My Road to Masorti Judaism
As a child I used to walk to Ullett Road Shul each Shabbat with my father and brother Geoffrey. I sat with my Zayda, not understanding a word that was going on, but enjoying the melodies. As I got older, I sat with my father or just wandered about, and as a young teenager, I still walked to shul in the morning but in the afternoon went into town by bus with my cousin. At 17 I left Liverpool to go to Israel. This is where I began to see Judaism in a different light to that of ‘Liverpool traditional orthodoxy’ and not really knowing why this is done or that is said or never really having my constant questioning of WHY answered. Much of the time I was told, “because it’s written.” Not necessarily the case, as I was to discover later in life.
The Israel that I first visited (a kibbutz) was very secular, and to my surprise there was no shul. People drank milk after eating meat. I thought the heavens would open and they would be all struck down! Needless to say, no heavens opened and no one was struck down, not even me, when at a restaurant I ate pork thinking it was chicken! On the menu it was listed as ‘basar lavan’, white meat; I translated this to mean the white meat of a chicken, and I naively presumed that all Jewish-owned restaurants were kosher. After taking a mouthful I was told otherwise and I thought my end had come, this is it. Well, I’m still here – and, that was the first, and last time pork passed my lips. It was also the last time I ate meat.
On returning to England I went to live in London, and other than the festivals, with the odd visit to shul I didn’t practice much Judaism besides lighting Shabbat candles when I remembered, and keeping kosher. But I was living in little Israel (Golders Green), hearing Yiddish and Hebrew on the streets, seeing men walking to shul wearing their tallit, and where 95 per cent of the shops were closed on Shabbat. I loved it. Orthodox, and the not so orthodox and secular Jew were each doing their own thing. However I wanted more from the my Judaism or lack of it. I wanted spirituality to compliment the meditation that I had been doing for a number of years.
It wasn’t until the Kabbalah Centre started to run courses in London, about 17 years ago, and I started to go to classes, that I had my eureka moment. After the first week, I knew Kabbalah was for me. I’d waited a long time for my questions to be answered and have a deeper understanding of Judaism and life in general – It was like a homecoming. Along with doing more courses, I started going to Shabbat services given at the Kabbalah centre. The services had lots of energy and everyone joined in. There was a sense of community, friendship and fun.
It is thanks to the Kabbalah Centre that I am now a Masorti Jew – Kabbalah was, and is the raw ingredients of the cake.
Soon after I started studying Kabbalah, a cousin who was much involved in the formation of Masorti Judaism in the UK invited me to Kol Nefesh Masorti, a newly-formed egalitarian shul, where women could wear a tallit and lead services. I started to go to Kol Nefesh, and in the beginning it was strange to see a woman lead parts of the service, especially if they had a soprano voice. It felt wonderful to be able to wear a tallit, which adds an extra dimension to the prayer experience. At this point, I will mention that not all Masorti shuls are egalitarian, or like women to wear a tallit. Each synagogue is autonomous and has their own minhag (custom/tradition).
They are, however all inclusive, welcoming and friendly, non-judgemental and accepting. Masorti communities prioritise relationship-building as an end in itself, where guests and new people are introduced to the members and invited into their homes. Where people are encouraged and supported in study or to be involved in Masorti at any level they choose to no matter their gender.
The word Masorti means traditional. The Masorti tag line is: Traditional Judaism for Modern Jews. It works within Halacha, religious law and teaching. The services are in Hebrew and use the traditional liturgy – with one or two innovations, and familiar melodies. Some shuls offer occasional alternative or explanatory services. The aim of all is to provide a powerful and spiritual prayer experience.
Masorti Judaism has connected me to Judaism in a profound way, with the tradition, the modernity, and the learning. I now have a relationship with Judaism. It’s a bit like baking a cake. If Kabbalah represents the raw ingredients and the mixing together, Masorti Judaism is the baking of the cake. I’m still learning and growing, I guess when I’m finished, that will be the icing on the cake. And that is why I want Masorti Liverpool. It is not about taking members away from other shuls, it’s about offering something different, and engaging, and being a part of a growing family of over 4000 members. At the moment most Masorti communities are based in London.
Rena Pearl is the founder and chair of Masorti Liverpool and a member of Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue.