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While I was home for the weekend in Dayton, Ohio, I attended a Friday evening Sabbath service at the Temple Beth Or on October 26th at 6:30 p.m. Temple Beth Or is a reform Congregation in South Dayton that offers Jewish services every Friday and Saturday.
When I entered the Synagogue I immediately noticed a sign that expressed it being very important to turn off your cell phones on the Sabbath day. This immediately showed me their emphasis on leaving the outside world in order to focus on your faith and practice within the Synagogue.
As it is usually implied to turn your phone on silent in a Christian church, I have never seen signs that said to turn them off, especially during certain days (such as Sabbath) at my church as it did at Temple Beth Or. Also upon my arrival, I was also offered a “Kippah” in the entry way of the Synagogue by the greeters. They said it was recommended to wear one as most men where them for Jewish services.
I also noticed some men wearing some sort of shawl around their shoulders that I later learned symbolized that they were married. Once I entered the sanctuary everyone was very friendly and introduced themselves to me as I was not a familiar face and probably looked out of place. While I was talking with some of the members I asked a couple questions about the differences between the orthodox and the reform Jews which was described to me to be similar to the difference between Methodist and Baptist in the Christian sense.
They said it’s mostly about the style of worship. Something I think both Judaism and Christianity share is that there are many different viewpoints with and many approaches, but they all lead you to the same common goal of growing closer with the living god.
Once the services started it felt very similar to those that I’ve been to with my church in that the setup and arrangement of traditional pieces felt familiar. As I glanced around the room, I saw two tall candlesticks with seven lights (which represented the seven spirits of God) displayed on either side of the podium, along with two smaller candles that stood on a small table nearby. On the right side of the podium was another small table which held a golden colored cup and a loaf of bread. This was for the blessings that were said over both the wine and the bread similar to a communion service in Christian churches. There was also an American flag on one side on the sanctuary and a Blue and White Jewish Flag on the other side. Under a large stained-glass window was a case that held their Torah, which was read later in the service. According to the prayer book I was reading from my pew, the case was called the “Ark”. Above the Ark was a banner that had something similar to what looked like the Ten Commandments, but it was written in the Hebrew. Something that was different to me was that during the ceremony there was singing and speaking in both the Hebrew language and in English and it would come at random times. The service was organized by the Rabbi reading one line and the members reading back to him the next line in the prayer book. As I mentioned, there was a lot of Hebrew being spoken which was very interesting to hear as the rabbi spoke it so fluently as he was actually originally from Israel.
When it came time to read the Torah, the doors to the Ark were opened to a beautiful display that held a scroll. This scroll was very cool as I came to learn after the service that the scrolls of the Torah were still hand written by scribes today and never printed by machines. I was also told the scroll is never to be touched by human hands, because the oil from the fingers would ruin the paper they are made with. The Rabbi actually walked through the congregation holding the scroll with white gloves and each member touched it with their prayer book and then kissed their book. The reading of the Torah was from Leviticus 9 which talked about sacrifice. After the reading of the Torah, there was a brief essay by one of the other leaders relating to the sacrifices of God to mankind and the relationship between one man and another. The leader described the purpose of the offering was first to amend for the sin against God in the worship of the “golden calf”, and the other sacrifice was for the sin against man in the selling of Joseph by his brothers. It was interesting to see this connection being made as he explained the connections symbolizing the cross of Christ in Christianity. I found the service to make the Old Testament passages that I am familiar with be seen through a different lens and show a different perspective from a Jewish standpoint. It’s interesting to think about how the Jewish tradition is the basis for the Christianity that I follow today.
After the service, there were refreshments outside of the sanctuary and around the corner in the lobby. There was a nice display of cookies, bread, fruit, and candies, along with coffee and pop for refreshment. Everyone was so kind to me and I felt fully welcomed despite being an outsider. This was a true reflection of the attitude of the scriptures that were read in the service that said to “Be kind to strangers and accept them, as you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” Overall, there were some cultural details in the service that were different for a Christian to see, at least compared to my church services. I think the principles and values were very similar and I agreed and resonated with a lot of the Jewish views and outlooks on life. I feel that we need to stop acting as if people from other religions are enemies or different in a bad sense that we can’t celebrate and coexist together. We all have the common goal to live life through faith and exercise it into existence.
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