I’ve neglected going to services lately because I am really not comfortable there. We go in, we pick up a siddur, we sit down, and invariably our daughter either wakes up or jumps down and starts running around. All the old bubbies start to murmur and give us dirty looks and then my wife has to escort the little vilde chaya out the door while I stay and daven alone. This is fine. It is routine and I expect it, though I’m saddened that we have to be separated during what I consider to be a both personally spiritually important time and a good spiritual environment for the kid.
My real disappointment lies in the way we are holding modern, “liberal-type” services. We all sit in rows in a fancy sanctuary, sing songs and follow along and do the “call and response” type of thing. We listen patiently as the leader drones in that “poetry/sing-songy/disingenuous” kind of high pitched voice. And it struck me that it was all so, for lack of a better word, “church-y”. I hated it. It feels like it is copying the Protestant style of Western church worship, from the music to the atmosphere. Someone at the service even made a comment (jokingly, I think) about being “quiet at church”. I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t this be different than church? Why are we trying to be like that? To fit in? No thanks.” We are different, and that should be a good thing. Jews always have been different. We’re iconoclasts! We break down walls and smash idols! Heck, we’re different from each other! You know that old chestnut, “two Jews, three opinions”!
My first exposure to a Chabad type service was really, interesting. We were on vacation, so we went somewhere we normally wouldn’t have gone. This was very different. Everyone seemed to be mumbling and shuckling and I had no idea where I was in the service. After fifteen minutes I gave up trying and I just followed along as best I could. The shaliach’s kids came right up to him and he would pick up the little ones in between prayers. It was pretty overwhelming and a disorienting.
The same type of thing happened later when I was at a much smaller minyan and everyone was davening at different speeds. I got flustered and frustrated. I even got mad at the guy next to me for going so fast and not doing it “right”. After thinking later about why I got angry, what about everyone not praying together made me some upset, I figured it out.
Jacob Siegel, in a fantastic post you should check out, put it like this:
In the middle of this cacophony of prayers, “I would form my own personal connection with G-d, and you, praying beside me, would do the same, and we would each be vocalizing at different paces, and we would each be inspiring the other to achieve a spiritual awareness that we would then carry throughout the day.” This is incredible to me. It is that independence in the midst of community, what I consider almost the definition of Yiddshkeit, that electrifies my neshama.
I’m not saying one way is right and the other wrong. I am saying that it is a shame if we are changing our nature to conform to an idea of what a progressive, liberal service should look like. Something that IndieYeshiva and PunkTorah are trying to do is to bring these ideas back into the way we “do” Jewish, and have them there for us, to make our Yiddishkeit genuine and real, and by “genuine and real” I don’t mean specifically that there is one right way to do things, but a way that resonates with our past. I’m taking about an Integral Judaism that would transcend and include the past (more on that in another post).
I would like to, if I may, let Mr. Siegel take us out, because any paraphrasing on my part would be just that, and I feel he puts is very eloquently:
‘When we pray, we share our energy. I davven, and you hear me and feel inspired, and I hear you and feel further inspired. Let’s thank our cantors for their efforts in service of us and G-d, and ask them to step down from the bimah and stand beside us, as we now all share together in our cleaving to G-d.”