Monday, September 27, 2010

Our Sukkot in an Ortho shul: Inclusion by action

See part one and part two.

In addition to the physical design of the building, there are other signs of inclusiveness at our friends’ synagogue, as well. During services, page numbers are called, and explanations are frequent. The "levush" ("dress code") is non-existent—the women wore everything from T-shirts and skirts to full suits, with sleeves ranging from short to wrist-length, while the men wore everything from polos to full suits. Head-coverings for the men were mostly kippot s'rugot ("knitted" [crocheted] yarmulkes/skullcaps) or, occasionally, a Bukharan-style kippah, while married women wore everything from kippot s'rugot (unusual in an Orthodox synagogue) to lace doilies, scarves, knitted caps, hats, and sheitlach (wigs). This “come-as-you-are” attitude comes straight from the top—the senior rabbi wore a plain dress shirt with neither tie nor jacket, and one of the assistants worn a dress shirt and tie with no jacket (even when leading the service), while the other assistant was dressed with unpredictable formality. It’s nice to know that this is not the kind of synagogue at which I’d feel like the worse-dressed woman in the room—an experience that I’ve had in the past and don’t wish to repeat—simply because I hate clothes shopping and don’t dress to impress.

No effort was spared to get people to introduce themselves in the sukkah. On the first night of Sukkot, when the sky suddenly opened and rain came pouring through the schach (organic, porous ceiling of the sukkah), the very hands-on senior rabbi simply shouted, “Everybody grab some food and get inside!,” and joined the rest of us slightly-soaked folks and the staff in helping to carry chairs and set up tables so that we could continue our meal indoors. Ex-Soviets and Israelis, locals and guests all shared songs and stories in the all-purpose room, and, on later occasions, in the sukkah, at the urging of the rabbis.

I see from the synagogue newsletter that there are a number of programs for the children, and that efforts are being made to determine the needs of families with children with disabilities and accommodate them.

Efforts are also made to ensure that persons with different perspectives concerning women’s participation in public ritual are accommodated. There were two separate readings of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) on Shabbat Chol HaMoed, one with both male and female readers and one with male readers only. The “mixed” reading took place in the sanctuary immediately after the Musaf Service. Again, women and men entered the bimah separately, closing the gate after themselves when they left, so that the separation between the genders was maintained at all times. The “male-readers-only” reading took place in the sukkah between the Minchah and Maariv (Afternoon and Evening) Services, with a portable mechitzah placed between tables.

Our own experience at the shul was a good one. A number of people came over and welcomed us. And when I moved as close as possible to the amud so that I could hear more easily, and apologized to the rebbitzen (rabbi’s wife) for possibly having taken her seat, she assured me that I needn’t worry because there’s no such thing as assigned seats—“No one here will ever ask you to move.” I also got a kick out of the fact that I saw more women in tallitot/prayer shawls in this Orthodox synagogue than I’ve ever seen in my local Conservative one—I don’t remember there ever having been more than three women, including me, wearing a tallit there, even back when our local shul had hundreds of members instead of barely dozens, whereas there were so many women wearing tallitot in this Orthodox shul that I didn’t even bother counting. My husband, a bit shy about coming out of the closet as a Levi while a guest in someone else’s synagogue, was “outed” on Shabbat morning when he was offered a Yisrael aliyah and had to come clean, ending up with the g’lilah (Torah-wrapping) honor, instead—and got the Levi aliyah that very afternoon at the Minchah service. :)

Altogether, we had a wonderful time. Our shul experience was delightful, and we enjoyed our friends’ company and conversation between services. We also met a few other old friends whom we know from previous synagogues and chavurot (prayer and/or study groups) and who now live in that neighborhood. We hope to go back there soon, right after Shacharit (Morning Service) on a Sunday, to walk around a larger area of the neighborhood and see whether it might be a good place for us to move after the Punster retires.


Blogger Jendeis said...

It seems like you had a really nice weekend and a good experience - I'm so glad. I've enjoyed reading about the experience.

I hope your friend has a speedy and full recovery.

Mon Sep 27, 02:42:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I'm glad you enjoyed my "report," and thank you for thinking of our good friend, whom we've known for over 30 years.

Mon Sep 27, 02:54:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

Well, sounds like you know now which neighborhood you should move to in retirement.

Mon Sep 27, 06:38:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

It does look like a good neighborhood, but I have some reservations about that specific synagogue. See my next post.

Tue Sep 28, 03:10:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you posted this experience. It sounds like you had a good one - and that's always a joy to read.

Tue Sep 28, 05:41:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Indeed. Even my reservations didn't get in the way of an enjoyable visit.

Tue Sep 28, 09:46:00 PM 2010  

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