There is definitely something beneficial about attending services at another congregation. In the past couple of months I have been at Shabbat services at two different Reform synagogues in Southern California. As much as I try to be a worshipper like everyone else, I readily admit there is a part of me that is also mentally taking notes about aspects of the service that are unlike our own at Temple Beth Torah. Here are examples of some of the different elements I experienced at these two synagogues:
1. At the Family Service, it was the long standing custom of the congregation to invite everyone to the Bimah who was celebrating a birthday that month. Youngsters and adults ascended before the open ark; and were invited to share not only their name, but also their age. Some were tykes, barely 4-years-old. Some were octogenarians. All were greeted with a hearty Mazel Tov, and then the congregation joined in singing the Shecheyanu.
2. At the same Family Service, couples who were celebrating their wedding anniversaries were invited up to the Bimah and shared their names and how many years they had been married. After a round of Mazel Tov, everyone sang another Shecheyanu. Attendance at this Family Service was tremendous.
3. At both Shabbat Evening Services I attended, we offered a Mi Sheberach for those who are ill. However, at one congregation, there was a printed hand-out of people whose names were given prior to the service. The rabbi made mention of the list, but did not read any of the names. But he did invite anyone in the congregation who wanted to share a name prior to the singing of the Mi Sheberach to do so.
4. At the Shabbat Morning Service of our nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, he read in Hebrew all of the blessings in our prayer book that are entitled “Nisim B’chol Yom – For Daily Miracles” (pp. 198-204).
5. At each of the Torah services I attended, there was a Hakafah (processional) when the Sefer Torah was removed from the ark. However, at the conclusion of the Torah service, the congregation sang Eitz Chayim Hi and the Sefer Torah was placed back into the ark without a second Hakafah.
6. Not surprisingly, some of the melodies that were sung at these two congregations differed from our own. At one synagogue, the recitation of the Shema, was preceded by a beautiful meditation entitled Open Up My Eyes(pg. 677 in Mishkan T’filah).
7. Lastly, at the Oneg at both congregations, each platter of cookies or fruit had tongs so that people could help themselves to refreshments without touching them by hand. Curiously, the same exact tongs were available at the two different synagogues (could it be that there’s a website Oneg.com that features these tongs?).
It can be an enlightening experience to visit another congregation and experience a service that differs from our own. Though I am very comfortable with the style and content of our services – that’s not to say there isn’t room for us to consider possible additions or changes to our worship.
I presume you have occasion to worship in other synagogues during the course of the year. If you find something distinctly valuable, please feel free to share it with me or with Phoebe Weiner, chair of our Worship Committee. After all, we are a Reform congregation. We are always open to the possibility of adding to our customs and traditions new meaning and inspiration.