I spent the holidays in several different places this year. This is what happens when your family is scattered.
I am thankful that I can visit them now since my home has been the base for the High Holy Days in the past – and remains the base for several other holidays.
Since the children have flown from the nest, I’ve spent one holiday each year at a different synagogue. I welcome the diversity of worship styles and traditions within the framework of Reform Judaism.
We all have our own ways of worshipping. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to experience so many different services and to see how different rabbis and cantors shape the messages and music for their congregations. I also enjoy the resulting discussions with family and friends about different ways to celebrate and honor the holidays. It informs my religious practice and helps me understand how others feel, which is important in my job.
I grew up in a Reform congregation, so I can only speak to the evolution and diversity of practice in this movement. But I am constantly amazed at that evolution. In my lifetime, there have been three prayer books, each seeming to aim at an updated practice within the bones of a classic framework. The latest, “Mishkan HaNefesh,” offers quite a bit of room for adaptation.
Within my family, reviews are mixed. The younger generation likes the pace and practice of the alternative, updated readings. I felt a little confused at first, but I’ve become comfortable with the book. My parents’ congregation used it for the first time this year, and my parents’ initial reaction wasn’t too positive. They find it confusing and complicated.
Does it keep them away from worship? Not for a minute. The machzor isn’t important; the community and the worship is. That and staying true to yourself and your own beliefs.
Despite being a stranger at many of these synagogues I visit, I always feel welcome and included. And isn’t that the point of the holiday, to welcome the stranger?
This is how we were reared. We invite the unattached, unaffiliated or new to the community to our tables, to share in our celebrations. This is how we continue this tradition. And we all learn and benefit from the contacts.
It’s beautiful that we can accommodate a wide range of approaches to religion and celebration. The openness and flexibility of our community is something I have felt a lot of pride in experiencing in the past few years.
Here’s to hoping we can all embrace that flexibility and openness, knowing that Judaism is about including, not excluding.