I wrote previously about the Mi Yodeya celebration. I also joined Isaac and others for services while there, which was interesting and educational.
Friday we went to KMS (Kemp Mill) for kabbalat shabbat. There were several women there -- way more than I've seen Friday night in any Orthodox synagogue in Pittsburgh, where I've often been the only one (awkward!). The mechitzah (division between the men's and women's sections) was reasonably friendly -- down the center rather than pushing the women to the back, and not so high as to block view of the front of the room. There was a lot of singing (led by the youth group, if I recall correctly); I recognized some of the melodies and could sing along with pretty much everything, invoking my knack for singing along on the first verse with a song I've never heard before. The community felt warm and friendly. A woman gave a short d'var torah.
Saturday morning we'd thought to go to the other large synagogue (Shomrei), in part because their well-regarded rabbi would be giving the d'var torah, but logistics happened and we went to KMS instead. This time we were in the main sanctuary (we'd been in a smaller room the night before), again with a friendly layout. They run a very efficient service: the morning was about two hours, and that might be the first time I've seen a full (Orthodox) torah service come in under 45 minutes. Part of it is that they don't do long-winded mi sheberachs after each aliya like some places, and part of it is that people knew when they were supposed to be where and didn't dawdle. The leining (chanting) was also pretty fast.
They had the d'var torah after the end of the service. Since the service was over the mechitzah was no longer necessary, so they lowered it -- the top part could be lowered with the flick of a lever. I don't know if that is a reason for this timing or a consequence of it, but I took positive note.
The d'var was given by another woman and was excellent. She talked for about 12-14 minutes, starting by talking about Yosef, transitioning into the values of Chanukah, and ending up at education values. I haven't retained as much of it as I'd've liked and I don't know if she's published it anywhere yet. Bummer, but that part's par for the course on Shabbat. (Yes, I know I'm guilty of doing this to other people too. Sorry. I will try to be better about that.)
Toward the end of Shabbat we headed over to Shomrei for mincha (afternoon service) and ma'ariv (evening service), between which their rabbi was going to give a class about Chanukah. When we entered the building someone told me there are two women's sections, one in a balcony and one on the main floor. I headed for the downstairs one and almost immediately realized that was a mistake; it was tucked in the back corner of the room (so hard to hear), and the mechitzah was tall and opaque so I wasn't going to see anything either. No one else was there. So I found the stairs and headed up to the balcony, where I could sit in the front center and be able to see and hear. There was one other woman there, and a couple more came in later.
The rabbi's class was mainly a question-and-answer session about the laws of Chanukah, mainly things having to do with the chanukiyah (Chanukah menorah) and candle-lighting. We talked about what to do if you're not at home, about timing, about people who live in apartment buildings, and assorted other stuff. I asked one question (and felt welcome to do so).
Sunday we went to the earlier morning service at KMS so I could take my hosts out for breakfast and still drive home in daylight. We were in the main sanctuary again, and as on Shabbat, it was a efficient service. There were a few women. I was the only one wearing pants, oops. (I'd worn skirts on Shabbat, but I don't consider that practical for everyday wear -- what are you supposed to do without good pockets??)
A couple observations:
First, none of the services felt rushed, but I do not know how people pray that quickly. I couldn't keep up without vocalizing everything, while the service leader was spitting out the Hebrew cleanly and clearly. I guess it comes in time? But on the other hand, if I haven't gotten it by now...
They sure do a lot of kaddishes. If I recall correctly, at the end of the Sunday-morning service there was a bit of torah learning followed by kaddish d'rabbanan, and I came away with the impression that the former was there mainly to justify the latter. (Kaddish is said at certain points in the service, mainly to act as a division, but it also may be said after any learning.) Unlike in Reform services, kaddish is said either by one person or the mourners as a group. I found myself wondering how that's coordinated -- who gets which ones, how do they know, and if you particularly want one that day, how do you signal that?
Both of these synagogues -- and, now that I think about it, several other Orthodox synagogues I've been to -- had a bunch of different siddurim (prayer books). The content is basically the same in all of them, but sometimes there are minor variations, they may or may not include English translations (which may or may not vary subtly), they may or may not contain commentary, and so on. This has a few consequences:
- You actually get, and have to make, a choice. Friday night I just took a book; it was all Hebrew, no English translation. That's fine for the prayers (I'm going to do those in Hebrew anyway), but I had to work a little more at navigation.
- Some people bring their own, an option that simply had not occurred to me.
- Because not everybody is using the same book, and also I assume because there's an assumption that if you're there you're fluent (which breaks down in some individual cases, of course), they don't call out instructions or page numbers -- you're just expected to be able to follow. I can do that for a Shabbat or weekday service, but might be challenged to do so on, say, the high holy days.
On Saturday morning I used the Koren siddur, which I've heard good things about. I actually found the Hebrew font just a tad hard to read, compared to Sim Shalom, Artscroll, and even Mishkan T'filah. It looked like a nice siddur otherwise, so maybe one to have available even if I don't use it regularly. Or maybe, were I to use it regularly, I'd find the font a little easier.
I'm glad I got the opportunity to experience all that.