Brit Hadasha is off of I-240, and the building is non-descript. If you didn't know the name means "New Covenant" you might easily mistake it for a Reform synagogue. Steven and I sit in his green two-door for a few minutes, watching the parking lot fill up with the usual assortment of minivans and SUVs, battered Hondas and old Volvos. I watch carfuls of smiling women and children parade into the sanctuary and wonder what I'm doing here. Couldn't I have done this anonymously in New York? Did I really think it was a great idea to spend Saturday at a house of worship with my ex-boyfriend? My hands shake, and I'm contemplating staying in the car and reading a novel for two hours while he goes and prays.
Steven interrupts my reverie. "I like it here because these people are pariahs," he says. "They don't fit in anywhere-not with Jews, not with Christians. Being a Christian means being a pariah, Lauren, it means not fitting in anywhere in this world. Your Episcopalians are no pariahs."
A man clad in a tallis, a prayer shawl, stands at a podium in the front of the room, and a small choir clusters to his right, leading the congregation through songs that are printed on a transparency and displayed on a large screen. In the corner of the room, a circle of women are dancing, some variation on the hora. I am prepared for that. I've read a recent ethnography of a Messianic Jewish congregation, and the author explains that dancing is an important element of Messianic worship services. I feel an unexpected pull to join them. I have not yet found a group of Anglicans who love Jewish folk dancing.
The absence of Sukkot is just one of many things that irritates me about the service. The pink satin yarmulkes, straight out of a Reform synagogue in the 1980s, irritate me. The gold-and-magenta banners proclaiming YESHUA irritate me. And the music irritates me. Rather than sing the haunting melodies available to anyone who is casually acquainted with the centuries-old Jewish cantorial tradition, the folks at Brit Hadasha seem content with songs that sound as though they had been lifted from the praise music guide at any nondenominational evangelical church, only Brit Hadasha's songs have a little Hebrew thrown in.
This is how I feel all morning: that Brit Hadasha's Judaism is just raisins added to cake-you notice them, but they don't really change the cake. The structure of the service bears no relation to the Jewish liturgy, and I can't tell if my fellow worshippers think that being Jewish leads them to understand Jesus any differently from Presbyterians down the street. Add Hebrew and Stir. I am bored and show off, screwing my eyes shut when I sing the Hebrew songs so that Steven, and everyone else, will know I don't need to read the transliterations flashed up on the screen in front of us.
Occasionally I offer up a silent prayer that the Holy Spirit will work overtime on my heart and help me stop being judgmental long enough to recognize that these people are worshipping the Risen Lord, but I don't really want God to answer this prayer.
Sukkot comes at the end of the season of repentance, two weeks after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As part of the work of repentance, Jews say special penitentiary prayers, called slichot. The slichot start at midnight on the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah, because the rabbis knew that the heavens are most open to prayers at midnight.