This past December, during the season of Hanukkah, I decided to accept an open invitation to the public that welcomed them to visit the Temple Anshe Hesed on Liberty Street in Erie, Pa. Both my wife, Marie, and I were warmly greeted at the door and given a card which outlined the journey on which we were about to impart.
The greeting by the ladies was very sincere, and reminded me of the greeting we receive when entering our Christian worship Space. Also, it brought me back to when I visited a Mosque a few months ago; there, I also was given a warm and sincere greeting.
The first place we visited at the temple was the chapel, a very simple but holy place. It is where they keep the Torah when not in use. An explanation of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of the Lights, was given.
Briefly, it is the story of how the Temple was once restored by the Jews. However, they had only enough oil to light a single candle, when they needed to light eight candles. God interceded, and the oil lasted for all eight days.
It was a miracle, like when Jesus fed the multitude with only seven loaves of bread and fish—and then had some left over. Miracles never cease!
We then proceeded to the library. Here, prayer books were offered at no cost. I took one, browsed through it, and decided to take it home. It contains beautiful prayers in Hebrew, along with an English translation. Today, I periodically will read a prayer from it. The prayers are not only spiritual but melodic as well. More importantly, they are universal: that is, they have meaning for everyone regardless of faith and they give you comfort.
Our journey then continued to a second library, which at this moment was acting as nursery and offering a teaching experience for the children of the congregation. Sounds like what is done both in the Christian and Muslim faiths as well.
We then visited an area called the Hall of History. Here displayed was a beautiful piece of art which depicted the history of Judaism. It was sincerely and reverently explained by someone I expect was an elder of the temple. This is one place I wish where I could have spent more time. The art was a maze of paintings all on one canvas. It follows Jewish history and includes the Holocaust. A very moving piece of art.
Our journey then took us to the sanctuary, where the congregation gathers for weekly services, which are Fridays at 6:15 pm. All are welcome.
The space is very simple in its layout. In front is a dais, which we call the ambo in the Christian faith. It is the stand on which the Torah is placed and from which the reader presides. Again, not only similar to what we do in a Christian church, but also similar to what happens in a Mosque.
I was deeply impressed by a young man in his early teens. He was asked to do a reading. He opened the Torah. In his hand was a silver pointer with a miniature hand at the end. Then he pointed to the passage in the Torah, never touching the words with his hand. I believe it was a sign of deep respect for the Torah.
He then read line by line, reading left to right in the Hebrew language. I was left full of emotion and humbled at the same time. Why? Here is a teenager, proclaiming the word of God in a foreign language. And I, a lector in the Christian faith who is at least four times his age, proclaiming the Word in English only! The congregation must be very proud of this young man.
Without a doubt, it is very evident that this congregation is a spiritual and giving one. It is one that professes the love of God and is demonstrated by opening the temple to all and welcoming all, regardless of their faith, with cordiality and open arms.
Rabbi Emily Losben-Osrov thanked us all for coming, and welcomed us to the Friday services. Both Marie and I were glad we made the visit. It demonstrated to us why we must honor our Jewish roots. We have more things in common that unite us.
Ps. One of these Fridays I plan to join in a Jewish service.