Saturday, December 12, 2009


Those of you who have been reading me regularly for awhile may know that I don’t do religion.  I’m not an atheist or even agnostic, I’m just not a joiner and I have a lot of trouble swallowing all the ‘word of god’ stuff.  My questions about religion and spirituality started when I was fairly young and my journey to where I am now is the subject for another post but part of that journey was embracing Reform Judaism.  Not for myself so much but as a foundation for my children.  I fully expected them, as young adults, to continue their own spiritual journey just as I did but my daughter never wavered.  So it was that I found myself at temple last night for services on the first night of Hanukah.

Going to services of any kind for me is sort of like watching performance art.  I don’t participate, don’t join in with the responsive reading but I do enjoy the sights and sounds, the music and the people.  Even when it’s in English instead a foreign language, all the different voices responding in their own rhythms makes it sound like a foreign language.  I’ll close my eyes and listen to the sounds waxing and waning like the surf on a beach.

Last night, after a ‘ridiculously expensive’ (my daughter’s description) latke dinner at the Temple there was a short service about the story of Hanukah with a choir of elementary school age kids who sang the prayers and Hanukah songs throughout the service.   My grandgirl Robin was in the choir.  

It was mostly pandemonium in the sanctuary with all the kids running around while everyone made their way from the dinner to find a seat.  People corralling kids, greeting friends, talking on their phones, other kids are hanging out on the steps to the bima.  I’ve always found Jews to be a bit irreverent when compared to the Christian services I attended as a child and it is one of the things that drew me to them.  My very first exposure, however, was going to Rosh Hashanna services at an orthodox synagogue with my boyfriend (who later became the Husband) and all through the services people were talking to each other, and to my eyes and mind, not paying the least bit of attention or respect.  I know different now but then, coming from a background where the church was sacrosanct and you entered in silence and respect and remained that way til you finally escaped, I was appalled.

Robin was already on the bima with the choir when we got there and joined Mom and siblings (Dad was at work) in the pews.  We all waved wildly at Robin and she waved back.  Robin is such a dramatic kid.  We were all a little amazed at how subdued she was up there.  When the director signaled for the kids to stand for the first song and then again to sit when they were done, Robin still stood, gazing out at the congregation instead of paying attention.  When she finally rested her gaze on her mother who was motioning for her to sit, she cast a glance at the other kids and plopped herself down.  From there ensued some typical Robin behavior.  When she realized her sister was taking pictures of her she held the song card up in front of her head, when her brother started making faces at her she’d stick her tongue out at him, after several songs she’s clutching her throat as if parched.  I think towards the end she was just mouthing the words instead of singing.  That’s my Robin.

After it was over, in the lobby, the Sisterhood had packaged up the leftover latkes and salad and pita bread and was selling them to people as they left.  Marc bought a package of the latkes and the pita bread and while people were streaming by us on their way out, our clan was standing in the big middle scarfing down latkes.

All I can say is, I raised them right.


  1. Mmm - I could eat a latke right now!

    One of the things that I had the hardest time adjusting to in the Episcopal church I joined in Cincinnati was the fact that the children just roamed all over the place during the service. And people came & went as they pleased. It was always so BUSY instead of what I consider to be reverant. But our Rector said that she thought that God loved children to be children & that church was about community, not quiet.

  2. So sweet to see our children and grandchildren participate in traditional/religious events - whether with propriety or not. Your grandaughter sounds spunky and cute!!

  3. Now I am hungry!

    The ceremony sounds beautiful.

  4. Wonderful. Yes you did. :) Thanks for sharing

  5. I like your approach. Makes perfect sense. I'm not a joiner either and shy away from anything that starts to look like organised - and yet I like the ritual aspect of Anglicanism just because it is structured. Would be better with latkes though.

  6. I'm with you, in that I believe in giving our children some sort of religious/faith foundation, and when they are adults, they can decide which direction to take it, if any. Wonderful memories come from services like the one here, though, most definitely.

  7. So much I want to comment on, but I'll stick to this: I'm not a joiner either.

    You know me well enough by now that I am a Christian and I do love my faith. It's important to me. But when we were attending our mega-church and I was approached to be a "Ministry Leader" for the gigantic cafe, how could I say no? I didn't necessarily want to do it... but if God was calling. You know? I agreed and started the process of being declared suitable as was the church's policy. I had to fill out this lengthy and personal {!} questionnaire about my faith and church history, my beliefs, and descriptions of the meanings of Biblical teachings. I had to list my Christian milestones including baptisms, and had to include specific dates. When I got to the question that asked when I became an official member of the church, I had to leave it blank. I'd never gone through any new member classes. I'd never been baptized by that church. I was never transferred by letter from a former church. There was no paper trail on me. I considered myself a member by marriage and I tithed! Well, that wasn't good enough as it turned out. I was not official, so they wanted to run me quickly through the membership process. I balked on principle. Do they have the right to force me to join just so I can serve them. They asked me to serve, remember? But I'm not good enough unless I'm an official bona fide member of the church. The mega all are welcome nondenominational Christian church. Humph. No thank you. That's when I politely declined to officially join the church AND to serve as their cafe Ministry Leader. In fact, I rarely go back to that church. I don't dislike it. I just don't like the way they handled my faith. My belonging. You don't want me? No problem. See ya... and good luck with the cafe.

    Am I going to burn in hell?

  8. What's a latke? No matter, food is always a good thing. Happy Hanukkah, Ellen. :-)

    I was raised Methodist, the World's Dullest Religion. My mother is sad that none of her three children remained in that church. One is a Lutheran, one is some other Protestant denomination, and the last one became a Catholic and then a strict Lesbyterian. ;-)

  9. Lesbyterian...Ha! Do you have to be transferred by letters from a former group leader?

    I love your story Ellen, and the responses by your readers as well.

    I don't consider myself a joiner either, and have eschewed all formal religious connections. However, I do value community and ritual and tradition. I rebel against being told what my spiritual fitness is, and what hoops I have to jump through to be deemed spiritually fit. The conundrum for me is how to have community...without joining.

    Your Robin sounds delightful.

    Happy Hannukah. I think I'll make latkes tonight, and some apple sauce to top them with. Yum.

  10. Happy Hanukah!!

    Robin sounds wonderful - unselfconsciousness is an EXCELLENT trait to cultivate.

    I have been Jewish all my life, but still find that talking during the service thing very rude.

    At Temple Micah for the Hanukah service, they pass out 3-D glasses that make every small point of light, like a flame or a christmas light, look like a star of David. Then everyone lights their menorahs and puts on the glasses and says OH WOW, staring at all the stars of David. I love Temple Micah, but I can't be a Jew because I hate the Torah.

    Let there be light and latkes!

  11. I don't want to give the wrong impression. The pandemonium settled down once the service began and it was respectful even though life continued to bubble up but the difference to what I grew up with is still striking to me. There was so much happiness and love apparent throughout...before, during and after the service compared to the stern quiet 'reverence' that was expected of us. This was a family service with children and for the children. The adult services are much different but still, to me, more relaxed. But I tend to think a little bit of irreverence is a good thing.

    Of course, one size does not fit all and every congregation has it's own personality.

  12. Love those latkes. Now I am inspired to make some. Sounds like a great night, and your granddaughter must have loved having you there.

  13. I have no idea why, but I thought you were Pagan! LOL

    I was raised Methodist. My parents are still strict fundamentalist Christians. Me? I'm Pagan. My elders are probably turning over in their graves as I type this. :)


  14. Wishing you and yours a Chappy Chanukkah and many menorah!


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