Three years ago I was on the road in Buenos Aires, Argentina during Rosh Hashanah. As is my custom when I am traveling I find myself a service wherever I am. One year I celebrated Rosh Hashanah in Wilmington, North Carolina while covering a hurricane. Another time I spent Passover in Kampala, Uganda where we substituted Indian naan for matzah. There was Yom Kippur in Savannah, Georgia and a seder at a college in Walla Walla, Washington while working on a story about Bigfoot.
Surely the service on Rosh Hashanah morning at the Libertad synagogue in Buenos Aires was one of the most memorable of all. The truth is I did not understand a word. It was all in Spanish and Hebrew. What set it apart was the trio of cantors, two men and a woman, whose harmonies throughout the entire service made it seem more like musical theatre. Tears streamed down my face. It was so very beautiful. And then there was wonderful Mania who made this stranger feel welcome. The four hours flew by. It was the most inspiring high holiday service I had ever attended and I long for my spirit to be filled again the way it was on that day in Buenos Aires.
One of the things that always gives me pause during the Jewish holidays is the idea that Jews all over the world are saying the same prayers at the same time. I get goosebumps to think that on the day I’m saying the closing line of the Passover seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” it is also being said by my family in Israel. As the ominous prayers are recited on Yom Kippur and “the gates begin to close” on the day of atonement that same urgency is being felt on continents half a world away.
The communal nature of these moments appeal to me. In the book “The Faith Club,” Ranya, a Muslim, Suzanne, a Christian, and Priscilla, a Jew, came together for years to discuss and dissect their respective religions. They invited each other to their homes and services and tore down the walls that divided them. They pushed through their fears and differences to find similar truths in all of their faiths. They agreed that God was loving and forgiving, that prayers were calls to action in all of their traditions, and that goodness and evil co-exist but light triumphs over darkness. They concluded that human decisions, not God’s, cause suffering in our world and that dogma gets in the way of spirituality. I feel like I’m in lockstep with these women when it comes to faith.
How good would it be if we could all come together like these courageous women? Wouldn’t it be something if we could leave our comfort zones, whether in our homes, in our churches and temples, or even in our countries and celebrate our faiths with people who are different than we are. My richest experiences have been praising God in unfamiliar places, praying wherever I am, and worshipping with strangers. Shalom. Ah Salamu Alaykum. Go in peace. At the end of the day, no matter who says it or where in the world it is said, we all wish for blessings and peace.
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