Why I Enjoy Going to Services
By Mari Vosburgh
If I were writing this pre-coronavirus, this would be my answer: for the people, the voices, and the prayer book.
The congregants are the #1 reason I go to services. Over time and through shared experiences, they have come to be my synagogue family. When I enter the Sanctuary there are always friendly people to greet me, and if I go alone someone beckons to me to sit with them because that’s the kind of conviviality we enjoy in our temple. Before the service begins there is a lot of lively chatter as people catch up on each other’s lives. It is a powerful feeling, this sense of being part of a spiritual community. The invisible links connecting us to each other and to those no longer here form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. At B’nai Sholom, I feel the same sense of family as I did as a child attending services at the tiny 228 year-old Trinity Lutheran Church of Stone Arabia, New York – of being at home, of being nurtured.
The bonds that exist among B’nai Sholom congregants carry over into our committees and strengthen them. I have learned through my involvement with the Social Action Committee how much a few people can accomplish when united in common purpose.
This is my #2 reason for attending services: group music and reading. The therapeutic effects of both are well-documented and the pleasures are undeniable. On any given Friday night, you can
participate fully in the service, reading and singing along in time with others, blending your voice with the entire congregation. Our combined voices are always transporting, and no one need ever hold back from singing for lack of talent. There is pleasure in recognizing individual voices in the group: a resonant bass voice across the aisle; a soprano harmonizing behind you; someone with great enunciation in the back row reciting a prayer and giving it added significance; the familiar voice of a dear friend.
Rabbi Emeritus Cashman had an endless supply of new melodies for familiar lyrics, and I hope we can continue this tradition of trying new tunes. Who has not walked toward the Social Hall for Oneg humming his catchy version of “Shalom Aleichem” after hearing it during services? And though not a human voice, Lenora’s singing bowls take us into another dimension when we are privileged to hear them.
The text of our prayer book provides an opportunity to step out of our ordinary lives – to transcend the mundane and think about our place in the world, what kind of people we are, what we have done that is helpful or hurtful to others, how we can contribute to Tikkun Olam. We can ponder the holy instead of the secular. We can try to put our past week in perspective and reflect on how to meet challenges to come.
Over time, the more we attend services, the more meaningful the passages become through association and repetition. There is great comfort in their familiarity. Some passages remind me of beautiful songs (Debbie Friedman’s “Sh’ma-You Shall Love,” Noah Aronson’s “Let There Be Love”). Others evoke especially meaningful services I’ve attended, such as my children’s b’nai mitzvah services. I always smile when I open to “When we behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars that You set in place – What are we humans that You are mindful of us?” (Psalm 8:4-7), a favorite of my late mother Adah. One of my personal favorites shares the page with Lo Yisa Goy: “Don’t stop after beating the swords into ploughshares, don’t stop! Go on beating and make musical instruments out of them. Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them into ploughshares first.” (Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai).
The Zoom Reality
Writing the above during the 2020 pandemic is like chronicling an interrupted dream. At a Zoom service the people are confined in small rectangles, seemingly staring at us or off into space. The personal chatter is awkward at best as we adapt our social skills for the software. We cede page control to a designated page-turner, and our voices must be muted since the lag turns our group singing and reading into a cacophonous mix of pitches and tempos.
But there are many positives: we’re still showing up. We’re still worshipping together, we’re talking when there’s an opportunity, we’re connecting, and even though we can’t hear each other during the service we’re singing and praying together. We can see lips moving, if not hear the sounds they produce. We can see people’s pets, see their homes, their children, see if they are holding up okay during this time of isolation. We can send messages privately (like passing notes in class) or to everyone. Attendance is better than ever. While we await the joy of returning to services in our sanctuary, we infinitely adaptable humans are getting by with our technology and ingenuity.