Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 1 (1 Shares)  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites View Stats   3 comments

Exclusive to OpEdNews:
OpEdNews Op Eds

Observing the Sabbath With My Children Every Week - Shul Is Not What You Might Think

By Uzi Silber  Posted by Juda Engelmayer (about the submitter)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 1 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; (more...) ; ; ; ; ; , Add Tags  (less...) Add to My Group(s)

View Ratings | Rate It

opednews.com

Every Saturday morning I take my two children to a traditional orthodox synagogue, or 'shul', on the Lower East Side. It's the neighborhood's oldest, with many large observant families attending weekly services. Upon hearing that we're headed to shul, an elderly neighbor riding down in the elevator with us instinctively responds sweetly with a 'oh how nice'. She probably has mentally transported us into one of those slightly cheesy Jewish calendar portraits bathed in defuse sepia light and shadows of umber and sienna, a skull-capped Jewish father sitting solemnly beside his two small, exceptionally well-behaved children. They pray to the almighty far above, basking together in the warm and hazy halo of His countenance. Amazingly such scenes do actually exist, but those aren't us in the picture.

Their small hands clasped tightly in mine, we stroll the three blocks down Grand Street and climb up the thick granite steps to enter through the shul's imposing mahogany doors. But Instead of walking into the domed main sanctuary to join the congregants, I pull the kids to the right into a dark narrow corridor, leading down a bank of rickety steps. We emerge into a musty fluorescent netherworld of a basement where nutty children scamper about, yipping like puppies in a dog run. Unhooked from invisible leashes, my own two pups rush off to join the commotion bouncing off the worn sheet rock walls, to hide and to seek, and stuff their mouths with appalling and sticky handfuls of generic brand cheese doodles and moderately stale cookies, washed down with orange soda.

With the kids safely devoured and carried away by the juvenile throng to some distant corner of the basement, I've been handed a highly prized reprieve, albeit a very temporary one. I retrace my steps, climbing up the creaky stairs to join the services in the vaulted sanctuary with its Ionian pillars, precariously dangling chandeliers and stained glass windows.

But instead of taking a seat in a pew near the center, picking up a prayer book and joining the service, I glide into the very last row, flush up against the back wall. This is where my weekly Sabbath posse sits - a handful of other backbenchers that dumped their kids in the basement just as I did.

The ark doors slide open to reveal four Torah scrolls, each clothed in embroidered velvet and topped by gleaming silver crowns with tiny bells. We rise from our seats along with the other congregants, and sit when the ark is closed and stand once again when it's reopened, only to lower ourselves to our seats a few moments later.

But praying we're not. Sitting or standing, we gossip shamelessly, whisper about politics and women, or rehash tales of off-color elementary school mischief. This material however generally proves finite, running its course in half an hour or so.

Our conversation gets more interesting when we turn from the finite of gossip and politics to the infinite of theology. After all, what venue could be more inspiring for a discussion of religion than beneath the canopy of dazzling signs of the zodiac adorning the vaulted planetarium-like ceiling, as Abraham, Moses and David gaze down from the stained glass walls?

Only that our theology differs from that shared by the rest of the congregation. My fellow backbenchers and I, regular synagogue attendees, are all apostates. We animatedly discuss what we don't believe.
Every single week the congregants gather to recite the same litany of benedictions and hymns beseeching a God of justice and mercy to protect and defend them from afflictions and enemies. In one back-to-the-future hymn, the congregants ask for a return to an idyllic life of daily sacrifices to God on the Temple altar, just like it was in the good old days.

The soulful blessings and hymns are second nature to me, but I resist joining. How can I address a deity who either won't or can't listen? It really is odd to be an apostate among the devout, who firmly believe that God himself dictated the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai. Now I am of the sacrilegious opinion that God never composed anything, let alone the Torah, which I view as the brilliant handiwork of a long and distinguished line of very talented Jewish authors. The construction of the Bible and the identity of its authors remains one of history's most fascinating puzzles, and simply averring that 'God did it.' seems to me like a cop-out.

So what keeps me coming back to join the posse of shul unbelievers week after week? Perhaps it's a sense of community, and experiencing the privilege of being a link in a three thousand year long chain. Or maybe it's a more prosaic reason, like the two hours of freedom from the yoke of child rearing, a great way to kill time on a weekend.

Still, one attraction in particular overrides all the others, one that has little to do with God or Bible. At the conclusion of the weekly Sabbath service, the congregation invades the basement, now arranged with long rows of tables loaded with platefuls of delicacies such as pickled herring, kikhl and a local concoction called potatonik. A member of my apostate posse distributes plastic shot glasses spilling over with fine scotch. We raise our tiny glasses with a hearty 'lekhayim', to life, an ancient declaration uttered by Jews for thirty centuries and counting, believer and apostate alike.

I lean back in my flimsy folding chair as the scotch warms through me pleasantly. Just then, five little worm-like fingers lace through my thinning hair. Instinctively I reach for the back of my scalp, which I discover to be anointed with a lumpy orange-brown paste of mashed cheese doodles and Oreo cookie. Thus my Sabbath reprieve has officially concluded.

 

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Follow Me on Twitter

Contact Editor

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Relationships Drive All That We Do: Make the most of them

New Short Film/Video, Rainbow in the Night, Expresses Triumph and Hope in Time for the U.N. Holocaust Remembrance Day

George Zimmerman Is Casey Anthony -- Only Question is will Zimmerman be Convicted?

While Thomas is Going Home, Jews are Already there

Carter and Baker: The Final Opportunity to Infuse Anti-Israel Idealism into a New Political Era

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
3 people are discussing this page, with 3 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)
This remided me of my youth in the Bronx, NY, when... by ardee D. on Saturday, Dec 23, 2006 at 10:16:10 AM
It is unfortunate that the author feels a loss whe... by Juda S. Engelmayer on Saturday, Dec 23, 2006 at 8:59:29 PM
"And I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor s... by pratliff94 on Saturday, Dec 23, 2006 at 9:35:53 PM