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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Hometown Temple

My mom kept telling me, “When you see the temple in Terre Haute, you’ll recognize it.” When I got into town on Friday evening, I made a quick detour just to make sure I knew where it was for shabbat services. Sure enough, I recognized the building. I always thought it was some scary christian church–if there was “temple” and “israel” on the sign. It never occured to me that it might be a synogogue. Never.

My parents joined me for erev shabbat services at the shul in Terre Haute. When a shul only has 57 member families, the Joneses sure do stick out. We met everyone and were treated to a special tour by Walter. Walter’s grandfather was one of the founders of the Reform movement in Germany and he gave a very spirited tour for a man in his 80s. When we got back into the air conditioned basement, someone asked him who we were. He whispered, and when I say whispered, I mean shouted, “SHE’S CONVERTING AND LIVES IN CHICAGO. SHE’S HOME FOR THE WEEKEND AND BROUGHT HER PARENTS WITH HER.”

Temple Israel is a beautiful, beautiful synogogue. Super-reform–it feels a lot like a protestant church. Pews, stained glass windows depicting Moses and other prophets. There are stars of David instead of crosses and an ark holding 4-5 torahs and one holocaust torah. Two tiny ceiling fans spin twenty feet up in the high vaulted ceilings. In September, in time for High Holy Days, the congregation moves services back upstairs.

Since it was a hot August night, we were in the basement instead. The service was lead by a lay leader and, even though the prayerbook was the same we use at Emanuel, the service was mostly in English. I found out that the amidah we say at my shul is egalitarian. I started to list the names of the matriarchs and noticed that everyone else was now a sentence ahead of me. Oops.

I also learned how much further my Hebrew has to come, because my voice blends (hides) much better at my temple. When there are 20 people, my mispronounced words seemed to echo and draw attention. After the service I chatted with a few people and sent Adam’s greetings. Having Adam in my bag of tricks helped, “Oh we loved him. We miss him, you still talk to him?” Um, sort of.

I also got the inside scoop on my rabbis. “Michael! Well I knew him when his hair was out to here!” one of the members said about my Rabbi. He was also shocked to learn that our Rabbi Emeritus is still alive. “Why I remember him when he was a young man on the biman, 45-50 years ago.”

I slipped out after a bit of chatting and turned my phone on. 8:51PM. The services started late (after 8PM) and I was in my car by 8:51PM. Wow! Short, short services.

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