Thoughts in Shul

In 2001, Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, fell on September 18, only a week after 9/11. That's the first time I remember having to go through a security checkpoint to enter a synagogue.

When Jon and I were in New York a few months ago, we passed the Park East Synagogue on our walk from my grandparents' apartment to the subway. Jon pointed out the police presence in front of the building. "What's going on?" he asked. I'd been in my own little world and hadn't even noticed the cruiser or the cops; it took me a minute to snap into focus.

"It's Saturday morning," I finally replied. "There are services. They're here for the congregants. In case - you know, in case of anything."


Yesterday, Jon and I went to our synagogue to celebrate our friends' aufruf, which is when a soon-to-be-married couple is called up onto the bimah for an aliyah, the recitation of a blessing over the Torah. I wasn't worried about going to shul despite the recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers and the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in St Louis, but I did feel like walking through the front doors was an act of resistance.

As the familiar melodies washed over me, I grounded myself in the service. I don't speak Hebrew; my bat mitzvah, after which I stopped attending Hebrew School, was long enough ago that I don't really remember the translations for the prayers. But the ebb and flow of the chants mirrors my own heartbeat, and I can lose myself in the nigun even when I don't know exactly what we're saying. During the v'ahavta, I remembered a scene in Orson Scott Card's Shadow of Giants, one of the sequels to Ender's Game, in which Petra visits her children for the first time since they were born:
"I love you," she whispered. 
"Loveyoutoo," murmured Andrew. 
Petra was glad that someone had said those words to him so often that the answer came by rote.
I was suddenly tremendously strengthened by the idea that our kids will be able to recite the v'ahavta without thinking. Of course the meaning of the prayers matter, but it is such a comfort to imagine the words and tunes that my people have passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years so ingrained in our children that they can be recalled by rote.

I read the translation for the v'ahavta as we continued praying:
You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your might.
Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.
Impress them upon your children.
Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away,
when you lie down and when you get up.
Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead;
inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Thus you shall remember to observe all My commandments
and to be holy to your God.
I am Adonai, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God:
I am Adonai your God.
Resistance indeed.