When I was seven years old I thought the only Jews that existed were black hatted men with beards or women that wore sheitels and long skirts. They all met in the makeshift sanctuary that was my Rabbi’s garage on Saturday mornings. This consisted of a temporary ark and a thin curtain that separated the men from the women. On high holidays, when there were more than forty of us, we’d rent a room above the local bowling alley and confess our sins to Hashem amidst the sea of seven ten splits below.
So first time I walked into a Conservative sanctuary I thought I was in a church*.
Everything about the structure seemed so………..un-Jewish.
It was huge.
The size of seven, possibly even eight two car garages.
The walls glowed with multi-colored Judaica that refracted the light pouring in through the giant bay windows.
Stained glass, a medium that in my mind had been reserved for depictions of the alleged victim of the Jewish people, was instead used to make doors for the ark that incorporated imagery from the Torah.
On the bimah itself stood two curiously clean shaven men.
One spoke in english and appeared to be the pastor of the flock. His eyebrows squished together in an empathetic smile above his kind eyes as he gave short insights as to what was being read.
The other seemed to being singing opera in hebrew.
In fact the entire congregation appeared to be in the middle of one giant musical production.
If the concentrated chants of Orthodox davening sounded like crying, then this was Showtime at the Apollo.
I had never seen Jewish men and women pray together, let alone harmonize.
Everyone wore yarmulkes.
I imagine that my reaction was akin to that of a Victorian man seeing a woman in pants for the first time.
I sat down, picked up a siddur and waited to take communion.
*It should of course be noted that my Mother went on to become a Conservative Cantor and I went onto become some sort of conservative/reform/tyrannosaurus rex /esoteric hybrid that draws lots of pictures of Jewish things and writes about them.