Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tradition in Non-Traditional Ways

Recently I went to a Conservative Friday night service. Excluding one Conservative bar mitzvah I went to as a kid (and a Reconstructionist funeral...not sure if that counts), this was the first non-Orthodox service I've ever attended.

A girl I'd met a few weeks ago who grew up Conservative had asked me if I wanted to come with her to services once in a while. I told her I was all for it. I'm definitely curious to see what other ways I can continue to feel connected to my Jewishness that might be more in line with my beliefs.

So she took me. She'd never been to this service. It caters to the 20s-30s set, is egalitarian, led by a female rabbi, and sees itself as traditional.

For me, the whole experience was a lot less strange than I thought it would be. Maybe it was because it felt more like an informal prayer group than a formal service, maybe it was because I was seated next to women, but for some reason davening without a mechitzah did not feel weird at all. (Even more bizarre, because when I was at my friend's Christian wedding a few months ago, sitting next to men did feel weird.) In fact, it was nice to feel like I counted, nice to feel like I was really part of things.

Nor, for that matter, did it feel strange to have a female rabbi. Again, this might have been because of the informality of the service. Still, I really liked her. She seemed so excited about everything and she gave a d'var torah that was actually interesting. Not to say that I've never liked a male rabbi before. But there's always been that distance that I've had to keep from them - not a "respect the rabbi" distance (which I did feel with this rabbi, too), but a gender distance, which was suddenly gone.

Two other things did strike me, one of which I liked, and one of which I didn't.

The first - and this, although I found it a bit jarring, I liked - was the addition of the word "imahot" wherever "avot" is usually said, as well as the names of the imahot, wherever the names of the avot are said. Yeah, it made me stumble over chunks of davening, which I've long ago memorized and can repeat by rote. But that feeling was nice because it made me think about what I was doing and what I was saying... And also, though I identify as a feminist, I'd never even noticed how many times it says "avot" or their names without mentioning the imahot. Admittedly, it feels kind of artificial, but not in a bad way. And if I went to such services enough, I'm sure it would begin to feel pretty natural.

The thing I really didn't like (interestingly enough, my friend didn't like it either) was the fact that this service switched off between English and Hebrew. I understand that idea behind it. I get it, I really do. But it sounds awful and it feels awkward... And yeah, I'm spoiled in a way, because I know Hebrew so I understand what I'm saying even when it's not in translation. But I think if I'm going to find one of these groups in which I feel comfortable, it'll have to be entirely in Hebrew.