Shabbat Shalom At Congregation Beth El

New London synagogue offers inclusive, interactive services

“You know how I knew you weren’t Jewish?” David Israel asked me during my visit to . “You were writing, and we don’t write on Shabbat.”

It wasn’t the first faux pas I made during my visit to the synagogue. Israel also pointed out that I had overlooked the request that all male visitors wear a yarmulke—some were provided for guests—and I certainly didn’t come prepared with a tallit, or prayer shawl.

Israel and the other members of the synagogue were understanding of the errors, however. And despite some of the strictures regarding the holy day, the service itself was quite interactive. People were called upon to read a piece of scripture, and the service welcomed members to chime in with questions or reflections on a lesson.

Congregation Beth El is located in a large, modern building which also houses the and . There is a larger hall available, but this Shabbat service took place in the more intimate setting of a smaller, hexagonal room with only eight pews.

Israel says Beth El is a Conservative synagogue, something of a misnomer since this means it is midway between the more liberal Reform branch of Judaism and more conservative Orthodox branch. Israel—who later told me that he has added several sunset pictures to the Pics & Clips section—certainly exemplified this; he made sure I was following the proper protocols, but also helped me to better understand the service and made a few jokes along the way as well.

Much of the service is conducted in a rather musical reading of Hebrew, although some portions are done in English. The Torah is brought out partway through the service for some readings directly from the scroll.

Prior to the close of the proceedings, Rabbi Carl Astor gives a brief talk. This week, it addressed the question of when one becomes old. Astor said that the Scripture tends to peg this at age 70 or so, but said you are never old if you give yourself a task to accomplish.

“What I see about people getting old is when they give up,” he said.

Astor said the synagogue works to be a focal point of Jewish worship and learning. In addition to the services, school, and nursery, it offers adult education, community service projects, and a Jewish seniors group. He also said the congregation is friendly and will always greet new visitors.

“It’s the reason I’ve stayed here for 31 years: people are very friendly and welcoming,” he said.

Shabbat services at Congregation Beth El begin at 6 p.m. on Fridays and 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays. Daily minyans take place Sunday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Monday through Friday at 7 a.m., and Sunday mornings at 9 a.m.  

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David Israel June 25, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Hi Dirk, You are a very respectful and welcomed visitor at our synagogue. It was a pleasure meeting you and helping you a little through our lengthy service that includes a lot of Hebrew. You caused me to think about many of our rituals and their meanings in new ways. Beth El will always have a kippah (yarmulke) ready for you. Mazal tov on a fine article that represents our community in the best way possible - friendly, welcoming and faithful. Shalom.


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