Today is December 15, 2019 -
When traveling, I like to enjoy new experiences outside of my comfort zone. Specifically, when in Israel, I like to attend services in synagogues as unlike my own as possible. Our Jerusalem scholar-in-residence, Rabbi Sam Shor, adds to my philosophy by educationally using these new experiences to break down stereotypes and promote religious pluralism and Jewish unity.
With this as the background, I share my experiences at a Bratslav Chassidic shul last Friday night:
Rabbi Sam and I brought about a dozen teenagers to the tiny shul. He gave the kids his usual pre-new experience speech. “You will see practices that are different from you own. I am an Orthodox rabbi, and you will see practices different from mine, but these are members of our Jewish people. Let’s go see what they do.” The room was packed. A few minutes into the service, Nissim Black, an African American rapper from Seattle, who converted to Judaism, made Aliyah, and joined up with the Bratslav Chassidim, walked in wearing a long, black coat and a shtreimel. The look on our teenagers’ faces was priceless as stereotypes were eroding.
During Lecha Dodi, the room came alive with about 15 minutes of singing and dancing. Nissim lead the ruach as people were jumping up and down and banging tables. Our kids were not bystanders as people grabbed them by their hands and included them in all of the festivities. With huge smiles, it was clear that our kids were having an amazing time. What an experience as we left behind a few more stereotypes. At the end of services, someone read the announcements in Yiddish. He actually translated them into English as well. I suspect that this was for our benefit.
I asked a couple of the kids on the walk back, “How was it? Was this like your shul at home?”
“Not even a little bit!”