Wednesday, September 7, 2011

eighty-fifth visit: Sept 3rd 2011 Judaism (originally founded by Zionists)

9:30am saturday
Young Peoples Synagogue

6404 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15217
squirrel hill south

I think I've typed these words before, but this is truly one of the friendliest congregations I've experienced. I suspect so much even before I arrived, due to the welcoming emails I receive. Special qualities beyond this include: history and unique structure of the schul. Here's more on that:

1) This congregation is run by the people—no rabbi, no secretary, no office, no paid professionals at all. Everyone pitches in. Homilies are delivered by a different member each week.

2) When the congregation was established over 60 years ago, it was very young. And for a time, it remained so in this way: members adhered to an agreement to leave the synagogue and attend another upon the ripe age of 35 years. This was carried out for some time, but
eventually along the way, no one wanted to leave. So no one did. (In religion, things can change if you want them to.) This Saturday, I would venture to guess that there is only one devotee under the age of 35: a one-week-old who is attending for the first time in his life. And perhaps his parents, I should say, since it's hard to tell, and I don't want to get myself into trouble of the tactless sort.

(I learned most of the above during all the friendliness during Kiddush after the service.)

During the service:
The homily, delivered by Alex, concerns the word Tzedek or Zedek. I'm assuming this may be a variant of the word "Zedeck"... as in my first Orthodox service ever, at Poale Zedeck on Sept 25, 2010, 6th visit. And things come full circle as I learn the meaning of "zedek" today, while I attend my very last Jewish Orthoox service of gatherings. (At the end of today, I will have attended all the Orthodox Schuls in Pittsburgh.) Alex explains that the word "zedek" means "justice." He raises the question as to why is it repeated, appearing twice to begin this passage in the Torah. ...Interestingly, the same question about repetition was raised during my 73rd visit (3rd paragraph).

This time the answer is a bit different, but not contradictory. Alex explains that it is because of the two meanings of the word: social justice and legal justice. I ask further about this at kiddush. Explained to me: coming from the fact that Jewish people were often (nearly constantly) forced to flee to new lands due to persecution, the idea of social justice refers to the fact that you are always an outsider when in someone else's land and that outsiders should be given special protection. (Remarkably echoing the homily at MCCGP yesterday, fifth paragraph.)

I am pretty good at keeping track of new names of those I meet while chatting after service in the lower level. For the first 45 mintues. Then I completely loose track. So many conversations, so many introductions. Not a huge group, though, which means I speak to nearly everyone.

One particular conversation stands out in my mind. A dear woman asks where I live. I explain. "Oh," she says, "Do you know that humongous, beautiful former-synagogue down the street from your house, on Negley Avenue? The one with the curved facade."
Of course. We drive by it every day.
"My husband was the last Rabbi there.
There's a video..." she begins, trying to remember the name.
"'Holy Pittsburgh?' I saw it." The Quakers let me borrow it from their library this fall (23rd visit).
"That's it," she says. "My husband is in that."
I remember the section covering his synagogue exactly.
"Well, that's him," she says. He has since retired.

She said being a rabbi's wife was hard, specifically because of having to be so nice all the time. "That part was exhausting," she exclaims.

I take a minute to realize how many people I've obligated, how many people I've made work so hard over this past year. Good to know I'm not the only one tiring myself out in order to make this happen.

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