I am not particularly fond of meetings, especially committee and board meetings of a synagogue. Not uncommonly, they become arenas of mutual recrimination, criticism and ill-will, only occasionally punctuated by expressions of gratitude and recognition. Perhaps the volunteer nature of these undertakings fosters the outburst of less desirable thoughts and feelings which in professional and business settings would require restraint.
Yesterday was an exception. We met in the synagogue kitchen. The education committee was comprised of religious school parents, and because two of ts members needed to bake "Hamantaschen", three cornered Purim pastries reminiscent of Haman's hat or ears, depending on your source of authoritative Jewish information, we squeezed around the kitchen counter, and proceeded to conduct the business of the religious school.
The meeting began with a babel of voices erupting at the same time. For several miutes the format of a formal meeting metamorphized into a typical family gathering around a kitchen table. There was not only loud conversation but ripples of laughter and exuberance, animated with passion and excitement. The chaos was delightful. I smiled, thinking about the warmest experiences of my childhood, sitting around the kitchen table giggling, eating, teasing and talking. After all, in so many Jewish homes the kitchen table was altar and academy, the agora for any and all important family activity and decisions.
Strangely, but not surprisingly, amidst the apparent confusion and clamorous exchanges, much was accomplished. Planning was completed for Purim and Passover, and good will, generosity and mutual care and concern were the currency of all conversations. The meeting was fun, because somehow we all shared a common goal but beyond the objective, a genuine feeling of family prevailed.
Looking up and around me I caught sight of two women busily folding the Hamantasch dough into triangles filled with cherries, poppy seed and chocolate chips. Around me, parents were busily jotting down notes ,checking calendars, and noting appointments and scheduled activities.
Suddenly amidst the din of deliberation the room became redolent with the warm and delicious fragrances of freshly baked holiday fare. All talking came to an abrupt halt.Silence reigned for a mere few seconds as we each found ourselves embraced, even enchanted by the momentary inhalation of sacred scents of holiday celebration. Collectively we gratefully exhaled the breath of blessing.
I left that meeting personally grateful for being granted a memorable moment of feeling so deeply at home in the sacred space of a synagogue. Perhaps, I thought, there is room to reconsider the location of the Holy Ark. Perhaps the place which permeates our Jewish beings most deeply is less the framework of formal worship and more the space in which the incense of Jewish smells can suffuse our sensual souls.
I understood then, in a particular way, the significance of a sanctuary that offers sacrifices to its God. The way to the Holy of Holies was the avenue of the altar, from which tastes and smells saturated the sanctity situated behind the curtained entrance to the ineffable presence of God.
On that Sunday, the scent of the synagogue brought me home. "Blessed are You...who creates an endless variety of spices that enrich and enliven our existence." Amen