Last night I had a chance to be able to go worship at a synagogue in Jerusalem. I went to an liberal Orthodox synagogue (I know, seems like an oxy moron, but it’s not.) which was housed in a Boy and Girl Scout building filled with plastic chairs and a makeshift curtain separating the men and women’s seating made of PVC and simple cloth. In the front of the room was a podium facing away from the congregation with materials on it for reading Torah and singing psalms. It was unique to me to see the canter’s back to everyone up there, pounding his fists on the podium in order to keep time as everyone sang with vigor psalms taken from the ancient scriptures and set to their own beautiful minor-keyed tunes.
A woman walked in late and took a seat to the right of me and I guess that she didn’t notice my struggling to keep up with the Hebrew words to the hymns, because she turned to me and asked in Hebrew where we were in the prayer book. Unable to affectively respond, I just told her in English that I wasn’t sure. After a few moments and a few fluttered pages, she turned to me again and, this time in English, pointed me to the psalm currently being sung. I immediately felt welcomed and understood.
I can imagine how amazing it must feel to be surrounded by your brethren, singing the ancient words found in the Torah, in the tongue of your fathers, as well as in the land of your fathers and to just soak up the richness of tradition that you are a part of. It was a great experience. They did not need a fancy building to worship the Lord and they are working diligently to lay a solid foundation of faith for their posterity while looking to the ways and works of their predecessors constantly.
On the other hand, I have also recently been to the Mohammad Ali Mosque in Cairo as well as the King Abdullah Mosque in Amman. The architecture and décor of these structures were magnificent. I loved the domes and the nearby minarets and inside there was beautiful Arabic writing calligraphied around the dome as well as stained glass and great wood carvings. Interesting that the women typically worshipped in a separate place, which makes sense considering the huge importance of modesty in Islam and since they all pray prostrate on the ground with many movements up and down, propriety nearly demands that men and women pray apart from one another. In the mosque in Jordan all of the women, even of our group, wore scarves over our hair and long robes. I have a whole new appreciation of my Muslim neighbors wearing black layer upon layer everyday in the hot sun. Even inside the mosque and in the morning with this on I was quite uncomfortably hot. I respect these people and their beliefs in doing good and reaping the rewards of it, a concept that is noble, admirable, and a common thread consistent among the religious sects.