On Friday, I went to a pretty unconventional service at a local progressive synagogue. At this particular synagogue, on months that have a fifth Friday, they do a service based around the music of a particular band. This time around it was the Beatles.
This is unconventional in that according to Jewish law, one is not supposed to use musical instruments on Shabbat. Now, this doesn't stop Reform congregations, but this congregation is unaffiliated and doesn't use instruments except on fifth Fridays.
It's also unconventional in that the musical selections mark a departure from the traditional Friday night liturgy. Now from what I hear, many parts of the tradition and especially the melodies are really not that old, and in egalitarian synagogues it is common to change parts of certain prayers to recognize the importance of women and to be inclusive. All this, however, doesn't stop some people from getting up in arms whenever anything else is changed.
But at this service, people seemed to know what they were getting themselves in for. Almost everything was replaced with Beatles music that was thematically similar, although really the connections were quite loose. Some words were changed or capitalized to indicate that they were meant (in this context) to refer to God, and a few prayers were set to Beatles music.
There were some choices I really liked, like singing Eight Days a Week ("Ain't got nothing but love babe/Eight days a week") at the beginning of the Shabbat bride part. On Friday nights, the service is meant to welcome in Shabbat, the day of rest, and Shabbat is personified as a bride.
As the service went on, however, I felt more and more disconnected from it, in part because I didn't know some of the songs, and in part because when we came to the Hebrew bits, I was paying attention to the translation, and it always feels uncomfortable to say things you don't believe. So I didn't actually say most of it this time.
For example, this is from their translation of the Aleinu, which is said towards the end of the service:
"For we bow, prostrate ourselves, and thank the Supreme Sovereign of sovereigns; the holy one of blessing..."
And there you have the rub for me. Sometimes I want to be involved with this group, sometimes I enjoy the services and other events, but when it comes to the beliefs, I can't get with it. They aren't the kind of people that would kick out an atheist, but I don't think they realize I am one. I should probably find a Jewish Humanist group instead, but the nearest one I know of is too far away to get to more than once in a great while.
At least they didn't make us say the part about unbelief being no more. That's the part I dislike the most, because sometimes I can ignore the god stuff, but I can't pretend it would be a good thing for atheism and agnosticism to disappear.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed myself, and it was nice to see my friends, but it really highlighted what I don't like about being involved in religion.