I was fortunate to have been able to attend the recent FJMC convention. Among the convention highlights were the alternative daily and Shabbat Shacharit (morning) and regular Erev (evening) Shabbat services. One was meditative, one celebratory, one experiential and all musical, inspiring and out of the ordinary. More than one guy told me that they were “blown away” by the Erev Shabbat service as I was.
On Thursday morning of the convention I was one of the facilitators in the “Opening our Hearts to Prayer” sessions and in the afternoon I attended a session on “Reactions to the Changing world of Conservative/Masorti Judaism”. In both sessions guys expressed some dissatisfaction with their experience of prayer and were looking for ways to make davening more meaningful. However they also told us that during Kabbalat Shabbat, which precedes the Shabbat evening service that occurs just before the actual start of Shabbat, they often had a musical program which was inspiring and very well attended. However as soon as Shabbat started the instruments were put away and the same traditional service started. Their rabbi, understandably, followed his/her interpretation of halacha and followed the Talmudic tradition that prohibits music on Shabbat.
So I started (or actually resumed) thinking that for the millennium or so prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem we had priests and sacrifices as our form of approaching and interpreting God. Then, following the trauma of Temple destruction and essentially expulsion from the land of Israel, for the next two thousand years our approach to God has been through prayer, taught and interpreted by our Rabbis.
Three major events during the past millennium altered our way of live and our relationship to God. The enlightenment which, for the past century or two, has been challenging our ideas about what causes events to happen in our world; the Shoah, which threatened the existence of the Jewish people and led to widespread questioning of the role of God in our lives and the re-establishment of the Jewish nation as a democracy in the land of Israel.
As was so well stated by our convention theme and the latest FJMC publication-“Jewish Men at the Crossroads”, we seem to be at a turning point for our Jewish future. Some people in Israel would like to re-establish the Temple with the original role of the Kohanim and the resumption of sacrifices. This of course would centralize Jewish worship in a way that could destroy diaspora Judaism and certainly would relegate us to an insignificant and backward status. Some would like us to stick our head in the sand and continue our medieval approach to Judaism while the rest of the world moves ahead.
So perhaps we are ready for a third approach. We don’t know what this would be but the past few days of convention has given us a hint of possibility. Are our clubs and each of us individually ready to start shaping our future, and will that come about? Well, I certainly hope so and I hope that you do as well.