It's been a few months since I was here!
My Kitah Zayin (seventh grade class) at the Beth Abraham Religious School has been getting ready to lead Shabbat services at the end of January. Last week, we began to talk about the service. I started by reading them something I had from four years ago, when I asked them as third-graders to tell me their ideas and questions about God.
They were of course quite amused by their eight-year-old selves, but also fascinating by the ideas they had expressed. Which included: that God and Mother Nature collaborated on creation, that God was a person cast away from another universe who landed in our solar system and began making things, that God had a book to consult with for how to create the universe. Also that prayer is a special language unlike saying "Whassup God!", and that "God" sounds like a boy's name!
The reminiscence of course generated a lot of laughs, but also turned into an invitation to keep that conversation going. The kids asked me all kinds of great questions. One wanted to know if science changed my beliefs. Another asked if I thought that Judaism is the most correct of all the religions. Someone wanted to know how I could believe in what the Torah teaches, since one of those teachings is the story of God asking Avraham to sacrifice his son.
I tried to give honest answers to all the questions. I said, for instance, that the best scientists are driven by wonder about the universe and want to understand it, which is what a religious person seeks as well, and that's why a lot of scientists are religious Jews. I explained that while some religious beliefs are clearly evil (e.g. those of ISIS), every religion is some group's path toward God and truth, and each religion has a kind of speciality. Judaism's is paying attention to the meaning of every detail of life, through a teaching or a ritual. We are not better than other religions.
The class gave me their unvarnished opinions about services, which they think on the whole are boring. One student said, "It's like being in a class where you know you will never be called on. You should give us something to do!" They suggested that having discussions about things in the middle, to get people thinking, would be good. There was a terrific discussion about silence during services. One view was that services are long and why would someone come if part of the time was doing nothing! The other view was that you need silent time in prayer, because you'd never do it outside in the course of your regular daily life.
Well, I told them that we could work on incorporating their questions and ideas into the service we are leading. I shared that the challenge of most rabbis is to weave together ideas like theirs, which adults have too, with the traditional prayers. And I invited them to share that challenge with me, for the Shabbat we're leading together of January 29-30. Join us for services that Shabbat and see what we come up with!