors’ and you could just be one of them.” Hhmmm. I think I’ll always be exactly that no matter how hard I try, but I do want to experience as fully as possible.

So between 10pm and 11:30pm that night, I make the post-service addition to my dress: a head scarf. Gather a ¾ sleeve cardigan from my closet the next morning. At 9:30am I leave my bag in the coatroom of the synagogue. One more element to note—no bags.

Except for the sermon, which is the only time the Rabbi actively leads the service, all is in Hebrew. Amazingly beautiful. Large number-cards hanging on the wall, are changed periodically by hand to indicate page-where-a-bouts in the prayer book. Tallit (prayer shawls) are much more significant in size than compared to the Hillel service, and worn only by men. All are mostly white with stripes and patterns of blue except for one. Carol is certain this man has bought his rainbow striped tallit in Mexico, where she lives. She sees them every day there, sold as secular blankets. "He simply added the tassels," she says. “Which I think is very, very cool.” Concurred.

Women sit in a specific section of the synagogue—the balcony. Carol explains that for her it does not signify inequality, but focus. If she were sitting with her husband, she would be thinking about him instead of concentrating on prayers. Verses I remember from my own up-bringing are spoken in Hebrew. Children explore the room freely, one rolling down the alter steps, as if down a grassy hill. Another wanders to the very front of the alter and dances in the Rabbi’s swinging tallit. The Rabbi swaying in prayer, pauses to playfully acknowledge the boy. “That,” Carol said, “stops at age 12.” Isn’t that when children are discouraged from drawing expressively, too? Intuitively, I mean, with wandering lines on paper? I’ve read something about that once. Thankfully not all of us listen.

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