The Manhattan skyline was in front of us as our car crossed the Hudson River. We were bound for the children’s Shabbat morning service at our former synagogue, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun (aka: BJ). I spent countless Shabbats at BJ when I lived in Manhtattan. Our Aliyat Hatan v’Kallah (pre-weddding blessing in front of family, friends, and the congregation) took place in the same building — in 2007 — where we would be taking our daughter to services today.
Once we walked into the building I could hear the sounds from the main Shabbat morning service. A familiar melody was being chanted. Though I couldn’t see it, I knew the Torah was being carried around the sanctuary. I felt compelled to go in, just for a minute, but my hands were on Isabelle’s stroller. That helped me remember why we were back at BJ. My husband, father-in-law, & I were there for her… for the kids’ service.
I parked the stroller along the wall, gave Isabelle a short lecture about staying with mommy, daddy and/or papa during services, and then unstrapped her, removing her coat and throwing it into the seat where she had been sitting.
I led her by hand to the chapel where a few families were already sitting. Over the next few minutes more people poured in. Marc and I sat on the floor with Isabelle; my father-in-law on a chair. A few minutes later the assistant director of education welcomed everyone and started service.
And then I sat back and was amazed. Amazed at the way she explained concepts and prayers. Amazed at the way she prepared the children for Pesach (which starts next week) while keeping Shabbat the focus. Amazed at the way the children were engaged with hand motions in prayers and with their bodies standing under a “tent” as we sang Ma
Tovu. Amazed at central role music (which is one of the main things BJ is known for) played in this service. Amazed at how many people kept coming into the chapel. By the time we stood for Mi Chamocha, I think there were 50-60 kids + their family members in the room. As we danced with Isabelle I looked around the room and noticed everyone
dancing and rejoicing with their kids. This doesn’t happen anywhere else, does it? How wonderful it is to end a hectic week worshiping in such a spiritual place.
Right before the service ended the rabbis came into the back of the chapel. I tapped one of them on the shoulder. It was Felicia, one of the rabbis who co-officiated our wedding. We caught up quickly and then I brought her over to see Marc and to meet Isabelle.
As the service came to a close with everyone singing the Ma Nishtana, in preparation for Pesach, I felt a twinge of sadness. We live three hours away. Shabbat mornings at BJ are a delight, but regularly spending Shabbat there is not possible because of the distance. We can come back with Izzy a few times a year so she can be part of this vibrant service, but what about the rest of the Saturday mornings in the year?
When I left New York in 2007, I knew I probably would never be a member of a synagogue like BJ again. Shabbat services like this are a joy to attend, but they make me realize that the Jewish life I lead now isn’t the one I anticipated having when I was a twenty-something living in New York. I like the congregation we are members of now. The people welcomed us from the day we stepped through the door. BUT, it’ll never have the same ruach, or spirit, as BJ. I thought I had accepted that. After going back to BJ this morning, even if it was just for the children’s service, I realize I haven’t truly accepted my reality. True acceptance may take a few more years.