Similar to my previous post on my reflections on Catholic Mass, I also visited a Jewish Kabbalat Shabbat service in which they made preparations for the Sabbath. It was also an amazing experience and I found myself wishing for a permanent identity to a culture. Again this is a paper from my MC500 class.
Religious Tradition Experience: Jewish Kabbalat Shabbat Service
In preparing for my visit to a Jewish service, I researched online first for the locations and found the Pasadena Jewish Center close by. I found that their website very informative with quite a bit of text and some pictures that are organized very well. There is an emphasis on the content as the website included many drop down menus and explanations for each of the different parts of the Jewish Center that shows the history of how they came about. I reached out from the contact page by email to Rabbi Joshua Grater, but received an out of office response that he was on vacation that provided another email contact. I emailed Bruce and asked about the service and what to expect, as well as what their congregation wears as there is some variance from one Jewish community to another. Bruce and another assistant to the Rabbi’s office promptly replied to me, letting me know how Cantor Ruth helps us along in the service through a prayer book and that the dress code with collared shirts and no shorts work well in the setting. They also informed me of the kippah, a small head covering that is a sign for the reverence in the presence of God. The Kabbalat Shabbat service serves for them as a preparation and welcoming of the Sabbath and they invited me to a short blessing over the wine and bread and dessert reception after.
When I arrived at the Jewish Center on Friday night, I found myself a bit disoriented in where to go. However, I found that I was not alone as some of the other members were also trying to figure out the location and then directed me to the right place for the outdoor service. When I entered, I was greeted by one of the board members who gave me a kippah, prayer book, and the Hebrew transliteration for the prayer book. The overall setup was simple with a guitar player playing some music and Cantor Ruth in the front using a small scale sound system with just two speakers and a microphone for each. As I looked around, I felt slightly out of place as well with the majority of the people being older, white and Jewish, who were probably just as surprised but open to seeing an Asian person join them. The thought crossed my mind that there probably are not a lot of South East Asian Jews and that this was like a double immersion in another ethnic and religious tradition. Cantor Ruth proceeded to light the candles as it started to get darker and the invitation to participate in preparing our hearts through a song that did not really have words seemed helpful for setting the mood. Once the service began, Cantor Ruth led the people through a series of Psalms in Hebrew that made the book with the transliteration and translations very helpful. It was encouraging to see that even with Rabbi Joshua out, the way Cantor Ruth led the service may say something about the perspective of women in leadership for the Jews that some Christians are lacking. The history of Israel may account for this with people like Miriam and Deborah stepping in to take prominent leadership roles in their congregations. Returning to the Psalms, the Psalms used included those from Psalm 95 to around Psalm 99 that reminded people of the faithfulness of God throughout the history. The unity and the ability for the Jewish people to retain and know the traditions and language in their communities are striking. The service included a portion where they invited the presence of God to enter among them with the analogy of the bride used that was very close to our Christian perspectives. The Psalms led to the Shema in which there is a central focus and reminder for the people with blessings that are read before and after from the scripture. The focus on the commandments of loving God seems to point out the loss of our focus in our services at times where we get lost in just the worship and sermon of ministry instead. The people who were mourning also had an opportunity to respond and to cry out with the community to God that Christians often lack in our services. There was also a time of intercession for those who are oppressed and those who have died. This aspect was encouraging to see as there is a sense of remembering those who are gone and the history or legacy that they have left behind. The intercession time also spoke to the nature of mercy and justice that comes as part of their obedience to God. The blessing over the wine and bread at the end of service was surprising as our communion resembles the community and fellowship that may have stemmed from the fellowship among the Jews.
The visit taught me the importance of remembering the history and traditions of the people of Israel that continues even to this day. The welcoming and openness of all these Jewish people and their hospitality shames many of our churches today. As an Asian American Christian, there is a sense of holy envy that arises from their defined identity and culture that is present even though they are dispersed to other places beyond Israel and the ability to hold on to their traditions. The service made me rethink some of the more physical aspects and presence of who God is and what salvation and the forgiveness of sins meant for the people of Israel. The perspectives of sacrifice found in the Pentateuch also seemed to point towards the mercy and justice that the service addressed. Their deep reverence and remembrance of what God has done for them is striking as we are often quick to forget the things that God has done in our own lives as we get caught up in our consumer mentalities. The visit was helpful in providing me deeper understanding and some perspective on the way we live today as Christians.