As I entered the temple, I was greeted by a well-dressed crowd similar to the crowds seen in my church, save the slew of colorful yarmulkes perched atop the heads of the men. (Yes, yarmulke is the name for those little round hats that sit atop the crown of the head. The men wear these to represent the humble relationship between man and God)
So, moments after entering, Alec’s brothers led me upstairs to a balcony, so I could oversee the service without becoming entirely overwhelmed. The service reminded me of a typical church service, however there were many differences. The most obvious difference was the lack of English spoken. Approximately 94 percent of the songs were sung in Hebrew: I was amazed at how easily everyone could read the Hebrew words in the song book, where to me they looked like gibberish. I couldn’t even figure out how to read the song book without assistance, for a Hebrew song book is read from right to left, rather than from left to right. Yes, the book opens backwards.
I was more of a passive observer than an active participant through the duration of the service. Everyone in the temple bowed frequently throughout every song. First, I mistook this bowing gesture as a fun dance to go along with the songs, but I soon learned that this downward motion represented bowing to God and only took place when God is mentioned in the song. But still, since I don’t speak/read/understand Hebrew, I had to follow the lead of my peers to know when or when not to bow.
After multiple songs and prayers, it was time for the reading of the Torah. The two rabbis opened a secret door on the stage, to reveal about three large scroll-looking things. Each Torah was dressed in coverings that could resemble a very expensive intricate rug. The male rabbi selected the largest scroll, and after we blessed the Torah (by singing a song about it), he removed its carpet like covering. He then placed it on the Beemah (this podium-like thing) and read a scripture.
Yes, like most parts of this service, the scripture reading was in Hebrew. But here’s what you wouldn’t suspect: He didn’t just read the Torah, he sang it. Apparently, not only do Hebrew characters tell one how to pronounce the words, but also what key to sing the words in. Because of this, the Hebrew scripture sounded more like a song rather than a reading.
After this was Alec’s shining moment. He was assigned the job of lifting the Torah up into the air before it was rolled back up and returned to its carpet dress. He walked to the front and rose the Torah into the air with great might. Allegedly, this is done to “bring the Torah closer to God” before it is returned to its home. While he was lifting it, his brothers confided in me the fact that if he dropped this holy book, he would not be allowed to eat for 40 days and 40 nights. Of course, I became very worried, for if he dropped it, his death would be certain!
Luckily he didn’t drop it, and I could sit in peace again. The service ended with short speeches made by all of the seniors at the temple, who were “graduating” from the Jewish classes they had been attending since their childhood.
These speeches were what really got to me, and it wasn’t just because they were in English. Every single one of them spoke about all of the great opportunities they received through the temple. They spoke of the friends they made and the community they found through their faith.
It was then that I realized Judaism is more than just an incredibly complicated religion. Through everything, these Jewish teens not only realized their faith, but became more comfortable in themselves because of who they met and what they learned at the temple. So yes, my respect for the Jewish faith grew at this service because they continued to show me that Jewish people are some of the most dedicated and nurturing people I know.