Thursday, May 10, 2007

The threat comes true - part two

There are several transformative experiences that I have had that have not only impacted my spiritual development, but have changed the way I view and live Judaism. After a fairly long career in civil service in metropolitan Philadelphia, I took a job at a Jewish agency in a relatively nearby shore community. My boss hired me because, as an "orthodox" Jew, I could provide the "Jewish face" or point of view to the community and the agency. Of course, as a yarmulke wearing Jew, you are always open to those who either feel threatened or embarrassed, and my boss, whom I adore, was no exception. We would walk daily on the boardwalk, which we were fortunate to have only two blocks from the office. Often, these talks would take on a question and answer session about religion. My boss, being a secular cynic, would always playfully (sort of) accuse me of inflexibility and being locked into archaic ways of doing things. I would of course respond defensively, explaining that without observant Jews, there would be no real Judaism, and other "party line" responses that I learned over the years. Internally, I would question myself, and did not have any real good answers. One of the most interesting dialogues I had with my boss was to come several years later, and i will discuss that in a later post.
One of the duties of my job at that time was to speak at synagogues to promote the agency. My first such engagement was at the local Reform Temple. Since it was early on in my enlightenment, if you will, I had some pretty strong feelings about the matter. I went about preparing a d'var torah, and said to myself, "it will be the only Torah that this congregation will learn, so I better do something good for them." It was the dead of winter, so I figured that no one would be there anyway, so who really cared. It was a 2 and a half mile walk from where i was staying to the Temple, so I started out in the freezing cold, and cursed my job. About 45 mins - hour later i arrived at the Temple. There were people bustling around, wearing talitot, and wishing everyone a "shabbat shalom." I could not believe it. People in shul on a Friday night, and they actually wanted to be there. They looked happy. Not like in my shul on Friday night where everyone looks bored and tired, and wants to get home as soon as possible. Granted, this was a late service, and they had all eaten already, whereas in my shul we pray before dinner.
They invited me up to the Bimah to occupy a chair of honor, and the Rabbi got up to deliver his remarks. To my shock and dismay, he gave MY D"VAR TORAH, which of course set up the whole rest of my speech for the night. I had no idea what I was going to do. In the end, I spoke pretty well, was well received, and roundly applauded by the congregation. I could have lived without the organ and the selling of Shop - Rite scrip for the ladies auxiliary after services, but in the end, i walked away and said to myself...... You have 75 people who came to service on a Friday night because they WANTED to, not because they had to. They were enjoying themselves, and finding spiritual meaning in what they were doing. How can this be bad????


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