I was really excited last week when the field trip to synagogue arrived. I was waiting for it since the beginning of the class. As I drove up to Congregation Beth Shalom, I was just thinking how it will be how it will look like from outside and inside. As this was the first time ever I was visiting a synagogue. I have to say, throughout my life, I was always curious to know more about Judiasm and Torah as this is one of the books that Muslims believe in as well. It’s definitely been something I’ve wanted to explore further.
When I arrived at the Congregation Beth Shalom I was really excited and expected it to be very different then the Muslim mosque. The previous experience I had as a Muslim was only limited to Muslims prayer at many mosques. Now I can say I have attended a religious activity of a different religion as well. When I entered the synagogue I was welcomed by our teacher Mr. Newman and then looked around and everything looked so different from a mosque. As I looked around I noticed multiple thing. Mr. Newman explained everything that was in the room. I really liked the Ark that holds the Torah scroll After exploring couple of things really caught my eyes and I would like to mention those things that I really loved was the name tag of the people who have passed away in the community and the light next to it which turns on when it’s their anniversary. Second, I liked the way they had the back wall similar to the holy wall in Israel. I visited Beth Shalom on the Shabbat night. Shabbat is Judaism’s day of reset and seventh day of the week. According to halakha (Jewish religious law), Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. I was very lucky to experience the Shabbat prayers. Our trip started and then we were instructed by Mr. Newman and he informed about the importance of KIPPAH. I would like to say that Muslims have the same thing that they wear at prayer times and wear them the whole day as well. Then we entered the prayer hall and we were taught about how the prayer will go. After that we listened to a wonderful story of a community member which was really inspirational and it will definitely be one of the stories which will provide motivation in the future. While we were still listening the cantor arrived and she was also introduced by Mr. Newman. She explained what to say on Shabbat night and that is “Shabbat shalom”. The word that I never heard before but she was so kind and nice to explain it and it’s similar to Muslims as we say Eid Mubarak on Eid days or As-salamu alaykum when we meet anyone which means “Peace be upon you”. Later we also saw the Torah which I never seen before and it was really exciting to see one.
Then the ceremony was suppose to start and the Rabbi came out to start the prayer. Mr. Newman had already informed that he was not their Rabbi as their Rabbi was sick so this Rabbi was covering for him. Rabbi is similar to Imam(person leading the prayer) and when I looked at the Rabbi for that night he had a lot of similarities with our Mosque Imam. Some similarities were wearing a KIPPAH and a big beard. Then the ceremony started and everyone took their seats. Rabbi and the Cantor stood at the front stage in front of the ARK and then the Cantor calls a person to light the Candelabra. Which I find really interesting because calling a member of a community up to do that is a wonderful thing and everybody feels that they have put something in. I sat near the back by the door, a good thing because it was mostly the people participating in the service who sat at the front. I noticed that several of the women had a tallit, or prayer shawl, and only knew the significance of them because of our readings and lessons. Many of the men were wearing a KIPPAH (yarmulke) as well, though not all of them were. The rabbi began the service fairly casually, greeting the congregation in English. Then a song to greet the Shabbat was sung by the cantor which was in Hebrew. The Hebrew might have been strange to me, but there were English translations for just about everything in the prayer book, along with the prayers and songs written out in Hebrew. My personal favorite part of the service was the singing. There was one female singer. All of the songs were beautiful and in Hebrew, and caused me to consider the fact that many religions use songs and music in order to convey their messages. Although I’m a Muslim and our prayer are little different but the most surprising thing for me at this one was, oddly enough, it’s some similarity to Muslim services and prayers. I went into the religious visit expecting an enormous difference in the customs and perhaps even in the attitudes of the people attending the service. Out of all of them I would like to mention one which was praying for the sick people and the one which has passed away. I was also nervous about attending a service for a faith to which I did not belong and which I have never seen or did research on.
The highlight for that night for me was when we were singing these beautiful Hebrew songs.
I was amazed that those in attendance seemed to know the songs by heart and especially enjoyed when people started to enthusiastically clap along.
Here’s one of the songs they sang, “Shalom Aleichem”,” which apparently is a traditional song sung on Friday nights at the beginning of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath).
Tradition says that the song welcomes the angels who accompany a person home on the eve of Shabbat. Second the most interesting part was when everyone turned towards the entrance. I didn’t know what was happening first but later cantor explained and that provided more information. Near the end of the service, we prayed for those who were sick or who have recently passed. As the rabbi extended his arms and beckoned to different sections of the synagogue, people called out names of people for whom they would like us to pray. Then after the prayer we exited the prayer hall and went to the community dinner hall. In which they had the bread called Challah. It is usually braided and typically eaten on ceremonial occasions such as Sabbath and major Jewish holidays. Everyone touched the bread and the people who were little away touched the people who were touching the bread and we all said a prayer and then drank the juice and then started eating.
My first experience at the BETH SHALOM Synagogue was very fun and Knowledgeable. I gained a lot of firsthand knowledge of a religion I had only studied academically. I am not sure that I will ever have the chance to attend other type of religious services, but I may attempt to do so in the future. In my opinion, a field trip of visit like this should be must for everyone and it teaches you a lot of things that you didn’t know and had wrong assumptions. As this trip was for class purpose but people should visit such placed for personal knowledge as well.