Normally I would invite anyone to come to a worship service at Temple Beth Torah. However, at a recent meeting of the Tri-City Interfaith Council, I advised my friends that there is one service they should not come to: Purim.
Can you imagine coming to a service as a guest and seeing congregants dressed in hilarious costumes? With prayers written in Dr. Seuss rhymes and Biblical passages sung to Beatles tunes? And alcohol consumed during the service? And people of all ages acting silly? Perhaps someone would get the impression that this is how Jews usually pray.
Purim, as we well know, is unique. It is not like any other holiday in the year. Everything is meant to be topsy-turvy.
But for someone coming to a service without a clue, it could be disorienting. This leads me to recommend a book that has served as a guide whenever I have occasion to be part of a non-Jewish service. Its title is How to be a Perfect Stranger, The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, edited by Stuart Matlins and Arthur Magida.
This clearly written book depicts 29 different religions, their history and beliefs; and an overview of holidays and life cycle events. It tells you what happens during services and ceremonies and even what is appropriate attire for each occasion.
We live in a remarkably diverse part of the world. Having as a guide How to be a Perfect Stranger enables us to be better neighbors, guests, and friends.