I can’t remember the last time I went to temple for actual services. I’ve attended for the occasional wedding or funeral, but my last service had to be at least 10 years ago.
Wait, I did go to temple on a date. Actually, I’m not even sure it was a date.
About 3 years ago, I met a nice jewish fella who had just moved here to Orlando. He was very involved in the Jewish community, and asked if I wanted go to services, and then have Shabbat dinner at a friends house.
He seemed like a nice guy, and I hadn’t been to temple in forever. So, I said why not.
I get ready, and he picks me up. As we’re driving out, I ask some details about the night, and find out we’re going to an orthodox service that’s held out of someone’s house.
I thought to myself.. oh dear god.
That was a little weird for me because I grew up very liberal. My parents gave me a Bat Mitzvah, but I stopped going to temple after that.
We still make sure to celebrate all of the Jewish holidays. We do all of the prayers and have a traditional Passover Seder, but it’s super relaxed.
My parents even joined a Unitarian Church for awhile, and just rejoined a temple for the first time in over 10 years. I do kind of miss our Shabbat dinners growing up.
At this point, I was a little worried about following along in the service because my Hebrew isn’t amazing. In a more reform temple, you get a print out with translations, but at this service, you just get a prayer book with the Hebrew scripture to read.
We arrive, and everyone’s super nice. I’m pretty friendly and fearless, so I knew I would get through the service okay, but just felt a little out of place.
I sit on my side, and he sits on his. Oh, did I forget to mention that the women and men are also separated in an orthodox temple? I was dreading this part, but just took a big deep breath and thought…. It’s only an hour. I can do this.
Guess what happened…
I was the only lady! Yes, you heard that right. There were about 20 chairs on the left filled with men, and 20 chairs on the right with just me. I buried my head in the prayer book, and just turned the pages pretending I knew what was going on.
A few times I tried to see if I could follow along in Hebrew. No such luck. (But, I can still recite the Hebrew alphabet).
Occasionally, I would recognize a prayer and could participate. But, for the most part I was lost.
My date was super nice and attentive though. He sat with me regardless. I knew he felt weird about it too because he apologized, and explained that he had no idea I would be the only woman there.
The service ended, and with a sigh of relief, I was happy to get on with dinner. We went over to his friends house, and had a very nice Shabbat dinner with amazing food and good conversation.
They were so nice because they knew I was a vegetarian, and they had dishes to accommodate. All in all, It was a good night.
I’m glad it happened, but also glad when it was over!
Plus, I got a good story out it.
The temple I attended this Christmas was totally different. It was a very light service with singing, and a rabbi with a great sense of humor. This was familiar and brought me back to my childhood.
At the end of the service, the rabbi discussed his breakfast that morning at Dennys since that was the only place open on Christmas day. He mentioned how the waitress said, “Merry Christmas” to him, and that he was happy to say it back.
I used to get annoyed by this when I was younger. Growing up in Sarasota, I had one Jewish friend in school. Sure, I knew more Jewish people from temple, but in the normal day-to-day grind, I was in the minority.
People were celebrating Christmas all over the place, and found it so strange that I didn’t celebrate it at all. They were actually sad for me.
I LOVE Chanukkah, and I would make sure to emphasize that.
The culture, tradition, history, and of course food was always fascinating to me, and I would take that over Santa Claus any day.
Now that I think about it – it’s probably why I love Ashtanga yoga so much. It’s a style so deeply rooted in tradition and history. To understand it fully, you have to study the scripture and practice it over and over with total devotion.
It really is its own culture and lifestyle.
There’s a memory that sticks out from my college years. One of my friends asked if I ever felt left out because everyone else was celebrating Christmas.
I got so annoyed and just said, not everyone is celebrating Christmas. He didn’t understand, and we had this back and forth battle. He just couldn’t accept that my holiday season was exciting enough that I didn’t long for Christmas.
I look back on this now, and feel a little silly. I don’t really care about this stuff anymore.
A few years ago, my Jewish friend, Greg, and I decorated a Christmas tree for the first time. He told me how growing up his family always decorated one.
We went to the store and bought lights, ornaments, tinsel, and all kinds of fun stuff. I had the best time ever! Plus, I loved creating the story of two Jewish friends decorating a Christmas tree.
I guess my point is that I embrace the Christmas tradition, and I’ve decided to celebrate it like everyone else.
Why can’t we celebrate everything? The best thing I did was detach the words, Merry Christmas, from religion.
Now I just think of it as a greeting that means, have a joyous holiday season and a happy new year.
I know I’m a few days late on this post, but I really hope you had a wonderful holiday season, whatever you celebrate, and that you’re still celebrating and smiling.
I hope it feels like Christmas all year long for you…..
Because wouldn’t that be wonderful?