Our docent, Mrs. Arlene Dyer, who was a Rabbi’s wife for 40 years, gave us a brief lecture about Temple Beth-El. It was established in 1870 and has a congregation of about 900 families. The congregation is served by two full time rabbis and one cantor, all of whom are women!
We were then escorted into the sanctuary where we viewed the main altar (an imposing granite structure about 30’ feet tall) which holds the ark that houses the Torah scrolls. There were beautiful stained glass windows depicting the history and symbols of the Jews along with a couple of 10’ by 10’ wall tapestries for which women had to vie for the privilege of being chosen to be the seamstresses.
We were then led into a nearby chapel where we were able to view and hear a detailed description of the Torah. The scrolls can cost between $12,000-14,000. Every letter is hand written by scribes on animal parchment (excluding pork) using vegetable ink. The sheets are then sewn together with animal gut casings rolled together into one continuous scroll and covered with a protective sleeve.
Since the rabbis had a prior commitment to be with a special guest lecturer in the sanctuary, our shabbat service was held in a side auditorium and was completely lay led. We were able to take part in the service which included singing, music and a mix of English and Hebrew.
It was good for us to be exposed to a tradition that is different from what we all know and good to see that they are made up of just ordinary Americans like the rest of us. Christians often forget that Jesus was a Jew and the Jewish people were his people. It was humbling to remember that our religion finds its roots in theirs. The inscription over the main altar echoes how similarly we believe. It reads: “Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”.
After the service our little entourage gathered at YaYa’s Thai Restaurant where stories and food were shared by all. God’s love flowed abundantly and we all left feeling fed - body, soul, and spirit. It was a memorable experience. Thanks be to God.
- Carolyn Lampe