I have been blessed by some truly unique experiences in my 55 years of life. One of the most grace full experiences I have had is the privilege, as a Greek Orthodox Christian, to work inside of a Jewish synagogue.
For five years I was the events coordinator of a very beautiful, large synagogue in the heart of my hometown city. It was and still is a place of amazing beauty and the object of much love from its congregation.
When my friend and future boss interviewed me seven years ago, he said “You are perfect for this job”. I said “What IS the job?”. He said, “Events Coordinator”. When he showed me the schedule I almost fainted.
The schedule was filled with meetings, services, Bar Mitzvahs and Kiddushes. I thought “What the heck?” I told my boss I knew nothing about Judaism and he said “Everyone will be very patient with you while you learn”.
And learn I did. I learned about celebrating Shabbat, Chanukah, Passover, and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. I learned all the components of a Jewish wedding including a beautiful chuppah. I worked with a great team of people, including the rabbis, who bent over backwards to plan perfect events for their attendees. They taught me many things about the traditions and meanings of the holidays. They opened my eyes to many spiritual things.
I grew a great respect for the Jewish culture and the race as a whole. Jews are very hard workers, dedicated and loyal to their faith. The congregation did great acts of philanthropy- donating food, stepping up for causes I had never even heard of. It was an amazing experience for me to see such expressions of unselfishness and love.
On a softer note, I came to also love the food of “Temple”. Because there was a large gathering hall and many food events, there were always great leftovers. I grew to love brisket and potato latkes (with a dab of sour cream or applesauce!). Bagels with a smear of cream cheese, a sprinkle of capers, a slice of onion and a filet of smoked salmon are awesome! I became a huge fan of hamenstashen (a cookie filled with fruit) and rugelach. I can still get excited over a good loaf of challah bread! In turn, I brought in homemade Greek baklava at Christmas to share with the staff and congregants. They loved it and told me so.
Once, I met with a mom who was planning her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah luncheon. We went over many things and she was very organized. I only helped her to bring it all together and plan the final execution. When we were done talking she said, “You must have a Jew in your tree.” I laughed and said “Well, I’m Greek Orthodox so I don’t think so….!” She said “Well, you know what they say, “If you shake the tree hard enough, one will fall out!” I took this as a great compliment.
I did come to understand and respect the customs and way things were done. And in many cases, certain congregants became like family to me. When I first arrived at my job, several of them stopped by my office to welcome me (and to check me out!). When I won them over, they brought me gifts at various times of the year, fussed over meeting my husband or other family members, and filled me in when I didn’t understand something. I felt loved and accepted there no matter what.
I hope other religious institutions would be so accepting towards one not of their faith, working within their organization in such a deep and personal way. In my willingness to explore a different perspective other than my own, I gained a huge new understanding of God, love and faith.
May you have the opportunity and the willingness to do something that truly opens your spiritual eyes. And may you grow from it!
Have you ever had a unique experience outside of your own faith? What was it like?