Hello people of the Universe ! (or should I say Shalom?)
In the next posts, I will write about my first time in a synagogue, how I got there, why, and especially how I feel now about my experience. Don’t hesitate to share your opinions and questions, I look forward to talk with you!
Here is how everything started.
For the second semester, I have to do an obversation with two of my friends for university. When we had to decide what we could observe, I came up saying “what about religious places?” and we all ended up thinking that would be very interesting. We are atheist, not even raised in catholic faith, but we enjoy discovering new perspectives and ways of life. To say the truth, I wanted a reason to enter a synagogue and understand how Jewish communities work. Being in touch with several Jews, their traditions and ways of thinking have aroused my curiosity and I thought that doing a sociological/psychological analysis while being in a synagogue would be a complete delight.
I must say our teacher wasn’t really keen on the idea at first. He kept saying he didn’t know anything about Judaism and was afraid we couldn’t enter their religious place. He made some jokes about the synagogue not answering the phone when I called, like “it must be a test” or “maybe they just don’t pay the phone” (you know, typical stereotypes that link Jewish people to money). I managed a forced laugh, knowing it wasn’t a mean joke, but still not very comfortable because, you know, you don’t always want to laugh at something so clichéd and his remarks weren’t helpful.
To be honest, I hesitated before writing about my teacher’s jokes. I thought it won’t be relevant and I still think it wasn’t made to hurt people on purpose. But when you get interested in something and you hear the same jokes over and over, with a whispered “just kidding” or an okay-I-realize-that-sounds-racist-sorry look at the end… well, you start wondering why you have never really noticed that before and you try not to make a big deal out of it.
I looked for the address of a synagogue in my city and found one in the center. I decided to go with a friend on a Friday morning, just before the holidays. Unfortunately, it was closed (and kind of run down), even if we could admire upon the door “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out” written in Hebrew. I had by chance the address of the Israeli association so we pursued our walk til a big building made of bricks. And here is the first vision I had of a place dedicated to Judaism: two soldiers guarding the entrance. Believe me, I wasn’t putting on airs and graces at that moment. I wanted to leave, run away from that unsafe place. If you are against gun control or just not European, maybe you will never understand my feeling, but I was scared. I felt in danger. Guns don’t mean “protection” to me, but “attack”, “violence”, “death”.
I was lucky enough to be with my friend, much more audacious than I am. We asked if we could enter and the soldiers were so nice I couldn’t understand why they were there if everything was fine. My temerous friend and I met a building manager/secretary guy who was surprised and suspicious of our request. I still was pretty anxious until a man arrived and presented himself as the president of the association. We explained we were students and were interested in attending services. He surprisingly said yes after a it-is-going-to-be-complicated face, at a simple (but not innocent) condition: he wanted to be present every time we would come.
When you enter a church, you enter a church. Whether you are a regular churchgoer, a tourist, or someone who needs a cold place to sit in summer. Nobody looks at you, nobody cares. I went to funeral and services without anybody “recognizing” me as an atheist. Obviously, it is pretty different for synagogues. Not that I expected to enter like I owned the place, but I thought I could enter like Sheldon Cooper: knock, knock, knock rabbi? (only one time because I am not as compulsive-obsessive as Sheldon and I am not sure it would have been less weird).
But here we are. Waiting for the approval of the president and a future, very interesting meeting with Jewish people and their faith.
Love and take care,