So imagine my delight when I opened my infrequently used Yahoo account to discover an invitation to a Yom Kippur celebration from a beautiful friend from my hometown of Tuskegee Institute, AL. Yes! That was last Wednesday, October 8, and the gala was the following day. Talk about divine timing! Thank God I am a writer blessed to woman her own days, no longer having to suffer the loss of an arm, two legs and a specious sick-leave day just to attend. And no, in case you're wondering, no, I knew nothing of Yom Kippur before that day. All I knew for sure---as Oprah might say---was it sounded Jewish, although I didn't know my friendgirl to be Jewish. Anybody who was somebody from my Tuskegee childhood was either Baptist or Catholic, thereby forcing any other faith, in my mind, to practice unseen, underground or underwraps.
Forever ready to embrace something new, I leaped from my swivel chair, danced a quick gig, informed my daughter, who was lounging on the office sofa, reading, of my plans, and darted in my bedroom's walk-in closet to ferret a white cotton outfit, of which I have many...although all cannot themselves appear in a synagogue. Smart me, I'd questioned Sharon on what I should wear when I called in my confirmation. And from that moment to my hopping in Sharon's truck when she arrived the next morning with her two precious bundles in tow, I was filled with awe and excitement and a reverential respect, as I always am, for the Power that brings all blessings into our lives!
To my surprise the synagogue was practically around the corner from my house, at 4141 Bancroft Street, tucked away in a neat little green elbow, on the outskirts of a serene neighborhood.
Climbing the temple's concrete stairs, I was greeted by worshipers dressed in white, their mouths filled with the ready greeting, "Shalom." In the lobby, other worshipers waited to welcome me as I strolled along, amazed, enjoying the warm line of hugs before I entered the sanctuary.
Another unforgettable religious experience was about to begin. I entered the Beth Adonai congregation, led by Senior Rabbi Scott Sekulow, a powerful, quiet, welcoming presence on a stage of a pulpit and everywhere else at once, smiling and nodding and speaking softly to his varied flock of every racial group you cared to suggest. There was even literature in Spanish.
Now, if you're like me and Yom Kippur echoes something out of a wind you'd not felt on your face before, you'll appreciate background.
"Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day of the year--the day on which we are closest to God and the quintessence of our own souls. It is the Day of Atonement." This I learn from the bright, well-done Kol Nidre: 10th of Tishrei, 5769 program inside my Beth Adonai Visitor's Folder. To be honest, Sharon vouchsafed as much when I called her the day before. "It's a place," she said, "where Jew and Gentile can worship together."
Huh uh! I think, vibrating with bliss. "I am sooo excited!"
"You'll love it. We're having a feast later. Messianic followers recognize the various celebrations in the Bible, in the Torah, like worshipers did in Biblical days!" Her voice rang, like mine, with the joy of us seeing one another again, after our six-year hiatus.
Our friendship had fallen off before the arrival of her latest angels. Therefore, the day was to be double blessed.
"Anything else you need to tell me before tomorrow?" I wanted to know.
"Yes, we fast in recognition of the celebration. "Ooooh! I'd have to think about that one. Yes, I'd fasted before, even going as far as to fast for one week and then one month, drinking only water and vegetable juices I juiced myself. But I had gotten cozy with fasting recently. I did, until a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch appeared before me---I forgot---the next morning, and was about half way through, before I dropped the spoon and ran for my white Indian headwrap to match my garment.
According to the Kol Nidre (all vows) program, "Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God, not for sins against another person." I found that to be most interesting and had to wonder if atoning for sins against other people existed in another celebration, or if that was to be done daily. Anyway, as for the fasting, I learned "Yom Kippur is the only fast day in the Bible. Abstaining from the pleasure of food is meant to improve one's ability to focus on repentance," as I somehow knew that abstaining from the pleasure of speaking brought me closer to the Divine, to Stillness Within. (Sharon's fast was to last for 25 hours, having begun at sundown the previous day.)
Now, you might be wondering, before I share more of my visit, what "all vows" might have to do with---the cost of rising, invisible gasoline, if you live in a few Southern states that shall go unnamed. And back to the program I go....so...I remember that "All personal vows we are likely to make, all personal oaths and pledges are likely to take between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce." Why relinquish and abandon one's personal vows? Mmmmm. Possibly to free us, I'm thinking, so that we can be OPEN to God's understanding of what is best, what is right for our lives, so that we will be receptive to blessings, and our eyes won't be closed, and judgmental, thwarting blessings that don't come packaged as we think they should. But that is only my estimation.
Wooooow! I sat amazed from beginning, from start to finish. We won't mention my experience ended at 8 P.M., as I opted to remain all day and through the feasting, of course!
The inside of the synagogue reminded me of a hall, maybe an old-time church meeting sort of set-up, with rows of chairs set up on both sides of the sanctuary. The center aisle led to the pulpit, far different from the ones to which I'm accustomed. There was a traditional podium; however, behind it, off to one side, was a large closet with a Tree of Life carved on its front. I wondered what was kept inside momentarily, but the two chairs on each side of the stage and a set of bongos and an erect mic and a drum set, an electric organ, behind a glass enclosure, commanded my attention. An eye-catching horn rested on a stand on the floor. It curled, no, waved, and looked peculiar. My eyes were bright with awe, scanning the side walls of blue and white wall hangings of the Lion of Juda, a Star of David, a dove, and an olive branch.
When the service started, the Rabbi blew the shofar, a horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies and the only Hebrew cultural instrument to have survived until now, and a blonde with an astoundingly beautiful voice, singing and speaking, began a chant and call, a liturgical dialogue between the congregation and the Cantor. Made me think of the Baptist church, where such a chanting sometimes takes place between the pastor or reverend and the congregation. Yet, in the synagogue, the liturgy was scripted, the worshipers following along from a wall screen on the stage showing the words in English and and Hebrew. For some of the songs and script, we referred to a Messianic Shabbat Siddur Prayer Book for use in Shabbat Services. Imagine my revelry upon discovering the book opened from right to left, same as the script read in Hebrew from right to left. I flipped the little book three or four times, wondering if I had the trick copy, before I figured it out!
The Cantor sang and read and the congregation responded so long, I stopped myself from leaning over to ask Sharon if this was going to be the extent of the service. If so, I din't want to be an added weight on her lap. Her little daughter was already flipping and turning and stretching and sleeping and periodically popping up to recite a bit of Hebrew she remembered from the last service.
It was a good thing the service eventually segued into the Rabbi coming up to relieve the Assistant Rabbi's wife, Louise Whittlemore, I believe, so that he could deliver his message, or I'd have been lulled under the sweet sounds of Hebrew into a peaceful slumber.
Then a most curious thing happened---think a Sisterlocked Alice in Wonderland. I stared up from the rabbit hole of my experience and watched a male worshiper open the doors of the mysterious cabinet. Once he did so, light shrouded the interior. To my utter amazement, a huge something, I was to soon learn was a Torah, which was first revealed at Mount Sinai and which now serves as a guide to Yeshua, the perfect atonement for sin.
Let's say you haven't seen a Torah. It's akin to looking at a giant scroll arrayed in a robe, for this ceremony, its garb is white. On its head is a silver crown, symbolizing that Yeshua is King. On its chest is a silverplate of brilliant colors representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Since the Torah is an actual scroll, with two thick wooden legs, that can be pulled apart when the parchment is read in a ceremony, it is the physical representation of God's sovereignty. The Assistant Rabbi walked the Torah around the congregation. As he did so, worshipers kissed the Torah and brought their fingers to their lips in reverence, like the woman who kissed the hem of the Savior's robe.
At the end of the service, Sharon went to get her gorgeous baby boy from the nursery, and we took the little ones to her eldest son, so that we could return to the temple. Within the hour, we were back. This time we joined other Jews and Gentiles viewing films, documentaries, on the Jewish tradition. From the beauty of the films, I gathered there are Black, Spanish, Indian and other Jews. Hmmmm. Can we say, Sammy Davis, Jr.
After another service, with my cell phone singing, rattling me, and Shirley needing to talk, I tipped to the back of the synagogue, where I listened, lending her my ear in a sun-splashed lobby. I listened so long the service ended, and congregationists spilled out of the main sanctuary and down the stairs into the dining room, where we enjoyed a Yom Kippur feast.
Throughout the merriment, I met others, spoke Spanish with several people, and discovered a simple joy sitting on the front steps of the synagogue, in my white Indian sari, smiling "Shalom" and "Bienvenidos" to everyone. Blessed, I climbed into Sharon's truck at 7:46 P.M., and I chalked up another day in Paradise.
Today, as I write this blog it is 6:52 P.M., I realize it has been writing me for several days. Have even taken a trip into Charlotte, N.C., and returned to finish writing it for most of the afternoon and evening. Am writing through a friend, Colettte's, conversation. And I realize I am Eve in her Garden of Eden. And as Eve, I will stroll out of this oasis to visit a mosque to embrace the Islamic faith, for I am a vessel shining with the Divine's light.
I blow the shofar, calling myself to Love at the start of each new day!
Besos y abrazos,