I went to The Kesher Israel which is a modern orthodox Synagogue in Georgetown on November 15th to attend their 7:00 p. m. Thursday service which is considered Maariv because it was an afternoon service. The inside of the Synagogue looked very old fashion and somewhat like a regular Baptist church of I would attend but with a few differences. There were 12 rows of pews going forward and in the middle was I was sort of area which look like a pool pit which I found out was called a Bimah and that is were a person reads the Torah out loud to the audience.
The Torah is the Jewish bible, which consists of 5 books of the old testaments, which is Genesis Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. There were only seven people when I came in but they were friendly even though they seemed curious why I was there. When I told them I am just visiting for my class assignment, they seemed understanding and were pleased to answer my questions. Ellen Epstein was the lady assign to help me with any questions I might have.
As soon as I start writing, a lady said she knew it is going to happen so she was waiting to tell me but nobody can write in the Synagogue but memorize what they see and talk about. She even invited me to have a sweet wine and bread with them. After the service, people went to a social room and had conversations. I asked a guy if the bread and wine have certain meaning having Jesus giving out bread and wine to represent his body and blood but they were not related. According to the people at the service, the Thursday service usually takes from forty-five minutes to one hour.
They start singing the prayers in the book called “Nashira Shabbat”, which goes in reverse way since the Hebrew is read from right to left and is composed of prayers from Psalms, and then talk about the Torah that they start reading from the beginning every year and finish reading and discussing by the end of the year. But the day I went to was special since the rabbi trainee wanted to sing only and talk about the Bible longer on the Saturday service, which goes about two and a half hours. The “Nashira Shabbat” had Hebrew prayer, pronunciation of Hebrews in English, English translation, and explanation for the translation written in English.
However, during the whole service, they sang in Hebrews. Therefore, the service was all Hebrew to me. The book does not have music notes but only the letters so I wondered how they sang all together. I asked the rabbi trainee and he said it is up to the Synagogues if they sing, read aloud, or just read by themselves but they usually sing it because they like it and they learn song rhythms and notes as they sing it every week since they were young. All twelve people in the Synagogue were born and raised in the Jewish family according to him.
In the middle of the singing prayer, everybody suddenly stood up and bowed to the entrance and the guy behind me who I was talking to earlier pulled me to give me a signal so I managed to stand up with them to blend in. Then, people suddenly turned to the front and bowed the front. Later, I asked the guy who is in training to be a rabbi and led the service and he told me they bow the entrance to welcome Sabbath as she walks in and they bow to the front, which is the North side that usual Synagogues are designed to head toward so that they are heading to Jerusalem.
The bowing was like bending knee once, getting up, and then bending head and I was not used to bowing during the service so it made me a little uncomfortable. The space decorated pretty simple and had a big quilt as a decoration. When we reached to the middle of the Nashira Shabbat book, the lady sitting next to me told me to read descriptions for the certain part that is the most important prayer for the Jewish Sh’ma is a specific verse from Deuteronomy 6:4. which basically said that God is One and God Alone. The Jewish does not recognize the New Testament and they only count the Old Testament, the Torah, so God is the only one for them.
The Rabbi trainee talked about traditional Jewish month that should be happier than any other month very briefly, they use a Lunisolar calendar and each Jewish month starts when there is a new moon. So he asked about the things what we do when we are not in a good mood. One of the people replied the happiness should not be depended on anything. This made me think a little bit and I think it’s true that happiness should not be depended on anything to be really happy but we still need something that lifts our moods.
It was the first time for me to attend service other than my own religion’s service so it was a mind opening experience. I see how people can be converted to another religion and how serious people are about their own religion. So I got to have more respect on other people’s views about religions. This opportunity to see other religion made me think more about my religious life and made me regret that I don’t attend services regularly. The actual discussion was very brief but the singing and praising the Lord in Hebrew seemed unique.