Hillel House, University of Chicago

In her last post, Abby Sher, author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying (Among Other Things) wrote about revisiting her childhood synagogue. She is blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

jewish authors blogUh oh, these are real Jews, I thought.

I was surrounded by kids my age — all around twenty or so — reading the Torah and davening like Woody Allen did in Take the Money and Run when he took an experimental drug to get out of prison and turned into an Orthodox rabbi for several days. I had been only in my Reform synagogue for my first eighteen years of life, so I didn’t know anyone without a beard could practice this fervently. I was humbled by their piety and discipline. I was especially nervous when they did the silent Amidah and everyone was saying something in a low burble, many people rocking too. I tried to repeat the English parts as fast as I could but I was always the last one standing and had rarely gotten more than half way through. I never understood what I had read either and what if the most important part was at the end?
But something that I did enjoy about these services was the anonymity of this kind of worship. I had been to temple solely as the daughter of my parents, another generation of a lineage. When I went to Hillel, I loved that I could slip in and try new harmonies on songs and brush my hair on the other side and even stand up for kaddish and nobody knew me or my history. I loved that I was here in this moment for the first and only time.

I tried a few more shuls in Chicago, mostly when I had an invitation from a friend, and once I moved back to New York I started looking in Brooklyn, usually with a shul buddy. But I felt mildly displaced; standing on the edge, maybe getting my navel wet, certainly not ready to dive under. I told myself it was the unfamiliar music that jarred me. Or the slightly too conservative liturgy that made me feel stiff. But then I tried a service with a guitar and mellow singing and that felt even more awkward.

I thought of chanting one of my yoga mantras in the background, in protest.

Abby Sher is the author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying (Among Other Things). Come back all week to read her blog entries. And, check out her official website.

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