I visited the Asbell Center for the Friday Shabbat service with a Jewish friend of mine. I have never seen or been to a Jewish ceremony in any form so it was all new to me but I, as well as the other visiting students there, was/were welcomed by all the Jewish students, which was nice. I had no idea what was going to happen, although what I expected was for it to be somewhat similar to Christian services, which in some ways it was. My friend, an active member of Dickinson’s Jewish community, told me before it started that it was going to be a more informal and unconventional service. Everyone got seated, some people on pillows on the floor (which was surprising, and apparently not normal according to my friend). The room was simple, with a cabinet (with representations of sacred scrolls) in the front/center and some posters and hangings with Hebrew symbols on the walls. The service started with a woman and her daughter lighting two candles in the left corner of the room. The guest leader of the Shabbat service was a woman named Lori Laska, who was a guitar player and singer. What happened was she would announce a page number in the hymn book (which read right to left, as it was in Hebrew, with translations and transliterations) and the congregation would open to it and sing along in Hebrew with her. After about 30 to 45 minutes of hymns, five minutes was set aside for individuals to pray alone – this consisted of the Jewish students swaying a little and whenever they completed a prayer, they bowed deeply two times, to the left and right, and then continued swaying as they prayed. Towards the end, Ms. Laska’s husband gave a quick lecture about what he noted as the most commonly repeated rule found in the Torah – don’t oppress others. He tied into the lecture the current genocide in Darfur and said that they, as Jews, should know what it feels like to be oppressed, and therefore it was their obligation to help out and try and work against it. The service ended with a quick prayer and thanks to God.

In the end, it wasn’t at all what I expected (and my friend at the end said that it definitely was an atypical Shabbat) but I did enjoy it and definitely had a new experience. I would like to return some time and find out what a more ‘standard’ Shabbat service is like.