The president of the congregation sent an email indicating 650 people attended the service. Mike, Tim Reed and I were in attendance Friday night at Temple Beth Israel for Shabbat. It was called Solidarity Shabbat and Jewish congregations around the nation gathered, inviting the communities in which they live and worship to join them.
We welcomed the Sabbath together early in the service, turning to the door where we’d all entered earlier. It is an ancient practice, to welcome the Sabbath in this way, like an honored guest entering the space. We read prayers together in both Hebrew and English and sang prayers together in Hebrew: prayers and songs that have been sung by the Jewish community for centuries. I watched as everyone who was part of the community participated in a dip and bow in unison wondering “How many centuries have people been doing that?”
The prayers, scriptures and songs included a number of references to passing these on “so our children may know.” A mother and daughter sat in front of me, the daughter recently having had her Bat Mitzvah. I watched them speak, sing and move in unison to the parts of the service. I watched mom encourage daughter to go up front when Rabbi Kupetz invited the youth of the congregation to come forward and lead a prayer. After a number of persistent and gentle pushes, daughter went forward. It takes tenacity to raise children in any faith and I appreciated the mom’s persistence. It is so much easier to give in and give up using the excuse, “Well, they have to decide for themselves.” (As Anne Lamott pointed out, “We make them brush their teeth. Is the life of their spirit not at least equally of value?)
The generation to generation passing on of the faith is of high value in the Jewish community. In many ways, I think it is of higher value than it is for many Protestants, particularly in the United States. The history of Protestantism in the United States is rooted in personal salvation, making a decision for oneself. This individualist approach to Christian faith is comfortable being untethered to tradition. Protestants in the US tend to be preoccupied with numbers: number of people in the pews, numbers of dollars received and given to charity. Living a Christian life, what we call discipleship, is often an afterthought. Christian discipleship by necessity is rooted in spiritual traditions going back to Jewish community that gave birth to Jesus.
The organizing principle for the 30 plus years I’ve been in ministry has been, “How can we get more people to be part of the church?” Worship was blamed for being boring and keeping people away from church, so the worship wars broke out. Committees were blamed for being tedious and keeping people away from church, so gutting congregational infrastructure became vogue. Anything perceived traditional was and still is demonized in many circles. “It’s gotta be fresh, contemporary, culturally relevant.”
We window dress and leave behind the substance of the Christian tradition. The tradition which is ours is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a future hope being born in our present in which the blind will see, the lame will walk, the lowly be lifted up and the mighty brought down. It is a tradition that has substance worth bequeathing, generation to generation.