Many weeks ago when I had visited the Eldridge Street Synagogue I had been invited by the tour guide to join a Shabbat service at the Central Synagogue. Everybody is welcome there, Jewish or not, it is a very liberal congregation. All the time I wanted to go there one Friday evening but every Friday there was something else. Today was my last chance and I used it.
The Central Synagogue was built on Lexington Avenue at 55th Street in 1872. It is one of the oldest synagogues in the United States. Soh Ang and I arrived ten minutes before the service would start, in pouring rain. I was surprised that there are no separate entrances. Men and women use the same door. Our bags were inspected when we arrived and they handed us an umbrella bag for our very wet umbrellas. When we entered the sanctuary we were greeted with a friendly “Shabbat Shalom”. I looked around to see where the women were sitting. Women were sitting next to men, no separation. We took a seat in one of the rear benches and waited excitedly.
The service started with music, very lively music. There was a lot of that music during the whole thing. I liked it. Then the candles were lighted, the congregation was welcomed and asked to walk around and wish others “Shabbat Shalom”. We didn’t walk around but exchanged a “Shabbat Shalom” with the people in the bench in front of us. Then we were asked to open the prayer book on page 12. I found two books in the back of the bench in front of us. People took the thinner one, so I did the same. But I didn’t find page 12. The book started with a much higher page number. Until I understood that it has to be used the other way round. The last page is the first one and pages are turned from left to right. Texts are written in Hebrew and English in both writings. All singing and praying was in Hebrew. For the reading two Torah rolls were taken out of the Torah cabinet. They were carried around and people touched them with their prayer book. The sermon was about Joseph and the rabbi set him in relation to Nelson Mandela. The rabbi – next surprises – was a woman and Asian-American.
The service in general was very similar to church services at home. There was music, prayer, reading and a sermon. More music and a different kind of music. The sermon was shorter. Everything was very joyful. And indeed the congregation seems to be very liberal and open minded.
Back out in the pouring rain again Soh Ang suggested dinner. I took her to my neighborhood and we went to Land, a creative Thai restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue at 82nd Street. I had a lemongrass chicken with sticky rice served in a banana leaf and papaya salad. Very unusual but very tasty. The chicken, served on the bone was crispy and tender. The papaya salad was crisp and slightly sour as well as sweet. Soh Ang had drunken noodles. As a starter we shared a plate of shrimp parcels served with a lemony cream sauce.
Earlier in the day I had stopped at Lincoln Center to see if my ring was ready. It was and it fits my finger perfectly now. I was hungry and decided to give the German bratwurst a chance. I had been unfair. The couple are Germans, the bratwurst was better than any I ever had in Cologne. They said they serve the hotdog toppings because the Americans want it that way. I had it just with mustard. So on one of my last days I smudged my light coat with yellow mustard. Great!
What I learned today:
The experience of a Jewish Shabbat service.