The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Decorum and Clutter, Part One

Posted in philosophizing, synagogue life by Juliet on March 15, 2010

One man’s decorum and clutter is another man’s revered tradition.

But first, a little personal history.

Though I was born Jewish (through matrilineal descent, the fact that my mother and my mother’s mother and my mother’s mother’s mother and so forth were Jewish automatically renders me a “100% kosher Jew” according to even the strictest religious authorities), I was raised completely non-observant.

When I became interested in Judaism as a college student, I randomly began attending events at the nearest available house of Jewish worships, which happened to be Sephardic Templein Westwood and Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills. (Yup, I lived in Beverly Hills, though it was in a shared apartment in “the flats,” memorialized in the movie The Slums of Beverly Hills.) I also attended events at Pico Boulevard’s Kehilla.

Uneducated as I was, I never grasped that there was any distinction between the Kehilla (Orthodox), Emanuel (Conservative), or Sephardic (Conservative and, well, Sephardic.)

It all felt foreign to me.

Once again in law school joined the nearest congregation, Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

I liked that I could walk there, and they offered an inexpensive student rate that included my own leatherette transliterated prayerbook. I loved the beautiful, historic Moorish-style building. The Warner Brothers were founding members and they had a beautiful collection of silver spice boxes.

I didn’t realize even as I joined that it meant something that they are Reform. So I guess you could say I fell into Reform Judaism.

Once there, I loved the emphasis on understanding the meaning behind the prayers. The majority of the services were in English and whenever Hebrew was read, it was then repeated, or even sung, in English. And I loved the focus on inclusiveness. We had a mostly-black gospel style choir, for God’s sake! I loved the hippie grandmas who worked on Sunday afternoons passing out bags of groceries to needy families in the neighborhood.

When I moved to Riverside, once again I joined the closest congregation, Temple Beth El.

I began dating Scott, and while he bristled at some practices considered commonplace in Reform services that are verboten at Conservative ones (playing guitar and organ music on Friday nights; rabbi using a microphone), he joined me because he knew I loved the Social Justice Committee, the Mitzvah Day planning group, the Habitat for Humanity team, and the field trips to hear speakers on egalitarianism and elimination of racism.

Then, the unfortunate happened: the temple changed rabbis. After a couple of heated conversations that started with, “Oh, you’re a lawyer?” and rapidly progressed to “Let me tell you something about the death penalty,” we were ready to make a change.

That’s how we wound up at Temple Sholom of Ontario, the result of a sequence of mergers between Orthodox, Conservative, Yeshiva, then Sephardic congregations in Ontario, California.

And it was there that I finally learned what it means to decide: I am a Conservative Jew. Or: I am Sephardic! Or: Ashkenazic or bust!

Sure, we’re all Jews, but identifying with one stream or another runs very, very deep. And it’s easy to throw around fightin’ words.

Tomorrow: Decorum and Clutter, Part Two: the yashar koach victory lap.

2 Responses

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  1. Mom said, on March 15, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    I like to think we’re all humans…

  2. Juliet Grossman said, on March 19, 2010 at 11:05 PM

    We are definitely all humans and as Jews I like to think we are all Jews: that there is one universal “Jewishness” despite differences of practices, customs, background, and history. I do believe the things we share in common are much stronger and larger than the differences.

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