wk2 reform judaism in bs as
Buenos Aires Travel Blog› entry 8 of 8 › view all entries
June 4th, 2006 – by: sohmer
crazy. like nothing i've experienced, but don't know if i ever wanted to. at home i go to an orthodox synagogue for services. my family isn't religious, and we don't keep kosher, but it feels right to go and be involved in a service where the rabbi actually lives like the religion preaches. in reform congregations throughout the movement, a new kind of judaism sprung up where it was ok not to do what had always separated jews from other groups. reform rabbis tell you that you don't have to keep shabbat (no electricity, working, etc from sundown friday to sundown saturday). they tell you that its no longer mandatory to keep kosher, and show this by not keeping it themselves. this always seemed a little extreme to me. as i grew up in judaism i became more comfortable with the congregations where the majority of the community followed the mitzvahs (commandments) of the torah. so when i was asked to come to services this past friday at a shul in bs. as. i assumed that i was going somewhere a little on this side. i didn't think it would be orthodox... although i have seen many black hatters on the street. i didn't think that i was being invited into this hood though. but still i dressed up, wearing a skirt touching my ankles and covering my upper arms (it was also cold though, so this wasn't a stretch). this modesty is basic for synagogues... not even just orthodox ones. but think of it as if you were going to church. most churches that tourists visit in europe have a modesty requirement. i arrived at the synagogue in a taxi, which i was a little embarassed about since you aren't supposed to use a car on shabbat. the outside was very simple. a wall with a sign and almost a dozen men in suits standing out front with a police officer. no women. so i walk inside through a mazelike path never entering through a door.... and i come to the huge open space. there is grass and two buildings in front of me. the one to my left looks like an extra room used for activities. but in front of me is this gigantic building with a drastic slant like a pyramid and no windows on the side that is facing me. you can't enter in through the front and have to choose the left of right side to enter through. i'm sure there is some arcitectural genius to this reminicent to the temple of jerusalem. perhaps you couldn't enter through the front there. i'm not sure. separating you from the building is water. like a mote, but pretty. there is a small structure to the right side with an eternal flame. so i enter through the right and the sanctuary is huge. all the seats are on the same level... no balcony. at the front of the room is a full wall that was like a modern wailing wall (western wall/ kotel). not weathered looking, but definetly an homage to the holiest site in judaism. the bimah that is used as a table to read the torah and as a podium for the rabbi to stand at was drapped in wood. it was basically a scupture that was made to look like drape across the table. this continued to over the opening that is used to store the torahs and migilahs. looking back on this now, i feel like they were trying to recreate the look of the desert but with a 21st century interpretation. but really the first thing i noticed was the music and the microphones. i've been in shuls with microphones, and i never understood. a building can be built with good enough acoustics. this seems like an easy way to keep this part of the sabbath. but the really crazy thing was that there was a band! a band playing music on shabbat!! piano and jimbay! and not a half hour until i was there and there was duet of 'sunrise, sunset' from 'fiddler on the roof.' its a good thing i didn't know many people there because my face must have showed the extreme shock which i was feeling. is this what reform judaism has come to? renditions of a broadway musical being played out to define our religion.... our unity as a people? sunrise, sunset??? como? so as i settled into my surroundings i realized that my idea of modesty was absent. women were coming in with shopping bags from designer boutiques wearing the latest hip jeans with wild leather jackets. como? i was feeling more and more out of place. que es este? as i was beginning to feel more and more removed from my community at home, we kept singing songs that were drenched in my familiar jewish feel. any jew can walk into any synagogue in the world and know that they will be singing prayers where the majority are in the same tune in the same ancient hebrew language used for generations. this won't change. so there was a mix of emotions for me. i was getting my friday night service with a twist. the rabbi's sermon was in spanish, but i understood all the hebrew. so i felt at home, while at the same time feeling so distanced. what i ultimately felt was that these communities created in the diaspora are built and coddled to keep jews feeling safe in homes outside of israel. naively i had thought that this was just the harsh reality of american jews. that they are complacent in their surroundings. things are good enough for now that there is no reason to go to israel. life is hard there. but here in atlanta, new york, boston, buenos aires, life is good. there are connections, there are jobs, there is money, there is community. what makes us make aliah (deciding to move to israel) when life is so good in the diaspora? not much. so going to friday night services in a typical reform service in buenos aires has made me a bit introspective. it reminds me of my yearning to live in israel after i spent my first year after high school there. i had this desire to return. same thing happened traveling in india when so many people i met where israelis traveling the world after their years in the army. judaism is something that connects you globally. everywhere i travel in the world, there is always a place for me to recharge these emotions.
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