Our formation community attended the Yom Kippur service at our neighborhood synagogue (KAM Isaiah Israel) last week. The structure itself is an imposing and impressive brick byzantine style temple distinguished in scale and appearance including an impressive, heavy, souring central dome, massive chandeliers, stained glass windows and ornate plasterwork.
The celebration was characterized by a mixture of English and Hebrew in fully gender-inclusive language and presided over by a female rabbi and female cantor. One confrère remarked to me that it was more like being at an opera than a prayer service. They had an amazing eight member choir, organist, cellist and of course the resident cantor. The service was almost entirely sung and consisted of complicated 19th and early 20th century compositions based on traditional Jewish themes and definitively representative of the Jewish diaspora.
The service emphasized something that I feel is often overlooked in our own Christian liturgical practices. That is the reverence showed to Holy Scripture. At several points throughout the service the ark would be opened and the multitude of beautiful, and generations-old scrolls would be removed and reverenced. This brought to light for me the need to more fully see God’s presence in his own revelation to us through the Word not only in the Eucharist.
Furthermore, the real purpose for the celebration, that being the day of atonement, was beautifully manifest. The sung and recited evaluation of conscience and the emphasis put on not only asking for forgiveness but correcting past wrongs was very moving. It was a fascinating experience to be able to sit and pray with members of a faith tradition from which my own has grown. Despite the variety of foundational theological disagreements, difficult history and complex cultural and political relationships we could all express a mutual love for a merciful and life-giving God. The liturgical framework and context of our own tradition, the singing of psalms (i.e. during vespers in our own Holy Spirit House of Studies), was also evident in the service. Despite a rainy journey back to our home, and extra security as President Obama’s Chicago residence is across from the synagogue, all in all it was a thought-provoking, prayerful and moving event.