Site Visit Journal: Temple Beth Am

The site I visited was recommended to me by my high school Human Geography teacher for the sole reason that it was “inviting and welcoming to non-Jews,” and I was not proved otherwise on my visit, because I was welcomed when I arrived. However, I did not interact with many people, although I had the opportunity to. My old teacher Mr. Cohen was born into a Jewish family, but does not practice the religion often. Very seldom does he attend the Shabbat, and because of this, I had gone alone. The temple was in the pinecrest area, making it quite a drive. I had gone last Friday night to attend a service which was an hour and forty-five minutes long, although I was not present for the entirety of it. They were preparing for the high holidays “Rosh Hashanah,” a holiday which just past, and “Yom Kippur,” a holiday which has yet to come (this weekend). The Shabbat service felt more sacred than the Sunday Baptist church service I regularly attend. It was more sacred in that it was systematic; everything that was done seemed to be taken more seriously than the Christian church service I’m used to, but perhaps thats because, well, I’m used to it. The candles and wine and blessings were something I didn’t want to be a part of, because I felt so out of place. Of my knowledge, the temple is attached to a Jewish day school for children, where the religion is incorporated in their learnings. The stage was called a Bema as opposed to an alter, and behind the Bema was in arc that opens sometime during the service, at which point everyone stands up. I was caught off guard at that. It seemed almost mandatory to wear a Kippah, but I later found that it was only heavily suggested. I did not wear one assuming I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing one, but I found I was even more uncomfortable not wearing one. I suppose the sacred environment made me feel uncomfortable and ostracized, and, consequently, I almost completely avoided social interaction. I spoke to one person, whom I happened to know from a program I am involved in, and even he seemed hesitant to speak to me prior to the service. Of course after the service we met up again and I asked him a few questions about the Shabbat. He corrected me on assuming the stage was called an alter, and told me of the upcoming holidays they were preparing for. I also found out about the attached day school I mentioned before, while speaking to him. The casual post-service conversation between the Jewish people who regularly attend seemed to have nothing to do with the service, and everyone seemed to know each other. I do plan on attending service again hopefully tonight with my old teacher, so that I can get a better understanding of exactly what goes on during service as well as outside of it.


2 responses to “Site Visit Journal: Temple Beth Am

  1. It is interesting that you ended up achieving the opposite by not wearing the Kippah. This is a perfect example of the unifying function of symbols and how they depend on the context to gain different meanings. Your discomfort was such a “real” experience because in a way you represented the “chaotic” by altering the uniform and homogenous community inside the synagogue. Participating in a sacred space can “burst open” or “reveal” other realities we do not perceive in profane space.

    Your discomfort makes this experience more meaningful because it makes you more aware. Usually, the first visit is about body language – physically crossing to a new space. In your upcoming visit(s) the verbal will be activated, specially if you come in with a “gatekeeper” who can introduce you to the community.

    Good analysis.


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