Some of my best friends are Jewish. Like, seriously, because the wife is a Rabbi*. It's funny, because I met the husband through a bike team I was on several years ago, and when we were getting to know each other I asked what he did for a living (he was a teacher at the time) and then the fact that his wife is a Rabbi came up in the conversation. I said "so you're Jewish?", figuring a Rabbi would probably have to marry within the fold. The answer was yes. I don't think he rolled his eyes, but it was implied.
Since then, I've befriended members of their temple in the meantime and been to seders and events and you'd think I would know something about their religion. I have bought books on their beliefs, which I have not yet made the time to read. I have become familiar with some of the traditions and terms, but still can't keep it all straight. It's complicated for a Gentile to remember all the customs and rituals, people. I think I could make a serious study of it and still not quite get it. My hat is off to everyone who converts as an adult when their brain is fully formed and it's harder for the information to sink in. I'm not converting, I'm just saying. And to think that my friend is a Rabbi who studied however many years and can read and speak Hebrew and is spiritual and yet can hang out with me and is a regular person. I'm honored to be among her group of friends and welcome at her table and to be a frequent care-taker for her son.
Last night, I was at their house for Passover, which I have attended a few times in past years. They're not Orthodox, they're the more liberal strain of Judaism (Reform, I believe), so their dinner and ceremony was much shorter than the all-night affair that some families host. Plus, there were several young children that had bedtimes to keep, so they were trying to accommodate the little ones and make the next morning bearable for the parents trying to get them to school.
I hope I can say without sounding rude or ungrateful, that the event is a madhouse with this particular group of people. I don't know if it's typical of Jewish families to have chaos reign, but in my limited experience, it's mayhem. The kids are not only not quiet, they're not even seated. At one point someone asked where one of them had gone. And the adults do not whisper in conversations between each other or when they occasionally try to corral their children. Meanwhile, the Rabbi/wife/mom is trying to conduct the ceremony and pray and read and sing and does not seem the least bit perturbed that she is leading a group that is only getting any religious value out of the experience by osmosis. There was one family that kept their thumb on their kids - the parents were actually pretty strict (not saying that's better).
So I'm sitting there, observing and a little anxious because I can't believe that no one is paying attention, and at the same time, thinking how great this is and how tolerant everyone is of each other. There were no angry words and lots of free spirits. I think the religious benefit was in the ritual - they already know this information and what's going to happen, so just being together and sharing the event brings them closer to God, or whatever the goal is.
I wonder if the study of Judaism and its practices is so intense that when you finally know what you're doing, it's a relief and time to relax. I haven't been to "normal" Jewish Friday night services, only special occasions, too, so maybe it's not all one big party. But from the things I've attended, they know how to have fun - singing and dancing and talking amongst themselves. I guess after some of the things they've been through as a people, they deserve to let loose every now and then.
[ * "Rabbi", I believe, can and maybe should be smaller case unless speaking about someone's specific name, but it looked funny and I wanted to respect it with a capital letter. ]
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