Temple Hopping, Rabbi Shopping & Faith Meditation
I love going to temple. It makes me happy from the inside out. I always feel comfortable when I am sitting in shul and while I have yet to find a temple that I really, really love, I hop from temple to temple hoping I find a place that feels like the perfect fit. Actually, I’m not hoping I find it because I know I will, I am simply wandering around knowing I am going to get where I need to be. The process has been interesting and enlightening.
Last Shabbat my friend Jonathan invited me to his temple for Friday night services. I had never been, and adore Jonathan and his wife, so I made the schlep from the valley to Brentwood to spend the evening at Nashuva. I had heard a lot about Rabbi Naomi Levy and am surprised that in all my hopping had never made it to her services. I found Jonathan in the first row, so there I was front and center to check out another service.
Nashuva’s temple is actually a church. They meet on the first Friday of each month at the Bentwood Presbyterian Church. They are a tight and connected congregation that has no actual temple, so they meet in a church. I have a close relationship to God and feel his presence with me wherever I am, but there is something about being in a house of worship that feels great to me. I felt very happy to be in a church saying Jewish prayers.
Religion is what rips the world apart and for God to have one faith worshiping in the home of another is something that I think must give him joy. Faith is personal and the subject of God can offend in terms of writing about him, but I don’t care. I am happy to share that I believe in God, know that he believes in me, and while I feel him with me everyday, I felt God close as I sat in church saying the Shmah with Rabbi Levy.
The actual services were very inclusionary. It does not matter what level of Judaism you practice, you will feel comfortable there. I did not feel it was too Jewish, or not Jewish enough. I am a Conservative Jew that leads a rather Reform Jewish life, and I enjoyed the service very much. It was very musical and the Rabbi has a beautiful voice, which I must say is unusual in my temple travels. This Rabbi can sing, and she does.
There is a great band that really rocks. The music was wonderful, the service was warm, and the sermon was interesting. I really enjoyed the experience. You can tell they are a tight bunch and everyone seems to know everyone else, but as a newcomer, I was embraced. There were no looks of “Who is that?”, but rather lots of looks of “We’re glad you finally made it.” I was happy I went to Brentwood at this point, but then it happened.
I am not always sure what exactly it is I am searching for in terms of my faith. I am not searching for faith, just for a place in which I can worship in an environment where I feel I am Jewish enough. In the middle of services at Nashuva I had a moment of such pure faith that I started to cry. Rabbi Levy turns down the lights, and in the darkness leads her congregation in a meditation. It was the most remarkable temple experience.
She led us through deep breathing and in listening to my breath I felt peace. She shared how we can talk to God and share with him what we want, need, fear, and worry about. It was a simple thing that has impacted me in a really profound way. I have never done a meditation at temple and while I thought it was odd for a split second, in the end it was truly special and I found myself feeling real love for a Rabbi I had never met.
It might not be for everyone, and that is okay because my obligation is to myself, and for me it was lovely. There was an Oneg after that was warm and welcoming and I enjoyed the evening more than I thought I would. I am invited to services often because people are attached to their temples and want to share, but this was the first time I went to a service as a stranger and left feeling that it was actually my temple.
I will go to service at Nashuva again and hope to meet with Rabbi Levy one on one because I think she may have some of the answers I am seeking. I was introduced to her after the services and when I extended my hand to shake hers, she leaned in to hug me and once again I thought I would cry. My life has become rather complicated lately, for a lot of really great reasons, and her hugging me was a kindness that I really needed.
Faith is personal and one never knows what will speak to them in terms of prayer and belief. For me I just want to feel safe. It is a simple desire but one I have spent a very long time looking for. It was never about a Rabbi, a temple, or a congregation. It has always been about God, so it was a pleasant surprise that when I least expected it, I felt him close. My life is blessed and in the end my goal is to always focus on keeping the faith.