I awoke to a beautiful spring morning in Northern Iowa that “Shabbaton” weekend hosted by the Iowa City Hillel and the Jewish people in Postville, Iowa. I wanted to attend services in Postville; it was a necessity even though many of the women stayed home with their children and enjoyed the restful day.
But the previous night, my gracious hosts provided us with a lovely Shabbat dinner under the serene light of Shabbat candles and Hebrew prayers ushering in the sacred space of Shabbat. The daily humdrum and busyness of my life in Iowa City melted away as we discussed the meaning and reality of the State of Israel’s existence, the awe that filled each of us, but the worries as well. The issue of belief in the messiah came up as well. Having been reared on the Christian teachings of a messiah I didn’t understand, this part of the discussion left me relieved when it was over, which shows that Judaism has such a wide spectrum of thought and focus. For mainstream Jews, the messiah isn’t the focus of daily practice, rather the practical and moral applications of Judaism. Orthodox Jews spend more time thinking about the messiah than most Jews.
And because I had adopted a liberal view of Judaism, namely that women are responsible for keeping Jewish law as well, I wanted to attend Shabbat services that beautiful Saturday morning. It was a warm day as my friend Judy and I walked the few blocks from our hosts’ home to the small farmhouse converted into a meeting house for prayer and Torah study.
Of course there was a heavy curtain separating the men from women. I sat in the woman’s side which was filled with benches and tables/chairs for women and children to participate as much as possible in the service. I adored their prayer books which were lacking in English and transliteration. This was hardcore Judaism that demanded you know the page numbers and all the Hebrew. This is the in your face Judaism I am beginning to demand from myself. If you undertake a vow or covenant, you immerse yourself in it. And the women in this small community were 100% committed to Torah and their families.
Later that afternoon we attended a lovely lunch hosted by a prominent member of the community and learned some interesting insights about the town of Postville. Please readers, google Postville, Iowa and understand the area that I’m speaking of. This area was predominately settled by white Christians that historically take an arbitrary view of Judaism, immigrants and other “differences” from their social positions. But the people living there talked about the peace they’d found in living in Postville and the mutual respect and team building going on among all the towns’ inhabitants. The meal was great; the hostess was able to do amazing things to an otherwise icky food – gefilte fish. We also talked again about Israel, Jews by choice and Torah. It was a comforting and intellectual atmosphere to be exposed to.
I had to return to Iowa City that same day but will ALWAYS be grateful for the experience of Shabbat in Postville, Iowa for it expanded my understanding of what it means to be Jewish. If you ever visit Iowa, be sure to stop in and visit Postville, Iowa.