34 and Shabat and my trip to Agudas Achim

It is the 34th day of the Omer.

I went this morning with my neighbor, Malka, to Shabat Shacharit at Congregation Agudas Achim, Austin’s Conservative synagogue. Normally I don’t go there, but I was operating on information that there would be a Bar Mitzvah service at my usual Reform congregation (blech!) and that the library minyan at my usual Reform congregation would be rather lame this week. So off I went with Malka, who also usually goes to the Reform outfit, for services. Malka was signed up to chant all of the curses in this week’s Torah portion at CAA, which she did a fine job of.

So now I have this problem. I really like the services at CAA. It was very similar to my Chavurah back in NJ, about whom I’ve written before. Though their ideology is, officially, quite different from my Reform perspective, the style was exactly what I would want. There was a Bat Mitzvah. She did one aliyah or reading from the Torah and chanted the Haftarah and gave a brief drash. To that end, her sway over the service was significantly limited when compared to the total dominion these sorts of things hold over the proceedings at most Reform synagogues.

And people were loud. You can attribute some of it to the fact that perhaps there were more people there than there usually are at the Reform place and maybe there are better acoustics at CAA, but most of it can be attributed to the fact that people felt more invited to participate and they were more knowdledgable. There is a larger group of educated Jews in the pews that come to this service every week. The Chazan leads to service, facing the same direction as the congregation, as though he is participating along, rather than facing the congregation such that people feel the need to shut up and listen to the performance.

So here’s my problem. Does my future hold Conservative congregations? I’m still Reform. Can I be Reform without a Reform community? Can I be a Reform Jew who just happens to go to a Conservative shul? Or are these issues of liturgy and musical style superficial enough that I can ignor them and continue trying to get what I can from Refrom synagogues?

And now, the Omer:

5 Responses to 34 and Shabat and my trip to Agudas Achim

  1. BZ May 25, 2008 at 12:24 pm #

    So here’s my problem. Does my future hold Conservative congregations?

    Not necessarily — it could hold nondenominational congregations.

    I’m still Reform. Can I be Reform without a Reform community?

    I’ve been doing it for about 8 years now. (Without a Reform-labeled community, anyway. I’ve been a part of a number of communities committed to progressive Jewish values whose participants exercise informed autonomy.)

  2. davidamwilensky May 25, 2008 at 11:19 pm #

    Thanks, BZ. I’m so shocked that you of all people would recommend such a thing.

    In fact, it’s basically what I do when I’m in NJ with Chavurat Lamdeinu.

  3. Rich May 25, 2008 at 11:59 pm #

    My wife and I have been sampling the range of conregations without mechitzas that our community has to offer.

    We will never be anything but Reform, because notions like a personal messiah, and the expectation that the Mishnah, Talmud, and Codes are anything more binding than a record of prior generations’ struggle with Torah does not fly with us. We tend to skip the “במהרה בימינויבוא אלינועם משיח בן דויד” verse in Eliahu HaNavi, and I have my own tricked out copy of Siddur Sim Shalom with things I find theologically problematic highlighted in orange.

    That being said, we enjoy the experiences we have at the Conservative shuls and we enjoy our Reform shul and other Reform shuls we have visited.

    As long as you hold to the tenets of Reform theology, you’re Reform.


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