I never knew what it was like to be denied entry to a synagogue. It always seemed like I was the only reformed Jew who even wanted to attend synagogue on Friday night.

Most of my contemporaries’ eyes gloss over when I mention how much I love attending Jewish worship services. Attending synagogue for me is like an elevator ride to meet God. A ritual that defines my being and leaves a sweet imprint on my heart. One that doesn’t require high heels or approval from the Gods of fashion, wherever they may turn up in my life.

It’s also a celebratory place where I don’t have to look outside for validation or acceptance. I can come as I am and revel in the quietude and inner dialogue with the almighty. To some the almighty is Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, or perhaps Ralph Lauren. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy music, it’s just too loud for the buzzing that permeates my inner ear. I also worship at the altar of Ralph Lauren’s aristocratic material matter.

But it is Jewish worship that has been the central theme and secretive joy of my life for the past 25 years. When I read about Germany during the 40’s in Poland it terrifies me. When I hear about Jews being denied entry to synagogues in any country, or time period, it fills me with terror.

But last Friday night I got to experience being left out in the cold (literally) at a Reform Synagogue in Manhattan. I was told “you can’t come in; if you are not a member.”

My first thought was, ‘I must be getting old.’ The last time I had to beg to enter somewhere of significance was at a trendy nightclub in New York City. But I was eventually let in because of my physical attributes (young and cute).

Unfortunately, that status has waxed and waned. The good news is that you didn’t need to be statuesque to enter a synagogue. You just had to show up – or perhaps not – now that Covid had reared its head again.

That is the reason I was denied entry to Central Synagogue one Friday night in Manhattan. To me it was like being barred from the Jewish Superbowl. I wanted to argue, but realised that this is not a nightclub, not a clothing store or a rock concert. For those events I always had a press pass and could often gain entry.

But this was another type of Superbowl to me. One that I look forward to every week. Especially since it was my last weekend in New York City before I left for Florida.

I walked out feeling sad, yet a bit contemplative. Is this what is must have felt like during the war when Jews could not worship? Was this what it was like being black and not allowed entry to a hotel or restaurant in the 40’s or 50’s?

Is this what people mean when they talk about “them and us.”  I was a “them” last Friday night, not an us. I saw the members waiting for post time – the beginning of the service – and I could feel the anticipatory glee evoked before Friday night services at Central Synagogue.

The other temple in New York City that I belonged to for 20 years was closed to everyone. Not a soul can enter – unless they are truly an ethereal soul. I would often sit in this statuesque regal Jewish house of worship during the week and tears of joy would tumble down my face.

Sure, I get to watch both services from my computer in my friend’s tiny condo in Manhattan. But I could not shake the feeling of longing to be insulated between the dark wooden benches and other worshippers who relish this experience as much as I do.

I was also sad I could not meld into the haze of love and intimacy that defines Friday night services. Sure, livestreaming from Florida is a gift I look forward to opening every Friday evening. I also get as excited as a six-year-old would his Spiderman costume.

Most of my friends would much rather go to a movie or dinner than a synagogue, which is why I keep mum on the subject. I don’t say much, but my higher self wants to scream, “can’t you feel the overwhelming serenity and solemnity of a synagogue service?” My inner dialogue often goes like this: “Oh no, you want me to make banal conversation that revolves around nothing and almost nothing?”

But I keep quiet. I often make excuses for my lack of enthusiasm (and cancellations) for dinner and a movie. Instead, I watch Friday night services from the comfort of my kitchen.

But, right now I am not in Florida, I am in New York City – the quintessential palace of prayer on almost every street.  I find it the perfect place to pray my way to sanity in an insane world. After being banned from my Jewish roots on Friday nights, I found solace elsewhere – a church.

At the beginning of the week attending church felt like I was rooting for the wrong home team.  There were no familiar hamesha Jewish songs, and the worshippers wouldn’t know a kiddush from Kenosha. But I found sanctity among others who worship something more powerful than Law & Order. I also found church to be a grace-filled experience of ethereal ecstasy.

I don’t tell many people about my predilection for churches for fear they will think I am strange, or perhaps deranged. But a church service in a 19th century gothic structure (with mythical vaulted ceilings and regal pillars) with people who revere God is a wonderful weigh station for my soul.

The church parishioners don’t ask if I am a member, they cheerfully welcomed me inside to honour their form of the almighty. The soulful songs are a welcome respite to the reality of our times, but when the prayers are read, I stay quiet. I often look around and wonder if I am the only Jew in residence. And most of the time I tend to think so.

The good news, however is that no one has turned me away or told me I have to be a member, despite my curly Jewish hair. They also pass a plate around – not with chopped liver or challah – but for a financial token of appreciation for the experience.

I got so used to visiting churches during the height of Covid that I had to recalibrate my religious expectations. Sure, I missed the familiar prayers and melodious Jewish chants, but I found solace and solitary reflection in these magnificent turn-of-the century churches. The soaring arches, statuesque pillars and elaborate saintly reflections filled my wanderlust soul.

I would never tell my Rabbi that I substituted Church attendance over Synagogue worship, but the occasion seemed befitting the need. If my Jewish roots were buried in the Covid landscape I had to repurpose my need to pray and surround myself in a Godly state of awe. It is that inner connection to God, in whatever form I can find it, that gives my life meaning. It fills me up as much as any earthly endeavour.

And with Covid lurking around every corner, there were few earthly endeavours available to me. And, if they were I would probably choose synagogue or church over them anyway. Besides there are only so many Ralph Lauren navy blue blazers that my closet will tolerate.

This year I don’t have to worry about being a wandering Jew. My synagogue – Temple Beth El of Boca Raton is sending out tickets for the Jewish Holidays. The doors will open and members (and their guests) can attend in person services for both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Which goes to show you – miracles do happen. Just not always as we had planned.

Article by Author/s
Diane Feen
Diane Feen is a freelance journalist who has written features and news stories for newspapers, magazines, websites, businesses and blogs. She also wrote a popular humour column called, "Feen on the Scene" that won an award from the Society of Professional Journalists of South Florida.

1 Comment

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this commentary on hope, prayer and soulful sustenance. I understand that you can find G-d’s presence anywhere; it doesn’t matter where you are — G-d is right there with you, even in a grand house of worship that is not of your religion! Good for you, Diane

Write A Comment


Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter