We decided to attend the morning Shabbat service at Congregation Beth Shalom Saturday morning. I was a little more comfortable attending a service in this synagogue thanks to the kindness shown to us by Bernie Newman earlier in the week. We had arrived a bit early for the service and upon entering the building, we encountered a couple of congregants who were just leaving the Torah study. They welcomed us with a kind smile and as they continued to finish their discussion with one another. Then as we turned towards the sanctuary a man named, Josh, greeted us and asked if we were new to Beth Shalom. We explained that we had been attending a Religious Literacy class and our last experience was to observe a Christian worship service that we were unfamiliar with and consequently we chose Congregation Beth Shalom. We related the kindness and welcoming shown to us by Mr. Newman and Josh said that acceptance he felt is one of the reasons he keeps coming back. Josh related that he had grown up attending a synagogue in the northwest suburbs and had struggled with the messages he was receiving because he felt it was “too conservative, judgmental and elitist.” He stopped attending services on a consistent basis until he moved to the Naperville area and discovered Congregation Beth Shalom. He explained that here at Beth Shalom he felt the leaders encouraged everyone to accept the differences of others and to act in kind and caring ways toward others all the time.
Josh reminded us to borrow a prayer shawl as we entered the sanctuary and then we settled into the back row as Josh went on to meet up with the rest of his family. I’m thankful that we chose to sit in the back to observe the service because there was so much that I was unfamiliar to me. The sermon was related to the reading from the Torah Number 4:21-7:89 and thankfully after being read in Hebrew, it was translated into English. The scroll was treated with such reverence and really is so beautiful. As I saw it being unrolled to the passage, I couldn’t help but to think about the time and care that was put into writing the entire Torah on it. I also couldn’t help but think about the smuggled and hidden scroll that was found after WWII. The Jew who risked their life to remove the scroll from the synagogue and hide it as the Nazi soldiers invaded the village was so courageous.
My essential question has been about what causes people to behave in the ways that they do in the name of their religion. In thinking about the person who risked everything to save the Torah, s/he must have had such a deep faith in the word of God as written in the scrolls that there just wasn’t a fear of the possible consequences. Earlier in the week, Bernie Newman explained that Jews are encouraged to live in the here and now and to believe that God will take care of the rest. So it must have been for the person who saved the scroll, the deep belief that God will take care of him/her for behaving in a moral and ethical way. How wonderful to live a life without fear.