Something good and unexpected came out of COVID political madness; COVID forced live streaming of most religious worship. Consequently, it gave me the first opportunity to participate in weekly Shabbat, often videotaped from our rabbi’s home. Lifting of restrictions eventually allowed participation in person. A small nondescript Jewish military community in Bavaria opened its doors to unexpected understanding of what I was born into and what I struggle to become.
The journey has not been easy. My comfort zone is normally a church. But our Deputy Garrison Chaplain who moonlights as the rabbi, helped me understand the significance of Shabbat as a moving experience that ends one week and starts another. I have learned to sing the psalms and although I often fail in catching up in Hebrew, my sense of belonging remains resolute. I now officially look forward to starting the week with Shabbat. Friday mornings I leave home with the Kotel Siddur and Prayer Book in anticipation of song, praise, prayer, and Torah reading.
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot were somewhat nebulous to me. However, I surmised that this journey will be quite different than my Shabbat initiation. The first time I heard the sound of the Shofar any doubts that I was in for something special dissipated quickly. My naiveté and ignorance of all things Judeo did not keep me from asking questions and learning of what to expect during these Holy Days. The rabbi lent me books which I admit publicly I appropriated permanently, and left tell tale twisted “ears” on several pages as a sign of possession. My sin has been forgiven, and as my Friday load gets heavier, my steps get lighter in anticipation of what I am to experience.
COVID restrictions prevented us from participating in Rosh Hashanah celebration, but the Rosh Hashanah worship on that Friday evening was beyond special. It was a night of purpose. A night of new beginnings. Not artificial. No ball descending in Times Square or fireworks in Sidney, but a celebration of our beginning as children of G-d. G-d rested and allowed us to proceed in building His world. Rosh Hashanah defines our choice to do good or evil. The day of judgement not only by Hashem but by us and others. A lifetime of doubt on my purpose on earth was dismissed that evening; sitting in a small garrison chapel, listening to our rabbi, in nowhere significant Germany. I rediscovered my place in G-d’s creation.
My journey through the Holy Days continued as we approached Yom Kippur. Until that Friday night I was relatively clueless about Yom Kippur. My knowledge of the day was reduced to the attack on Israel so many years ago. I never really realized the significance of the day. Was it a coincidence that the attacks happened on a day when Jews reconcile themselves to their shortcomings? A day when Jews ask for forgiveness and friendship with G-d and each other. A day when I joined in recollecting my offenses and making a sincere attempt at not repeating them. A day of forgiveness from G-d and towards others. The cleansing of the soul and mind. An experience that left me peaceful and hopeful inside.
Sukkot was more difficult to comprehend. My basic knowledge about Sukkot amounted to building huts and living in them for seven days. Not much to go on. A quaint tradition, or so I thought. Questions loomed. How is the rabbi going to build a sukkah on an Army garrison in Germany? Oh me of little faith. My curiosity peaked when I saw pictures of a tent at the back of the post chapel building. Apprehension. October weather in Germany is not very conducive to outdoor entertainment. But in my Friday tradition, and armed with my weekly Shabbat books; off I went to Sukkot Shabbat. The evening was not disappointing. A sukkah kit made it possible to have kiddush after our Shabbat prayers. We shared honey cake, wine, and a wonderful explanation from our rabbi on the “do’s and don’ts” of a proper sukkah. It is a pity that it rained all week and I never managed to go back for prayers. But there is always next year.
On the trip back home from Sukkot Shabbat, I remarked to my husband that I can’t imagine my Fridays without Shabbat prayers. It’s not a habit, it’s more of an intrinsic urge. Christian by birth I often struggle with myself because I find more peace in Judaism than Christianity. Caught between these two worlds; the Shabbat praises to Hashem seem to take me closer to what I envision prayer should accomplish. There is more heaven than hell. As a child I envied the Jews because they were “the chosen people”. That door always seemed closed to me. But my stubbornness and tenacity which I inherited from my father, led me to knock for answers. Real answers as to who I am and my relationship to G-d. And as I started participating in the Shabbat prayers through the miracle of live streaming and a very patient Rabbi, I found myself eager to add my voice to the Lecha Dodi and “V’SHAM’RU”. Blessings, joy, celebration and welcome to a new week. A concept that was foreign to me and now embraced with the same fervor as every Jew on Friday night. As my best Friend in Israel described it so eloquently: imagine all the voices of all the Jews everywhere at the same time raising their voices in thanksgiving. Imagine that!
My urge to learn more began at the Kotel. I felt a surge of unexplainable power as I touched the cool walls some four years ago on a Shabbat evening in Jerusalem. I could not explain it then, and still have a tough time speaking about it now. I felt the hand of Hashem on my shoulders. For the first time in my life I had no doubts that I was in the presence of G-d. But my ignorance of that emotion that shook my body and led me to tears was finally revealed at the first Shabbat evening I attended. Everything made sense. Now I understand. Now I know that on that special Friday night at the Kotel, I joined all our Biblical ancestors in prayer for each other and for Israel. In a blink of an eye I participated in the sanctity of the moment. A moment that led me to the present.
My Rosh Hashanah – Sukkot journey answered many questions and created more. But that is for the rabbi to be concerned with. As I prepare for another Shabbat, I get my appropriated assortment of books together and look forward to participating in the transformation from the mundane to the holy. The slowing down of life at the end of the week and the beginning of another. I will be joined by many in Israel and Diaspora in lifting up my voice in thanksgiving. A wonderful feeling knowing that I will not be alone. Shabbat Shalom!