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Church Hop: B’nai Jeshurun

In which faith correspondent Lucy Sun finds tradition, and updates it.

synagogueThe Shabbat service at B’nai Jeshurun has already begun. “Shabbat is the place where we dare to dream,” the rabbi says of the Jewish day of rest. “We meet the angels halfway.”

The music begins with a motley mix of instruments–cello, bongos, acoustic guitar and flute. The sound is a blend of the earthy and the ethereal–grounded, yet striving towards heaven, going to meet the angels halfway.

During the very first song, members of the congregation are leaving their seats, running to hold hands with one another and dance in a circle. The rabbi keeps the rhythm with his palm beating the lectern. The song ends and the congregation sits down, the room still full of joy.

It’s a conservative service, composed almost entirely of music in Hebrew. A regular at B’nai Jeshurun tells me that �the services are conservative, but the politics are reform.� As the service comes to an end, the smells of Shabbat dinner drift into the room. The rabbi asks, “How many of you are smelling the food from downstairs?” The congregation grins. “As I am smelling the food, I think, this must be how homeless people feel all the time,” says the rabbi.

After the service, I wander the streets with a group of Columbia Jews, looking for supplies for the traditional Shabbat blessings over food and wine. We walk eight blocks, expecting to find challah bread at Zabar�s, but the place is closed. There’s an H&H next door. “I feel like bagels are made with Jews in mind,” someone suggests, but the group isn’t having it. (For the record, we finally got our challah at Westside).

Eventually, everyone’s chipped in for the bread and a bottle of pinot grigio, and we’re settling into a room in Carman, feeling sketchy and pious at the same time. The blessing is performed, and we eat and drink. “I feel kind of alcoholic, drinking wine out of a plastic cup,” someone says. Yet tradition lives on.

Is your place of worship worth a hop? Tell us!

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  • Wow says:

    @Wow “As I am smelling the food, I think, this must be how homeless people feel all the time,” says the rabbi.

    “I feel like bagels are made with Jews in mind”


  • why says:

    @why is this segment called church hop? house of worship hop just not catchy enough for you?

  • Having says:

    @Having grown up in the city, and going to B’nai Jeshurun for countless B’nai Mitzvot, I’ve been pretty certain for years that BJ was the basis for the shul in the movie “Keeping the Faith” with Ben Stiller

  • ??? says:

    @??? This is shoddy reporting. What about their horns?

  • Yay says:

    @Yay first off, this IS the synagogue where they filmed “Keeping the Faith,” second off, I go there a lot and yay!

  • A BJ member says:

    @A BJ member This is the Keeping the Faith synagogue.

    It’s also used in Sex and the City for Charlotte’s wedding.

  • Ah yes... says:

    @Ah yes... Judaism in America today. They call it ‘services’ when it should be referred to as ‘tfila’ or ‘davening’. Instruments are used, which is an express violation of the Sabbath. And furthermore, the notion of going out to purchase food after services! This is not a shul or synagogue, may I respectfully point out, this is a REFORM TEMPLE. As an Orthodox Jew, I wish to point out that this manner of Sabbath ‘observance’, while of some cultural significance, has no religious impact whatsoever.

    1. bubbe says:

      @bubbe as a reform Jew who cares about her faith and really finds meaning in SYNAGOGUE (yes, that’s what we call it where I go) I find the high and mighty comments by you, mr. or ms. orthodox jew, to be condescending and insulting. Faith is an incredibly personal thing and all the rabbis arguing in the Talmud prove that point. “religious impact” is what you make of it. Wearing a yarmulke or a long skirt all the time doesn’t make you any more pious if you treat other people as beneath you.
      Your lack of mench-itude directly negates your “holiness”, I would argue.

  • Shades of Gray says:

    @Shades of Gray As an Orthodox Jew, you’re not really in any position to be making ignorant smears that distort the line between reform and conservative. BJ is a devout synagogue of people who have a different understanding of halakha than you do. it is, indeed, a shul/synagogue.

    however, it is worth noting that while BJ follwos conservative tradition and conservative rullings on most issues, BJ broke with the conservative movement’s central bureaucracy a few years ago over the issue of homosexual clergy– BJ supports the ordination of homosexual clergy.

  • As a says:

    @As a non-orthodox and probably extremely sacrilegious Jew, I wish to point out that I’ve observed and personally experienced rabbis screwing fellow Jews out of money, breaking apart families, and doing other unspeakable things. That, my friend, is Judaism in America today. I respect and treasure the culture and the history, but you can shove your religion where Ra don’t shine.

  • What's wrong says:

    @What's wrong with the word “services”? Ok, Jews with a religious (or strong cultural) background would recognize tfila or davening, but most people won’t. Neither word is English… I think its safe to assume that most bwog readers may not speak yiddish and/or hebrew.

    As for instrumentation, as #8 points out, its a violation according to Orthodox judaism. Not everyone agrees – Rabbis decreeing it in the Middle-Ages isn’t the same as an explicit commandment banning it in the Torah. Note, for example, that instrumentation was used in the Beit Hamikdash when it stood. The use of instruments is not anathema to prayer services.

    Lastly, for the record, BJ is conservative, not reform. As a self-professed orthodox Jew, you should really know better than to lump together all those you disagree with on religious issues. It’s no better than me referring to all Orthodox Jews as Haredi. There’s a clear distinction.

  • LDS says:

    @LDS There should be a segment on the LDS Manhattan 8th ward YSA. Or rather the Temple at Lincoln Center Sundays at 12:30 and wear business attire.

  • jimmy says:

    @jimmy Come come now, sir…you should get your facts straight before shooting off at the mouth. ‘Synagogue’ quite simply refers to any Jewish house of worship, although it is true that the Reform movement tends to use the term ‘Temple’. Furthermore, as previous commenters mentioned, Bnai Jeshurun is a Conservative place of worship (as long as we’re focusing on semantics).

    Keep in mind that while the various branches of the Jewish Orthodox movement maintain the upper hand in terms of Jewish scholarship, Orthodoxy remains rife with problems, and could learn more than a thing or two from the Conservative and Reform movements. Particularly in terms of working on social justice, community values, and interfaith activism, the Orthodox movement frequently falls short in comparison with Conservative and Reform. It appears that a large part of the problem is that many Orthodox communities remain extremely insular, and often risk projecting a negative image to outsiders.

    But, in terms of Talmudic scholarship, rigorous analysis of Halacha, proficiency in Hebrew and Aramaic, as well as a firm grasp of the Bible and Commentaries, the Orthodox has the clear upper hand. There’s no debate there.

  • Borat says:

    @Borat Where are your horns?

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