Monday, November 8, 2010

Beth Tfiloh

There are some destination synagogues for me.  While saying kaddish, I took a liking to the experience and clergy at Beth Emeth, our local Reform congregation.  While initially attracted by the security of a minyan and the convenient time for Kabbalat Shabbat services, it did not take long for me to admire the Hazzan's musical skills and the Rabbi's intellect.  My own religious preferences aside, I always return to my car after a cup of soda at the oneg, about the only thing there I can consume after a fleishig shabbat dinner, thinking I have been to a place of kedusha.  My own congregation does not seem to put holiness among its aspirations.

About once or twice a year, my destination congregation is Beth Tfiloh, a nominally Orthodox gathering in the northern suburbs of Baltimore.  If I leave Wilmington at 8AM I can generally arrive at the end of Shacharit, and have never been disappointed.  Each visit has a Bar Mitzvah, which I utterly loathe at all of the Wilmington congregations, where the boy effectively pre-empts shabbos.  I make a point  not to go those weekends, substituting some Pikuach Nefesh activity like being on call or donating platelets, which is what I was supposed to due yesterday until I botched the prep by taking aspirin from my pill case within 72 hours of the scheduled donation.  So I went to Beth Tfiloh instead.

Beth Tfiloh has a mechitza, which my wife loathes. It is only about four feet high, made of plexiglass with an unobtrusive design. From my seat yesterday, not far from where I usually sit, I did not notice the physical barrier right away, just a lot of women on one side of the sanctuary and a lot of men on my side.

Each time I've been there, they have a Bar Mitzvah.  I'd expect that from a congregation of over a thousand members.  Yet the Bar Mitzvah never seems to intrude on the service.  Twice they had invited guest speakers, Ruth Messinger of the American Jewish World Service last spring and Martin Fletcher the Middle East correspondent for NBC News yesterday.  It would be unthinkable at AKSE or Beth Shalom to ask a Bar Mitzvah family to share their assigned day.  Rabbi Wohlberg always has a presence, even if it is only to introduce the guest.  Who is honored? One who honors others.  Avot 4:1.  The rabbi has had a word of tribute for all he mentions, from the Bar Mitzvah to the woman observing her 100th birthday in absentia.  For an orthodox congregation, he finds a suitable role for women.  I would not be surprised that if in private he is apologetic for not being able to offer more.  This being machar chodesh, the women have a role of gathering for t'hillim or Psalms.  He mentioned a women's tfilah group in passing.  Attendance of 45% women by my estimate speaks for itself.

And there was no amateur hour.  All participants came across as suitably skilled, even the Bar Mitzvah bachur who did a more limited amount of worship than some of the others.  A morning's delight.  Worth the shlep each time I go there.

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