Friday, May 20, 2011

sixty-first visit: May 20th 2011 Conservative Judaism

7:30pm friday
New Light Congregation
1700 Beechwood Blvd, Pittsburgh PA 15217
squirrel hill

Except for three days of the year at the First Lutheran Church, apparently there are no services offered in the German language in Pittsburgh. This surprises me, as there is a church in Baltimore (my previous home city) that has such every Sunday. As opposed to Baltimore, Pittsburgh has a Germantown. And quite a significant German ethnic stronghold.

So instead, I have decided to attend Jewish services until I leave for Germany. And, if I can fit it in, one observance of Christian-services-past, where I’ll simply sit and think about what once happened in “that” spot. Since I’ll probably be doing a lot of that during my travels, in the general sense. The known history of the US is so short. You can't do that in quite the same way here.

Today, before services:
~ Regarding Israeli-Palestine negotiations, I learned that Obama “declared that the prevailing borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war …should be the basis of a deal.” (NYT) This involves retreat on the part of Israel.

~ As mentioned, I am about to spend time at an artist residency in Germany. Today I have been exchanging emails with another artist who served the same residency last summer. We have only made each others' electronic acquaintance (as opposed to an in-person hello). I began with banal questions about electrical adapters and internet. Eventually, our conversation turned to include that fact that her work also is inspired by spiritual belief and practice. I am looking forward to working on gatherings (video and ink drawings) while in Schwandorf. In addition to the fact that my mother’s family's Christian faith is German in origin. (see first visit)

Today at services:
~ I enter the room. Not a moment passes before a congregant darts across the room to hand me his open prayer book, and returns to the front of the room to fetch another for himself.

~ There are nineteen worshipers present. No one is afraid to give me a good honest look. Which means no one will be afraid to talk to me. I look forward.

~ Homily: Rabbi Perlman begins by stating that he will not talk politics today except to acknowledge President Obama’s stance and to say, “It is difficult to be an American Jew today.” After 10 minutes of talking politics, he reminds us that he is not going to talk politics. Have I mentioned I experience more laughter in Judaism than in any other faith? Even considering the history. Perhaps, at times, in order to survive the history—I’ve heard it said before within the community.

~ L’kha Dodi
Come, my beloved, to meet the bride,
and let us welcome the presence of Shabbat.

Arise! Leave from the midst of the turmoil;
Long enough have you sat in the valley of tears,

We shall rejoice and sing happily.

And as the last verse is sung, we turn 180 degrees to face the door of the sanctuary, to welcome “Queen Shabbat,” as she arrives.

~ I think of Loring Cornish, a Baltimore artist, who spoke to my Obsessions class. I remember him talking about a piece of his, which addresses the use of the word “Jew” and his intent to reveal and re-establish the beauty of identity after so much persecution. He is not Jewish, but understands strife from an African American perspective.

~ Two candles are lit. A gesture: two hands cupped over the flames, as if to gathering the smoke, wafting toward self, both hands to forehead, pausing there. So similar to the gesture I have done several times over during Hindu pujahs.

After the service, over tea, coffee and homemade sweets:
~ It is explained to me that during the service, wine and grape juice is offered to congregants in celebration, in welcome of Sabbath. Though, actually, the first person I ask is unable to answer this question; not sure. I love that she is unable to answer. At this point it is such a part of her life that it does not matter. But the meaning exists just the same, unscathed. As is often the case in my experiencing these rituals. As far as performing acts without fully understanding the meaning—something hard for me to avoid completely, no matter how much (how little, really) time I have to research—my rule to myself is that I do nothing visitors should not do, and I do nothing that feels insincere to me; nothing that feels like I am "pretending".

~ And it is explained that candles are lit to initiate the evening, to welcome holiness. Similar to my understanding of Hindu prayer ceremonies. But in Hinduism it is often a full-on fire, and specifically to invite the presence of the G-ds.

~ Anne mentions that Rabbi Perlman is rather new to the congregation, and when he arrived at New Light, he brought with him new melodies to the familiar chanted Hebrew; his notes were different than the previous Rabbi's. So, there is more than one way, even within the same branch of Judaism. Same overall meaning. And—I dare say—(everything) from the same root beginning. Vielleicht.

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