Last evening I attended a Shabbat worship service at Bet Shalom temple. No, I’m not converting to Judaism: My friend Rabbi Norman Cohen, who I’ve mentioned in several recent posts, is the head of that congregation and I wanted to be able to worship with him and hear him give a sermon before he goes off for two months of study leave.
I attended many Bar/Bat Mitzvah services in New York and, as I always experienced in those, I found last night’s service profoundly moving. The recitation of the prayers, the singing – all of it touches a place deep in my soul. I am a Christian, not a Jew, but the prayers – prayers of praise to God, prayers seeking blessing for the suffering and for those who have died – are all prayers I can recite with as much fervor (albeit not with particularly good Hebrew pronunciation) as my Jewish brothers and sisters.
I could write about Rabbi Cohen’s thought-provoking sermon about the new year and new beginnings and our desire to “make things right, to smooth out the wrinkles, to make our lives fulfilled and complete.” Or about his beautiful words at the outset of the service about the meaning of Shabbat. But what brought tears to my eyes was the prayer for healing for those who are ill or otherwise suffering.
Rabbi Cohen began by reading the list of names of those the congregation has been praying for. Although I’m not entirely sure why, I felt tears start to run down my face before he even began reading the names. (The music? The prayer? I’m not sure what it was, but something touched a very deep place.)
As he was reciting the names, I was a bit startled when I heard him say the name “Joan Askin” – my aunt, who suffered a stroke at the end of November. I had almost forgotten that, when I mentioned her illness in a conversation, Rabbi Cohen had asked me for her name so he could include her in their prayers for healing.
It is hard to describe how I felt, realizing that this congregation – people who didn’t know me or my aunt – had been praying for her by name as part of their Shabbat service. Grateful, of course. But what I felt was more than gratitude. Something like sense of connectedness with these people who until last night were complete strangers. (And, as a related aside, I found these strangers very welcoming; although I didn’t talk to many people, no one I did talk to had any difficulty welcoming a Christian to their service.) And I felt a sense of the awesome power of prayer, and how important it is that we hold each other in our prayers. I felt all of those…and more. I was deeply moved. And I am incredibly grateful for that.
To all of my brothers and sisters, Shabbat Shalom!