I davened with a reform minyan and loved it!

The title is misleading, because technically there wasn’t a minyan, since there were only about 7 men and twice that in women.

I spent this shabbos at the Isabella Freedman center in northwestern Connecticut, and had a lovely time, partially and I know people are going to bitch and moan right now, due to the fact that Congregation Beth El a reform shul in Park Slope was renting out the retreat center. My friend is the mashgiach there and in the past I had a friend who did the Adamah fellowship (of which I contemplated doing many times – but never could get how I could afford to just not make anything for 3 months)

Growing up frum taught me many things, one of which was the fact that the Reform and Conservative movements were loads of crap and that they were wrong and everything they did was sinful and so on. I have had this concept drilled into my head from all angles, from the yeshiva community, from my family and from my peers, and this weekend opened my mind a little bit.

I have been attracted to open orthodoxy for some time, probably since I heard Rabbi Avi Weiss speak at the University of Albany several years back, but in more recent times because I have been in a exploratory stage (not because I resent the frum community at large – but because my ideals and philosophies are not regarded at all, except for in Israel) I myself have always been the type to join multiple communities and sects rather than just be in one of them, hence the reason I could never become chabad like so many people think I am. I think every community, including Reform, Conservative, Renewal, Egalitarian etc, have something to offer. Am I wrong for thinking this?

In my world, this is complete heresy, I don’t know why? After all, if these groups are wrong and not practicing, “real” Judaism, I should see this and come back home right? Today I experienced my first reform minyan and I enjoyed it immensely. Part of what I enjoyed so much was watching the enjoyment of those davening or connecting or whatever you want to call it. There was a woman playing guitar and lots of singing, it felt great to fin ally go to shul and see everyone participating and everyone happy. Besides for the Carlebach shul or shuls in Israel, it seems that most people see shul as a chore. I was once asked by someone to ponder this question “would you rather be in shul or at work? The fact that I hesitated was pretty startling on my part, but I wonder how many people really enjoy going to shul and actually get something out of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been in shuls where I have felt a connection, but that is rare. I particularly am attracted to old shuls which show the survival of Judaism, I love the old shul in Woodridge, NY and most recently I went to a poetry reading at the Stanton Street Shul on the lower east side which kind of felt like one of those shuls where we would go to hole up in during a pogrom. But those weren’t connections through the davening, they were of place, is that counted? What is counted anyway?

I could go all Frum Satire on you and explain to you why these people were enjoying the service so much. They could wear whatever they wanted, I was in shorts and a nice shirt, they didn’t have to daven the whole thing, they sat together (outside of orthodoxy its not really a big deal) and they had good singing rather then rushing through a bunch of prayers with mumbling. In frum shuls everything is so routine and done all the time that we hardly notice, I would be willing to bet that these people rarely make it to shul. No one was talking and the kids present were good and quiet, such a rarity.

Everyone connects on their own level and I connected today, I know some of you may think I am an apikores – which is not really possible because I am an am-haaretz, but still I really enjoyed myself and thought all about Shabbat and the service and all that honky dory stuff.

Then again, am I even supposed to be having a connection in shul? Or is it just this servitude/blind faith, belief stuff that I hear all the time in code words like halacha moshe Mi-Sinai or Takoo?