Sunday, August 8, 2010

Looking for God in All the Wrong Places: My Visits to Non-Christian Places of Worship, Part III

Temple Beth Ohr

My visit to this Jewish Synagogue was perhaps the most surprising visit of them all. I had forwarned what to expect by my professor and had been somewhat prepared for what I saw and what I heard, but Rabbi Goldmark’s description of Judaism, which I will describe later, was not what I expected.

The temple was an ordinary looking building with Jewish symbols decorating the inside and outside. We were told that Orthodox Jews called their buildings Synagogues because they believed that there was only one temple and it was in Jerusalem, but Reformed Jews called their places of worship temples. The actual service was somewhat like a very conservative Christian service: some singing (in Hebrew), some scripture reading (in Hebrew and English), and a sermon.

The sermon reminded me of the few Roman Catholic masses I have attended – very bland and almost godless. Rabbi Goldmark mentioned God only once during his 20-minute talk, the rest of the time it was just boring commentary. The congregation was somber and still, it reminded me of some of the Baptist churches I’ve attended where if anyone dared to break a smile, the roof would have caved in! The only person to regularly smile during the whole time was the Cantor, Shannon McGrady Bane – she led the singing and seemed to be happy doing so. This night was a special night because a young boy was having his bar mitzvah on Saturday, so he was doing all the Hebrew scripture reading.

After the service, there was a time of fellowship with coffee and cake; to start it off, everyone was given a shot glass of wine. This surprised me because all the churches I have attended used grape juice, so I assumed that was what I was getting. The back of my throat told me otherwise! Not only was it real wine, it had quiet a kick to it! Everyone I talked to, with one exception, was very friendly and helpful in answering questions. My group’s coffee time was cut short by Rabbi Goldmark as he impatiently beckoned us to himself so he could talk with us.

Rabbi Goldmark was one of the rudest people I have met; his attitude and demeanor were inexcusable for a “man of God.” Even though we were warned of his disposition, he was worse than I ever would have expected from a religious person. To start our session, he outlined the major Judaic beliefs about God and Jesus and a few other points. But then he asked if anyone had seen the movie The Passion of Christ. He then started tearing the movie apart (which did not bother me because I have not seen, nor plan to see, the movie), but he did not stop there. He started ranting about how ALL of the Jew’s problems were because of Christians! About how the Christians have been behind everything bad that has ever happened to the Jews and how what we call the New Testament is all wrong and full of fairy tales, and has intentional altered historical facts. He was putting down Jesus and our faith with such rage that he was almost out of control! If I had been there on my own, and not as part of a school project, I would have walked out.

Finally, he calmed down and we were allowed to ask questions. Rabbi Goldmark said that Judaism believes that God gave us a free will to choose to do good or evil, and that the people who choose to do good, regardless of their faith or religion, would be accepted into heaven. This is the part of Judaism that surprised me. Jews believe that you do not have to be a Jew to get to heaven, he said a person’s beliefs and good works is what gets them into heaven. Perhaps the Rabbi was saying this because he is very liberal and because he said that he does not believe everything in the Hebrew Scriptures is relevant for today. The Rabbi has no desire to convert anyone; he wants everyone to stay in the religion they are in, but just to be the best person they can be. But when asked, he admitted that he was really uncertain what actually happens after death.

Cantor Bane’s role is to lead the singing and to assist the Rabbi, although she said that she and the Rabbi were actually of equal rank in the temple. She said that women could become Rabbis if they want with no restrictions. It was interesting because she was not born a Jew; she converted in her early 20’s and then went to seminary. She was raised a Methodist, but was not fulfilled in the church. Her parents, although still Methodist, attend the Friday night services in support of her in her choice of religions.

Overall, this visit was bitter/sweet. I was glad to hear what some Jews actually believe, but the experience with the Rabbi tainted the whole visit. He is obviously filled with hatred toward Christians and therefore not an unbiased informant.

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