A weekly community of communion: Emmanuel Synagogue

My second visit to the Emanuel Synagogue in Oklahoma City was a visit I won’t soon forget. Being a spiritual human being myself, it was fulfilling in that sense as well as in terms of sound created. The first time I went, I stayed for the full 3-hour service and left directly after. The second time I went, I participated in a later portion of the service. I came about half way through, with my friend who attends regularly and said that would be okay to do, and stayed through the ending communion after the service.

The style of the service remained the same. Volunteers sang different verses along with the rabbi, and the cantor sang from the Torah. People came and went, and the squeaks of the bench pews echoed into the old walls of the small room. The floor was carpeted, muting the voices so as to not give attention to the sound, but rather the feeling and flow of what was being said. The sound became the vessel for the words to grow and flourish in the space.

After the service was over everyone greeted each other. There was an eruption of sounds: laughter, children’s voices as they entered the room to find their families, deep discussion of events happened the past week, and friendly gestures of “how are you” and “how was your week?” The sounds were muffled by the carpeted floors. Once we walked to the back room, which was tiled, the sound grew and pretty soon everyone was shouting to be heard by the person they were greeting. A woman explained to me their “communion” and why they ate the bread and drank the wine, but didn’t think of it at Jesus’ body, obviously.

Within their holy sacrament, there is a time to wash your hands with water alone. I had been hearing splashing of water, but it wasn’t until everyone became quiet that I was able to hear the prayer that went along with it. People would recite a prayer in Hebrew either to themselves in a whisper or out loud, depending on their own feeling. I recited the prayer in a hushed tone in English. While the Hebrew was being said in a muffled tone, I could hear the splashing of water into the basin. Three small splashes and then a pause and then three small splashes and then a large sound of water being poured to replenish the small pitcher that people were using to pour the water onto their hands. The sounds of the water seemed to give peace to the room. Everyone relaxed and quieted down.

After everyone had washed their hands, the Rabbi began the holy prayer, and then one of the children began to sing the prayer, as she had been asked before hand. Everyone joined in. The small  tiled room echoed back and forth with over 40 people crowded into the space to partake in this holy tradition. After the song was finished there was an extremely small moment of complete silence as everyone drank their wine and grape juice. It was so powerful. It felt as if time had stood still for a moment, it was the only silence I had heard all day. After this was over I thanked them for having me and left.

By Tessa McQueen

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