Tonight I visited a synagogue for the first time in my life. Coming from a “Church of England” background it was a very unique experience I won’t forget anytime soon.
Initially I planned to go with my partner, for moral support. But I emailed the congregation the wrong dates and my partner couldn’t make it. So I thought, you know what? What the heck! Just go and do it. The entire week leading up to this night I was battling my nerves. Especially me riding up on motorcycle to Exeter tonight. The fear kept telling my brain “Don’t do it, turn back, they will judge you.” But I inhaled, exhaled and went on.
I parked my motorcycle right next to the Schul. The building was positioned down an alleyway I had passed thousands of times but never actually noticed. Even the street was named “Synagogue”! How I had not noticed that before baffled me. I went up to the doors. I rung the bell a few times. Knocked the doors. No one in. I was about 30 minutes early. So a little bit eager.
Just moments after I was greeted by a great big man and another gentleman just behind him. I told them that I think I was a bit early and apologised.
We all went inside, I warmed up my hands from the cold bike ride up from Torquay. It was only about 20 miles but it takes its toll on your hands.
I spoke a little while about my interest in religions in general and Judaism. The man switched on the survelliance cameras which had me a little worried and also sympathetic. There were at least six different cameras set up to catch every view of the street. I could now see and prepare myself for more socialising as more and more people turned up to the door. I noticed bits of Hebrew up on the wall, old holocaust pictures, stars of David, it was very enlightening seeing it in person particularly meeting Jewish people in person also. As I chatted to Reese, we agreed that seeing things on the internet and experiencing them in real life are very different indeed.
I was then offered a prayer book and a Kippah to wear on my head. We all sat down to the back of the synagogue where the heating was most active. The inside was stunning. The place dated back from 1763.
The candles were then lit, a prayer was said, and we all sat back down.
We then started flipping through the book and reading. I was not speaking aloud as I was trying to observe what was going on around me, and what this strange language I was hearing meant. (Luckily they all had english text right next to the hebrew text, and also romanised characters of hebrew).
First off when everyone started singing in Hebrew I found it hard to settle in and let loose. There were some good voices and some bad and I found that distracting. But I really let myself go and learnt to just listen indiscriminately and really enjoyed the melodies and the sound of Hebrew. It was a very rough, but a very satisfying kind of language. Some parts were spoken in Hebrew and some in English. People around me were bowing as we reached the meditative parts of prayer and turning towards specific parts of the building, which at points I believed was facing towards Israel, Jerusalem. which I thought was respectful and also very mindful.
As the service came to an end, we all shook hands saying the phrase: “shabbat shalom!”
I then left the building, putting my biker gear on and reflecting on what I had just been through. Absorbing the melodies and thinking of the prayers.
It was a great religious experience and I recommend it to anyone interested in understanding and respecting other religions! Particularly in overcoming nerves and going out there and doing something for yourself!