Sunday, July 15, 2012

Traditional but Alternative

Mrs. Yid and I have enjoyed our time shul-hopping but are happy to have found a congregational home. What we hadn't expected was that the shul-hopping would continue after we joined the shul. Case in point: last week's Kabbalat Shabbat with a new Reform minyan start-up (they call themselves a kehillah, which I guess sounds more friendly to Reform ears than a minyan- maybe it's generational; my parents still have visceral reactions to that term). There were guitars (fine), a harmonica (not bad, actually), and a mercifully brief use of bongos (cue irritated glowering from Mrs. Yid). The drash was pretty rambling (please don't end each point by saying, "I just thought that was interesting,") but at least people were engaged. Ultimately the visitors were nice and friendly, but the services encapsulated all the ways in which, as Mrs. Yid put it, "We've been ruined on Reform."

This isn't exactly new-- loyal readers will recall our first minyan at college was Carlebach-inspired at a Conservative shul, and we spent many enjoyable services at Evil Minion which is a Conservadox partnership minyan par excellence. Still, what with us slowly starting to take more mitzvot (or pseudo-mitzvot) on, the idea of belonging to a community that actually purports to follow some version of halacha-- in both positive and, perhaps, "restrictive" ways, no longer feels quite so at odds with our own philosophies. Mrs. Yid told me shortly before we got married that for her to feel connected, she needed to feel like she was actually doing Jewish things, and I think there's something to that.

There was another interesting moment the other week: towards the end of the service we started talking with an older gay man I'll call Irv who hops between Beth Elderly and Temple GLBT. We mentioned that a lot of the visitors seemed to come from the Reform tradition (some of them mentioned being current or former members of Temple Touched by God, and I recognized their photocopied siddur from Mishkan T'filah). Irv commented that he had noticed that, but added that given that background, he was surprised at how non-inclusive the service was. He said it was one thing for a place that does traditional liturgy to stick with that, but that he didn't understand why you would leave people out if you specifically do liberal liturgy. We knew what he meant; Temple GLBT alternates pronouns during Hinei Ma Tov, and also adds a section about different orientations during some choral prayers. It doesn't always resonate with me personally, but it's nice that it's there.

Afterwards, Mrs. Yid commented that Irv seemed to have been testing the waters with us; our clothes were probably reading as uber-frum (which has happened before), but he saw Mrs. Yid using Mishkan T'filah, and when he mentioned Temple GLBT we responded positively and even mentioned that we had gone to services there several times. From there he felt comfortable enough to come out with mild criticism. But that what it really came down to, in her eyes, was that both we and Irv are outliers, "alternative," and that she saw the Kehillah folks, and their home community of Touched by God, as "mainstream" par excellence.

It's a little counter-intuitive to think of the poster-child for liberal Judaism in the city leaving people out, but Mrs. Yid was basically saying that because they're so big, and so establishment (and have been since their founding), some people fall through their cracks. A mega-shul can do some things really well and cater to lots of niche groups, but since they've never needed to struggle for members they've never needed to think about "misfits" like us or Irv-- whereas Beth Elderly and lots of the small shuls are basically almost all misfits at this point. That's not to say we wouldn't be welcome, but it's not the same as a small place as Beth Elderly, which is really motivated to get to know its members and make sure it speaks to them (and where there seems to be more awareness about how diverse and wide-ranging the congregation is).

Though I'm still not exactly sure how much halacha I'm prepared to personally accept, I think I'm becoming more comfortable with the idea of being part of a community that at least seriously considers what halacha has to say, and I think worship style is part of this evolving sensibility as well. However, some of our foundational core values are also inclusiveness and diversity, so I think balancing those two elements is going to be an ongoing process as we try to take our Judaism and our community-building more seriously.

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