Yesterday, Shabbat Vayerah, the Sabbath on which we read of Abraham's eyes and heart opening to the divine, I ended my spiritual quest for a community that I tried to build as a rabbi myself. Having heard of the synagogue from many sources, my wife and I decided to attend Shabbat morning services at KEHILAT ROMEMU, a traditional renewal synagogue located in the Upper West Side of Manhatten.
The space was located in a church; the room was dimly lit, and we discovered a beautiful and fragrant rose at our seats. The flower lent an added dimension of sensual awareness of Sabbath's delight and divinity.
The rabbi, unlike most that I have known, created a warm, available and open presence to which everyone could respond with an open heart, never fearing the intrusion of guilt or reproach. The worship journey was saturated with song, chanting, moments of meditation and substantial portions of the traditional format of the Sabbath liturgy. We "daavened" but not in the conventional understanding of the word. Commonly, we think of "daavening "as a race of many words, an exercise in quantity rather than an experience of inner spiritual quality. Here "daavening" meant to enter into the soul of prayer through spontaneous and spirited singing and chanting.
We arrived at a prayer that I consider the most important to me-"Nishmat Kol Hai"-the breath of all things ...sing Your praise, words embossed on the "atarah," the crown of my prayer shawl, words that I have recited and sung countless times only to encounter a constricted and impermeable heart.
This time I wept as the iron gates "guarding " my heart slowly swung open and the praise of other open hearts gently turned the rusted lock of my heart with the key of community intimacy and care.
Aliyot , honors to the Torah were not assigned, not given out because of favor or status, but rather on the basis of a felt need of the congregation. This need was arrived by the masterful interpretation of Rabbi David's touching comments regarding the content of the Torah reading during which he touched the deep personal needs of the congregation with the power of the Torah text.
Blessings over the Torah were recited in group fashion, all honorees surrounding the Torah with arms extended around the shoulders of the others, forming a circle of community reminiscent of Israel standing at the base of Mt. Sinai encircling the sacredness of that moment of revelation.
Rabbi David's breadth of spiritual encirclement extended beyond the wisdom of Judaism as he recited a poem by the Sufi mystic, Rumi, and transformed those words into "divrei Torah," holy words of our own tradition.
The service ended of course with Kiddush, wine, hallah and light refreshments.
My wife and I left,spiritually saturated at least for a few moments, grateful that Romemu had opened our hearts.