Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Friday Night Shabbat Services

on June 5, 2014

There are two things you should know about me if you don’t already:

1. I love to sing, especially prayers/Jewish music

2. I love Shabbat- it’s all the best of Judaism rolled up into 25 hours (food, prayer, community, G-d, rest, learning, giving back, etc.)

You’d think someone who loves singing and praying at shabbat services as much as I do would have had some kind of religious transformation the first day she ever attended services.

But I have to tell you, the first day I went to Jewish services in February 2013, I didn’t like them. Despite being reassured that the service was “easy to follow and mostly in English” by my friend, I found the backwards squiggly Hebrew daunting and the periods of silent reading uncomfortable. My first impression of the rabbi was that he was nice enough, but I kept my eyes glued to the prayer packet most of the time. I didn’t know what the prayers meant, I couldn’t figure out where we were, and I was thrown into this small little mass of people moving and singing and praying in something that was so strange… Yet intriguing in its mystery.

I went back the next week. There was a part of me that was drawn by the foreign language and minor melodies, something that tugged at me and urged me to return. I was able to locate some of the transliterations and hum along with the less manageable prayers. I remember distinctly that the Mourner’s Kaddish terrified me because it all sounded the same to my untrained ear.

Slowly, I began to learn the prayers by listening, and I loved the simple tunes that lingered in my mind long after Shabbat ended. I would hum Lechi Dodi and Mizmor Shir Leyom HaShabat around the house (and still do). I learned the Hebrew alef-bet over the summer and continued studying Hebrew into the fall, which helped immensely. The more I learned- about the Sabbath bride, the soul leaping like a deer to welcome G-d, the extra soul, the Sabbath angels- the more I was able to appreciate the beautiful prayers that were blossoming at my lips. For silent prayers, I knew I could never get through the whole prayer. So, I would read a line in Hebrew, learn its meaning in English, and then just hold it in my heart for a few minutes while everyone swayed back and forth around me.

A few months later, well after I had become a regular at services, I was asked by a student to lead Kiddush because the student who normally led it would be absent. I was so so excited and practiced the tune and the words, finding online recordings and using the both transliteration and Hebrew to make sure my pronunciation was top-notch. I called my boyfriend and sang it to him over the phone ad nauseum. We typically start at “Yom Ha-shi-shi. Va-y’chu-lu Ha-sha-ma-yim…” so it was quite a bit for me to learn in a week

Friday morning, the rabbi asked who would be leading Kiddush that night. When I proudly told him that I had volunteered, he stopped in his tracks. I reassured him that I had been practicing hard and could say it for him now, but he exchanged a worried look with the other rabbi, and they stepped inside his office behind closed doors. When I was brought inside, I was told I could not lead that prayer because I was not Jewish. By saying Kiddush, the leader fulfills the obligation of all the other Jews around him. No Jew, no go. I was crushed.

To this day, I say Kiddush under my breath with the leader to fulfill an obligation for another kind of people: those who are unable to say Kiddush, due to lack of religious freedom, expression, or any other barrier in their hearts or on their lips. I say it for those who feel obligated but are unable, like me.

Now, I’ll be co-leading Friday night services in July, and I could not be more excited or blessed to have this opportunity. I’m meeting with the rabbi tomorrow afternoon to go over everything, and I can’t believe that just over a year ago I was singing these tunes for the first time. I’ve come a long way, and plan on learning more as I go.


3 responses to “Friday Night Shabbat Services

  1. shocheradam says:

    I have twice now been the reason there was not a minyan at services. I understand that “you’re not a Jew yet, so unfortunately…” reaction. Congratulations on co-leading Friday services in July!

    • jnbwriter14 says:

      Thank you!
      It’s unfortunate but true. While my rabbi’s reaction might seem negative, I neglected to mention that he was very understanding when breaking the news to me. He appreciated my good intentions and all my hard work.

  2. […] not be immediate. It takes time to grow accustomed to something entirely new (see my post about the first time I attended Shabbat services. Not a happy camper.) I’m not going to don these objects immediately either because I want to […]

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