To anyone who knew me 25 years ago, this would be a totally implausible statement. Not only would I not have had a favorite prayer, I did not know any prayers. I have been on a "Jewish journey" since joining Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont & Emanu-El in 1991. It has been an amazing transformation. I still have a long way to go, but I have enjoyed the learning process.
I grew up in a totally assimilated home in suburban Chicago, with Christmas trees and the Easter bunny, although we also lit candles at Chanukah and had Passover Seders at my grandparents' homes. I never went to Sunday school and we did not belong to a synagogue. Growing up, I felt a loss of religious grounding only when reading literature with biblical references since I did not know any of the stories.
I would like to share my story with you, in case you are starting on your own journey or know someone who would like to do so...
Like many young families who join Scarsdale Synagogue, we joined when our sons were seven and five so they could attend Sundayschool and get a Jewish education. I would look over the papers the boys brought home; soon their skills had surpassed my own very modest knowledge, and I was not able to help them with their projects. I attended family services and occasional Friday night services when there were special programs. I felt like an outsider: I could not participate in the services, I knew very few of the people at the services, and I did not know the rituals such as when to stand or what to do during a Hakafah. The holidays were by and large bewildering. As the years passed, I decided that I wanted to learn about Judaism.
To my surprise, there were programs for "slackers" such as me. The best starting place was "Hebrew in Five," a program led by the ever-so-patient Rebecca Shubert, our Temple Educator at the time. Becky made it easy. We just had to memorize the shapes of the letters and the sounds they make; the Hebrew language is phonetic. The reading came slowly - think "See Dick run" from our early elementary school books. However, once the letters were decoded, it was much easier to follow along with sort-of reading coupled with memorization from practice. Cantor Ben-David practiced with me (and Batyah, his wife, taught me the Aleinu when I had a block and could not learn that prayer). When Cantor Becker arrived, she made a CD of the musical selections from Friday night services and (don't tell Chanin!) I liked to listen to them when I was on my elliptical machine because many of the melodies are quite peppy.
I was able to read a few lines of Torah at my sons' Bar Mitzvah services. Yes, I struggled but managed to work through the lines. The boys were much better and read large sections of text with flourish. It is true that it is easier to learn languages when one is young, but being older is no reason not to try.
Then there were the adult B'nai Mitzvah classes, a two-year program where we could study the texts and ask as many questions as we liked. It did not matter that the answers might be obvious to most people. This was followed by a one-year confirmation class, and then by more and more adult classes. The stories were fascinating - strange characters and even stranger happenings.
Today there are many educational programs offered by the synagogue...
Just check the magnet you received in the mail earlier this year or look at all our adult learning opportunities on the Scarsdale Synagogue website.
I have been active in the Communal Worship Committee for many years. We explore ways to make the worship experience more meaningful and accessible, and lead the Chavurah services, usually held on the first Friday of the month. When I lead the service, it is an opportunity for me to study that Torah portion to prepare remarks - something I would otherwise never take the time to do.
All of this study and participation has greatly enhanced my enjoyment of my synagogue membership, and has allowed me to feel as though I truly belong...
I hope that you will find your own path through learning and participation - for me, it has been a wonderful and eye-opening journey, and one that I will continue to follow.
As you each continue on your Jewish journeys, know that our clergy -- Rabbi Brown, Rabbi Glickman or Cantor Becker -- would love to hear from you with your questions, thoughts, refelctions, challenges and/or joys.