Q: Are non-Jews welcome to attend services?
A: Yes, our services are open to the public and we welcome people who are interested in Judaism whether they are Jewish or not. Most of our members are happy to answer questions [although you may get different answers, depending on who you ask] as long as they are respectful of our beliefs.
Q: Are there any special garments I should wear?
A: Men (Jewish or not) should wear a kipah, or yarmulke (head covering) as a sign of respect in services. There is a bin of them next to the exterior entrance. Jewish men should wear a tallit (prayer shawl) for Saturday morning services. There is a rack of them next to the sanctuary entrance. Non-Jews should not wear the tallit. Wearing the above garments is optional for women.
Q: It's five minutes before service time and no one is here. Is it
A: Our services are usually lay-led by volunteers, and sometimes they are late. We rarely cancel services, so if no one is there by five after, you may have the time wrong. If you are new to Beth Sholom, e-mail the info address prior to services to verify the start time. Friday night services vary the most.
Q: What kind of attire is acceptable?
A: Attire is varied and fairly casual. It is probably best to wear something modest and not grungy. On Fridays, people usually are wearing some form of work clothes. On Saturdays, its more varied, with some people getting dressed up and others not. Once you visit a few times, you'll get a feel for it. It isn't necessary to dress in a suit, although you may if you prefer.
Q. What should I do during services?
A. We stand for certain prayers and sit for others, and at one point we turn around and face the sanctuary entrance. The service leader will usually give cues in terms of sitting or standing, especially if he or she sees unfamiliar faces. You can also take cues from what other worshipers are doing. Visitors should follow along (if you're infirm, you're exempt from standing, etc.). There are a few other movements that we do - such as bowing at certain points and covering our eyes during the Shema. If you aren't Jewish, don't feel like you need to mimic them.
Q. What book should I use?
A. On Fridays, we usually only use the Sim Shalom prayer book (smaller, blue cover). On Saturdays, we use the Sim Shalom for the services and either the Etz Hayim (burgundy cover) for the Torah (five books of Moses) reading and Haftarah (prophetic reading).
Q. What shouldn't I do on a visit?
A. Jews are prohibited from certain activities on Shabbat (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown). Practically speaking, some members of our community do not necessarily follow these prohibitions, but in the synagogue, flash photography, and writing should be avoided on Shabbat.
Q. Anything else I should be careful of?
A. Out of consideration for other congregants, please turn off cell phones or put them in silent mode and avoid wearing fragrances (some congregants have sensitivities to fragrances).
Q. I don't know much or any Hebrew, what should I do?
A. We do have a fair amount of Hebrew in our services. In some cases, there is a transliteration in the prayer book; feel free to hum along wherever you don't know the words. Our Shir Chadash (New Song) service, usually on the first Friday of the month teaches new songs to the prayers.
Q: What do you mean by dairy potluck?
A: Basically, this means no meat, including chicken. So you can bring dairy or pareve (a kind of neutral category that can be eaten with dairy or meat) foods. If you get packaged food with one of the kosher marks (heksher), it should indicate if it is dairy, pareve or meat. We don't require only food marked kosher, but that would guarantee it's correct. Kosher fish are ok to bring. Salmon is a safe bet. Pickled herring is usually eaten up. Shellfish and pork products (rabbits, too) are treif (prohibited), and should not be brought in. Home or commercially prepared foods brought in should not go into the kosher kitchen, but should stay in the social hall or go in the fridge in the utility room. For more details about kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), see Judaism 101.
Q: Can I bring other food into the synagogue?
A: It's ok if it doesn't have meat or other non-kosher contents, although it's probably best not to bring food in except for potlucks or if you are hosting an oneg (snack after Friday services)
Q. I don't know much about Judaism, how do I find out more?
A. We are happy to answer questions. As I mentioned earlier, you may get different answers depending on who you ask. For self-study a nice place to start is Judaism 101. It mostly describes traditional or orthodox Jewish beliefs and practices. I like it because it is more self-contained and speaks more with a single voice than some other sites, making it a good beginning. For more depth and variation, one can go to MyJewishLearning.com or many other sites. We do occasionally offer classes in Judaism and Hebrew. We may be able to suggest some books for self-study.
Q. I'd like to get [whatever] from the gift shop display
A. We avoid monetary transactions on Shabbat, especially in the synagogue. Please contact the gift shop coordinator and find when she will be available.