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Mychal

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PostSubject: No Room at the Inn for Me   Tue Nov 29, 2011 6:43 pm

Okay, I know I'm mixing my religious metaphors here, but I'm disappointed. Sad

I started attending my synagogue a year ago. I've been going almost every week (I only don't go if I'm sick or out of town) and have also spent some time in Torah study.

Normally the synagogue has a yearly conversion/Intro to Judaism class every fall. I was too late to get into it last year, so I've waited a year. When I didn't see it offered on the calendar, I asked the rabbi and she said that it had been cancelled, but get with her later about it. So, I waited for the High Holidays to pass, and I sent her an e-mail. I just got one back:

Quote :
We are not offering a conversion course at this time.

Might I suggest that you remain patient until we offer it again?

Another possibility (which you should do for experience sake anyway) is to check out the other local congregations in town.

Despite the fact that there are two full-time rabbis (plus all the associated directors and other lay leaders), apparently there's no time to convert me singly; I have to wait until there's a group. So maybe there will be one a year from now, maybe not.

And another possibility is to go to another synagogue?

Am I taking this too personally/emotionally, or does this sound like I need to get lost? There are a large number of converts in my synagogue, so it's not like there's a fundamental issue with converts that they don't want to convert people. (Unfortunately, the three converts I personally knew have moved away and I don't have any contact with them, so it's not like I can ask their opinion about the specific experience at that shul.) I don't think I'm offensive; I tend to be quiet and go about my business, although I have made some friends from Torah study.

I wonder if I'm perhaps suspect because I am converting by myself? I am not marrying Jewish (in fact, my husband is not converting) and I have no Jewish contacts outside of the few people I know at shul. I imagine it seems I came out of nowhere (which I did, but I think there's a divine purpose for that).

There's only one other Reform synagogue in town, and while I admit I have not been there to judge for myself, I have heard other people say that it is more Reform (whereas our synagogue leans a bit back towards the traditional). Personally, I have a Conservative viewpoint, so I would not like something more Reform than where I am now. Why am I not in the Conservative synagogue instead, you might ask? Because, one, I'm married to a Gentile, and last I was aware, the Conservative movement did not convert only one partner because it immediately creates an intermarriage (although maybe individual rabbis have leeway with that?). Two, I have not worked up to a Conservative level of observance, and I don't know how many years that might take (it's not that I think the law is optional, but that I recognize that I am not physically and spirtually ready to perform all of it; I need to work up to it, like training for a marathon). And it might be that I won't ever make it to that level; I can never have a kosher kitchen, for example, because my husband will never give up pork.

I have felt, since the beginning, that I was not very welcome at synagogue (or, at least, that no one much cared if I was there or not). Having come directly out of a church that was the most welcoming, inclusive place you can imagine, I thought I probably had my sights set too high, but now I'm wondering if I should take this as some sort of Divine message that I need to go elsewhere. The last time I visited with my church friends, they were much more interested in (even excited about!) my conversion than anyone at synagogue; hell, the new priest spent more time talking to me than the rabbis have done, collectively, in a year.

I know it was foolish to think I had a say in the timeline or anything, but I had my heart set on a bat mitzvah next year. I've been studying my letters and prayers and so wanted to get up, as a Jew, and read Torah. I'm feeling pretty crushed at the moment. Crying or Very sad
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Tue Nov 29, 2011 7:11 pm

Mychal wrote:


Am I taking this too personally/emotionally, or does this sound like I need to get lost? There are a large number of converts in my synagogue, so it's not like there's a fundamental issue with converts that they don't want to convert people. (Unfortunately, the three converts I personally knew have moved away and I don't have any contact with them, so it's not like I can ask their opinion about the specific experience at that shul.) I don't think I'm offensive; I tend to be quiet and go about my business, although I have made some friends from Torah study.

I wonder if I'm perhaps suspect because I am converting by myself? I am not marrying Jewish (in fact, my husband is not converting) and I have no Jewish contacts outside of the few people I know at shul. I imagine it seems I came out of nowhere (which I did, but I think there's a divine purpose for that).

I doubt it has anything to do with you personally. It's more likely they don't feel they have the time, they don't have enough interest and it isn't high on their priority list. It's not you. It's them.

Mychal wrote:
There's only one other Reform synagogue in town, and while I admit I have not been there to judge for myself, I have heard other people say that it is more Reform (whereas our synagogue leans a bit back towards the traditional).

I'd try it rather than taking other people's word for it.

Mychal wrote:
Personally, I have a Conservative viewpoint, so I would not like something more Reform than where I am now. Why am I not in the Conservative synagogue instead, you might ask? Because, one, I'm married to a Gentile, and last I was aware, the Conservative movement did not convert only one partner because it immediately creates an intermarriage (although maybe individual rabbis have leeway with that?).

I know of several who will convert one partner. My first Rabbi was Conservative. Now, he won't work with everyone in that situation but he will do it in rare occasions and mine was one of those. We also have another member here who is converting within the Conservative movement though his wife is not converting. On the old forum there was yet another member who also converted within the Conservative movement despite his wife not wanting to convert. So, some will do it in particular circumstances. You (and your husband) have to talk to them before you assume they will not work with you.

Mychal wrote:
Two, I have not worked up to a Conservative level of observance, and I don't know how many years that might take (it's not that I think the law is optional, but that I recognize that I am not physically and spirtually ready to perform all of it; I need to work up to it, like training for a marathon). And it might be that I won't ever make it to that level; I can never have a kosher kitchen, for example, because my husband will never give up pork.

Well as the saying goes, never say never. I don't know your husband but it could be that he'd be willing to make more concessions if he realizes you need it from him in order to be a part of the Conservative community. He may just need time to get used to the idea. Does he really have to cook pork in your kitchen? Can he just eat it out in restaurants? Buy it and bring it home to eat on a paper plate with a plastic fork? All sorts of compromises can be made. Also, do not assume the Conservative Rabbi will want you to have "arrived" so to speak in regards to Jewish observance. They understand it's a process too.

If you stay where you are it's going to be a while before you convert anyway. Might as well find a place you like.

Mychal wrote:
I have felt, since the beginning, that I was not very welcome at synagogue (or, at least, that no one much cared if I was there or not). Having come directly out of a church that was the most welcoming, inclusive place you can imagine, I thought I probably had my sights set too high, but now I'm wondering if I should take this as some sort of Divine message that I need to go elsewhere. The last time I visited with my church friends, they were much more interested in (even excited about!) my conversion than anyone at synagogue; hell, the new priest spent more time talking to me than the rabbis have done, collectively, in a year.

If you don't like it then try something else. Don't stay there because someone told you another congregation was too liberal or that Rabbi such and such would never let you convert. At least try them and see if you like them better. That would be my advice anyway.

Mychal wrote:
I know it was foolish to think I had a say in the timeline or anything, but I had my heart set on a bat mitzvah next year. I've been studying my letters and prayers and so wanted to get up, as a Jew, and read Torah. I'm feeling pretty crushed at the moment. Crying or Very sad

Well, I don't know of anyone who has a bat mitzvah right after their conversion. Usually it's a while later so do keep that in mind. I'm sorry you are feeling crushed. The place you are in right now doesn't sound like it's the place for you. Nobody wants to get up the nerve to ask to become a part of the Jewish people and then be told "well, we don't have time for you right now". I really think you should try some other places and see how that goes. At the very least you'll be doing something rather than sitting back and feeling like you have to wait on someone else.

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Tue Nov 29, 2011 7:45 pm

Dena, you pretty much said everything I've been stewing on for the past hour or so.

Given that I have Conservative leanings, I'm going to try them out--this weekend, if at all possible. Looking through their website, I noticed that they do specifically mention they have inter-faith couples in attendance, so maybe they're open with that sort of thing.

Although I hardly feel that my husband and I qualify as inter-faith, because that would imply that he had some contrasting faith. He has said, on more than one occassion, that of all religions, Judaism--theologically speaking--makes the most sense to him. But he doesn't feel the need to practice religion, so I refer to him as monotheistic without religion.

And no, he WILL eat pork in the house, lol. (Although, since I won't eat it for dinner, he doesn't often eat it; it's mostly sausage for breakfast or the occassional pork chop for lunch.)
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Tue Nov 29, 2011 8:22 pm

My husband is an atheist, so not religious in any sense.

He was actually quite willing to give up pork, cheeeburgers, chicken alfredo, etc in our home. He does occasionally bring home pizza to eat on a paper plate. I bought some non-kosher, humanly raised chicken nuggets to cook on aluminum foil (my oven hasn't been kashered yet anyway) and then put on a paper plate. I can even make him chili with kosher meat, then put that in a paper bowl so he can add cheese. I have no idea what you could do with sausage. Well, you could have a pan just for pork that he washes somewhere besides the kitchen sink (in a utility tub) and then he uses a paper plate and plastic fork. That might work for pork chops too. I call that a creative compromise...though it's a slight pain in the behind.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Tue Nov 29, 2011 11:39 pm

I talked to my husband about this when I got home (I've never mentioned to him before that I didn't really feel cared about at synagogue), and he was pretty appalled that no one would make the effort to keep someone in their house of worship.

You know, I know they're loaded up with bar and bat mitzvahs this upcoming year, but I wanted to be one of those people. What is it to add me to the list and give me the time they give all the other candidates? I mean, regardless, they're going to wind up with an adult Jew at the end of the process. More importantly, I'd be a full, paying member of the congregation at the end; those kids will still be riding the family discount. And I'm much more likely to show up in synagogue again the next week. So I feel like I'm a bargain on time and effort spent.

My husband thinks I should try somewhere else too. So I am making inquiries.
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mikedoyleblogger

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Wed Nov 30, 2011 6:41 pm

Mychal, I responded on your blog, but I wanted to say here that I do think an email like that is a brush-off. Even if it wasn't intended to be one, it certainly reads that way. Getting an email like this after a year, I would reconsider whether I really wanted to have a person who would send such an email--and make me wait a year and refuse to work with me individually--as my rabbi.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Wed Nov 30, 2011 7:00 pm

Okay, I'm glad I'm not the only one seeing that. Sometimes I'm paranoid, but as my husband points out, that doesn't mean they're not really out to get me. Laughing
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Mon Dec 12, 2011 1:28 pm

So I've gone to the Conservative synagogue a couple of times now. It's like starting all over again because everything is different. Even when I recognize a prayer, they use a different tune/chant, so I'm stumbling. There are also a lot of parts where the cantor will start a prayer and fade out and I have no idea where we're at because 1) there's no transliteration in the prayer book and 2) it's been 15 minutes since someone last announced the page number. I'm sure in a year I'll be comfortable with it--just like I am with the Reform siddur now--but I always have more than a normal amount of anxiety when I can't do something well from the get-go.

That being said, people have been quick to introduce themselves, and I spent oneg Saturday talking to another in-process convert. He is taking conversion classes at another Reform synagogue--which are apparently open to the entire Jewish community.

And I had to wonder aloud why my rabbis at my Reform synagogue didn't send me there? If the Conservative rabbi knew and is sending his people there, why didn't mine know (there are only 2 Reform synagogues and one of each of the other denominations--not like it's a huge Jewish community)? I'm several classes behind now, although W. is encouraging me to go; he says all I've missed is the history part (which I've already spent a lot of time studying while researching for my books).
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Mon Dec 12, 2011 2:12 pm

Mychal wrote:
He is taking conversion classes at another Reform synagogue--which are apparently open to the entire Jewish community.

And I had to wonder aloud why my rabbis at my Reform synagogue didn't send me there? If the Conservative rabbi knew and is sending his people there, why didn't mine know (there are only 2 Reform synagogues and one of each of the other denominations--not like it's a huge Jewish community)? I'm several classes behind now, although W. is encouraging me to go; he says all I've missed is the history part (which I've already spent a lot of time studying while researching for my books).

I want ranting to myself as soon as I read the first part. Why on earth didn't they tell you? I guess it's possible they didn't know but that seems odd.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Mon Dec 12, 2011 2:18 pm

The prayer style you describe where the shaliach tzibur (person leading the prayer) starts the prayer out loud, and then drops his voice to a mumble and people read silently or in an undertone, and then the end of that section is recited out loud again, is traditional and is done in Conservative and Orthodox synagogues.

Although I think transliteration is a crutch that prevents people from ever learning to read Hebrew, there are lots of sources of transliteration for Sim Shalom, the generally used Conservative siddur. One tip for following along in Hebrew is to just look at the first and last letters of words. Often that is good enough to allow you to match what you hear with the words. Similarly, when I have not been paying attention to the Torah reading (maybe I've been reading some interesting commentary in the Chumash) and I want to figure out where the reader is, but I don't happen to understand enough of the Hebrew to be able to find it from the actual context, I listen for the last word of a verse and then skim the text to find that particular word.

Here is some Sim Shalom transliteration on the USCJ site:
http://www.uscj.org/mid-continent/materials/slimtrn2n.pdf
The name of the file implies that the page numbers are from the version of the siddur that some like to call "Slim Shalom", the "slimmer" version just for Shabbat and Festivals. My husband used that name, but he likes to give joke names to lots of things, so I was surprised to hear my sponsoring rabbi use the term as well.

Here is another set of basic prayers transliterated, which from the page numbers seems to be for the full Shabbat and weekdays version of Sim Shalom :
http://www.web.utah.edu/hillel/siddur.htm

And here is a great website with both transliterated and "interlinear translation" for the prayers for not only Conservative , but also for common Orthodox and Reform prayer books (this link is for Sim Shalom):
Kakatuv: Conservative, Sim Shalom
And something that will make those of us on this forum smile: the whole wonderful Kakatuv website was created by a Jew by Choice Very Happy

Mychal, what you really need is to make a friend who will help you with page numbers. I was lucky in having always had my dear husband to do that for me. In my "tiny minyan" when we notice that there is a visitor, one of the members will call out some page numbers in case they need it. I'm so glad you tried the Conservative shul. Sounds like things are going to start moving forward again for you. And it sounds like the Conservative shul is friendly. Perhaps in the future you'll be able to look back and be thankful that the Reform shul didn't have classes so that you had to look elsewhere and were able to find a shul you like better anyway.

By the way, the one good thing about learning the traditional style of prayer is that it is nearly universal. There is a lot of variation in Reform congregations, but much less in Conservative, and if the Conservative shul is fairly traditional, it will be very close to most Modern Orthodox services. And this is even true for synagogues in other countries, including those where they don't speak English. There is some variation in tunes---I like that my minyan uses a variety of traditional and modern tunes according to the whim of the shaliach tzibur (not "cantor" since we don't have a hired cantor although several members have served as professional cantors for other congregations in the past). A glaring exception is that the Yemenite services are REALLY different even though all the words are the same [except for the Aramaic Torah commentary]. But the accent and tunes are so different that I kept getting lost even though I knew all the words and can follow Hebrew quite well.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Mon Dec 12, 2011 4:20 pm

I do know my letters well enough that I can follow along if I pay VERY close attention--by doing what you said: looking at the first and last letter. But I'm so slow at reading entire words, I can't pronounce them as fast as they say them.

I do want to learn Hebrew, and when they have Beginner come up again, I'll take it. But I do find that knowing some words from transliteration makes it easier to recognize them in Hebrew. Having a transliteration also keeps your pronunciation more correct--otherwise your Hebrew might sound a lot like a rendition of "Louie Louie." What are the lyrics? Who knows? LOL
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Mon Dec 12, 2011 4:58 pm

Mychal wrote:
I do know my letters well enough that I can follow along if I pay VERY close attention--by doing what you said: looking at the first and last letter. But I'm so slow at reading entire words, I can't pronounce them as fast as they say them.

I know what you mean. For the past three years I have been doing some reading of Hebrew every single day for 10-15 min. These days I am always learning new Torah readings (and I'm getting ready to do my second Haftarah reading ever this coming Shabbat). I love being able to contribute to my lay-led minyanim by reading Torah. But I was so embarrassed when my sponsoring rabbi first asked me to do some sight reading of Hebrew for him because my reading ability was poor (although I could follow along quite well), so I sounded like a first grader.

My reading ability has very, very slowly improved. I can now sight-read a Torah or Haftarah reading at a only somewhat slower than normal speed. (Ironically, I find it easier to read with trope.) I remember a tiny lay-led service at my college 25th reunion organized by a classmate who is a lay-prayer leader at her Reform shul. Her husband read the Haftarah blessings in Hebrew, but the reading in English. At my current skill level, if that same group was willing to bear with me, I could do a slow, but passable sight-reading of Haftarah in Hebrew with trope. (And Haftarah chanting is supposed to be somewhat slow in pace.) [In contrast, there are people in both my minyanim who can read Haftarah beautifully and nearly perfectly with no advance preparation.] Nevertheless, I still can't read out loud fast enough to sing a Hebrew song I am not familiar with (unless it is one where you just repeat the same verse over and over!). And for services like Kabbalat Shabbat that I don't know really well, I always hope that the group will choose one of the slower melodies because otherwise I can't really keep up. I wish I had my daughter's superb auditory memory: she knows most of the Kabbalat Shabbat service by heart. So I keep practicing and I hope that if I keep getting better, some day I'll finally have the reading ability I am aiming for.

One thing about my having learned most of the Shabbat morning services just from years and years of hearing it is that sometimes when I read carefully, I find that I have been slightly mispronouncing a few words. (Kind of like little kids who say "One nation.... invisible..." for the Pledge of Allegiance.) In fact, I have found that there are a few words that many people seem to mispronounce (i.e. "ShaBat" even though for grammatical reasons it is really "ShaVat")

So check out the transliteration resources and see if that helps.
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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Mon Dec 12, 2011 6:11 pm

My synagogue uses the Siddur Chadash which I "think" is Conservative. The reason why I say that is because it is not egalitarian in it's prayers. I noticed that while everything is not transliterated, the parts which are said aloud usually are. In a kind of mind-boggling way, the Shemoneh Esrei is NOT transliterated...only giving you the option to say the English if you can't read Hebrew. I think that is pretty unfortunate.

Compared to Orthodox services, I find it sort of tough to follow along and/or catch up to the prayers with my new congregation. The heart of the problem is that the siddur contains a lot of alternative sections and readings. For example, there are 2 "Ashreys". So I do usually have to wait for the page number to be called before I find my place. Maybe this will get better with time.

The Orthodox prayer service is all in Hebrew, but they say almost everything in the siddur (even though they may not say it all outloud). Sometimes I could even glance at the men in terms of how they were conducting themselves, and know where they were in the service (for example...in early Psukey Zimrah, the men are sitting, and mumbling to themselves; but once they get to 'Ashrei' they stand). Also Kaddish in Orthodox services clearly marks the transition from one section of the liturgy to the other. It does in my current synagogue too...but there are readings shoved in between that throw me off.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:00 pm

BRNechama:
If your congregation does the full repetition of the Amidah, then it kind of makes sense not to transliterate it. When I was studying for conversion, my sponsoring rabbi asked me whether my minyan did a full repetition and how I read it myself. My minyan does do a silent Amidah followed by a full repetition for Shacharit, although it does "Heicha Kedusha" (abbreviated Kedushah and silently with no repetition for the part after the Kedusha) for Musaf. I told my rabbi that in the early years of my shul attendance, I would read the English translation during the silent Amidah, but at the time he was asking me I read the Hebrew to myself (often not finishing it before the repetition started). He told me that as long as the Amidah would all be read out loud in Hebrew by the shaliach tzibur, that it was important for me to read the silent Amidah in English to make sure that I understood the meaning.

My minyanim are not Orthodox, but they do the whole service in Hebrew except for the "Prayer for Our Country" and the D'var Torah, with only the few minor word changes in Sim Shalom, and only occasionally do "Anim Zemirot" which I think most Orthodox shuls always do. Some members chose to use their own Orthodox siddurim and that works just fine. I find that I am actually more at home with respect to the service in a Modern Orthodox shul than in a less traditional Conservative shul because I am used to a traditional service.


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BRNechama

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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:00 pm

Debbie B. wrote:
BRNechama:
If your congregation does the full repetition of the Amidah, then it kind of makes sense not to transliterate it.


Nope; they say the part before kedushah out loud and then say kedushah in full. The rest is then finished silently by the congregation.

Good point about understanding what you are saying. I have an interlinear Artscroll siddur that is unwieldy, but that I like to use sometimes, simply for that reason. sunny
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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Mon Dec 12, 2011 11:10 pm

BRNechama wrote:

Nope; they say the part before kedushah out loud and then say kedushah in full. The rest is then finished silently by the congregation.
That's the "Heicha Kedusha" method advocated by Rambam, I think, which my minyanim use for Musaf. Sometimes my minyan also uses it for Mincha too, but never for Shacharit. We do a full repetition of the Amidah every morning, including weekdays. (My "primary minyan" has a daily morning minyan every single day.)

Quote :
Good point about understanding what you are saying. I have an interlinear Artscroll siddur that is unwieldy, but that I like to use sometimes, simply for that reason. sunny
When I was studying for conversion, I realized as I answered my rabbi's questions about how I did things that I had spent a lot of time learning the Hebrew service, but as my ability to follow along in Hebrew increased and I stopped spending time reading the translations, I was missing the meaning of the prayers. My rabbi reminded me how important the meaning is. Once he verified that I knew the essential basics of Judaism, we spent most of the time I studied with him going through the weekday morning service very carefully with him explaining not just the meaning of the Hebrew, but references to Torah, the symbolic meaning of the phrases and choreography (like going up on your toes for "kadosh, kadosh, kadosh"), and the history behind the prayers. A lot of what he taught me is in Rabbi Reuven Hammer's "Or Hadash" commentary on Sim Shalom (books which I highly recommend!)

My rabbi is a deeply spiritual man for whom Judaism is an expression of the relationship between Jews and God. The prayers that he says three times a day are very meaningful to him and he really helped me to see the prayers with new appreciation and understanding.

So I guess I just want to remind others starting on their Jewish journeys not to do what I did: in getting so wrapped up in learning to recite Hebrew prayers, I forgot to think about what those prayers meant. But you need both things. It is also important to gain a familiarity with Hebrew prayers. There is just so much to learn about Judaism that it is hard to stay balanced in ones learning.
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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Wed Dec 14, 2011 5:51 pm

Quote :
There is just so much to learn about Judaism that it is hard to stay balanced in ones learning.

I know that feeling. I studied a lot of conversion books until I got tired of reading them (namely because I had learned everything I could from them and they were just repeating what I already knew). Then I studied a lot of books on keeping a Jewish home/ritual practice outside of synagogue and now I'm tried of that.

I'm not studying quite as much as I was (namely because I've spent the last month writing another novel), but when I do study, I'm reading "Everyman's Talmud." I started a book on Kabbalah some time ago; I want to pick it up again.
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PostSubject: Re: No Room at the Inn for Me   Wed Dec 14, 2011 9:58 pm

I'm reading Everyman's Talmud too.
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