Activity time: 120 minutes
Preparation for Activity
- See general suggestions on Engagement in the program Introduction, under Implementation.
- Contact a local synagogue and arrange a visit for a Shabbat (Sabbath) service on a Friday evening (usually preferable) or a Saturday morning. Arrange, if possible, for a synagogue rabbi or leader to talk with the youth following the service. You may wish to contact the synagogue youth group and arrange for the two groups of youth to meet following the service.
- If possible, invite one or two members of Jewish heritage from your congregation to talk to the group before and/or after the visit. If before, ask them to tell youth what to expect during the visit and what behavior is appropriate. They may also wish to share personal experiences that illustrate what their Jewish heritage means to them and how it relates to their Unitarian Universalist identity.
- Find out the guidelines for appropriate clothing and behavior from a contact at the synagogue. Provide a handout as well as verbal instruction to participants before the day of the visit. For example:
- Appropriate clothing may include a yarmulke, which is not required of non-Jews but is often worn by men and boys, and sometimes women and girls, entering a sanctuary as an expression of respect (in Jewish tradition, covering one's head before God). Ask your contact at the synagogue whether they provide yarmulkes to guests.
- In an Orthodox or Conservative congregation, men and women may sit in separate sections for worship. Find out in advance where male and female participants may sit.
- Optional: Provide a handout with questions to help guide participants' observations during the visit. These might include:
- What can you tell about connections between the members' faith and their daily lives? What classes or services are offered to the congregation? What notices and announcements are posted?
- Depth of familiarity expected of members? Are explanations or instructions offered during the service? Does the entire congregation seem to know the order of service, the words spoken, the tunes sung? Are directions written or spoken in English and/or Hebrew?
- What are signs the members respect the service, its leaders, and the space in which it is held? How can you tell which spaces, objects, or moments are most sacred/least sacred for this congregation?
- What is the role of children in the service? How well behaved are the children or youth attending the service? Do congregants practice communal parenting; in other words, do parents correct other congregants' children?
Description of Activity
Prepare the group to observe the guidelines you have been given by your contact at the synagogue you will visit. For example, explain where youth will find yarmulkes to put on before entering the worship sanctuary; explain where male and female participants may sit during the service. As needed, explain that the tradition of covering one's head reflects respect for God's sacred space and that the separation of men and women is intended to minimize distraction in the synagogue.
Provide guidance for the observations you expect youth to make during the visit. If you have made a handout, distribute it. Tell youth to write their observation notes after, not during, the worship service. Mention that religious Jews do not write on the Sabbath and it would be disrespectful for a guest to write, as well.
Attend service at a synagogue. If possible, meet afterward with someone knowledgeable in Judaism or with the synagogue's youth group for discussion.
After the visit, follow up with participants on the observations you suggested. To prompt further discussion, ask:
- Jewish services typically involve a cantor-singer-whose role is nearly as important as the rabbi's, since much of the liturgy is sung. How did the presence of so much music affect you? What effect did it have on the atmosphere of worship?
- The Torah contains the five books of Moses, the body of Jewish wisdom and law. Most synagogues keep a Torah in a special cabinet at the front of the worship space. A Torah reading is part of every service, and over the course of each year the entire Torah is read aloud. What purpose do you think the constant physical presence of the Torah serves? What do you think is the value of reading the entire Torah every year?
- (If you attended a service where men and women sit separately.) What did you observe about the separation of men and women during worship? What purpose do you think the practice serves for the congregants?
- Did the yarmulke heighten your awareness of the worshipful nature of the event? How did it feel to put it on, wear it, take it off?
- Were the parts of the service before and after the sermon spoken in predominantly Hebrew, Hebrew and English equally, or mostly in English? What effect did the language choice have?
- There are many shared values between Unitarian Universalism and Judaism. What familiar elements or themes were in the sermon, if any? Could the sermon have been delivered from a Unitarian Universalist pulpit?
- What message did the sermon deliver? Did it seek action from the congregants? Did it suggest thought? Did it encourage gratitude, greater awareness, or dedication to a purpose? Did it pertain to social justice, the community, or history of the Jewish people? Did it tie together several themes of Jewish life?
Including All Participants
Visit the temple ahead of time to locate accommodations for youth with disabilities.