Recent Comments


    Preparation + Caring = Fun!

    Howard Stieremann (2)My boyfriend had never been to a synagogue for a regular Sabbath service, let alone for a bar or bat mitzvah, so I had more than just a little trepidation as my nephew’s bar mitzvah approached. I wasn’t officiating at the bar mitzvah, but I still felt a sense of responsibility to do what I could to allow my boyfriend to feel comfortable.

    My main goal as an officiant is to make couples and their guests feel warm and welcome. I’ve been told that my own comfort on the pulpit is evident. My comfort allows people to relax, even if they were nervous or anxious as they walked in or walked down the aisle. I therefore wondered what I could do sitting in the pew, other than simply holding my boyfriend’s hand, to help him feel comfortable in new surroundings as he experienced an unfamiliar ritual, much of which was in a foreign language.

    The main way I become comfortable in situations I am unfamiliar with is to learn as much information as I can, so I asked my boyfriend if he would like for me to bring a book or two to the bar mitzvah service. He liked the idea. I brought Service of the Heart, A guide to the Jewish Prayer Book by Evelyn Garfiel. This book gives historical context of the prayer book, as well as descriptions and explanations of individual prayers.

    While I have found the book easy to read, it can be a bit like a textbook. I wondered whether during the prayer service it might distance my boyfriend from what was occurring in the moment. I then also brought along the prayer book I use, published by San Francisco’s Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. This book offers translations in contemporary, egalitarian and LGBT-inclusive writing. My hope was that if my boyfriend did not connect with the more traditional translations in the prayer book of the synagogue we would be visiting, the newer translations would resonate with him.

    I was worried that my boyfriend would be bored. Wouldn’t anyone be bored in such a foreign environment, let alone my boyfriend who is a devout atheist?!

    Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Once we got back to my house, I asked him what one word he would use to describe the experience. He said, “Fun!” When I asked him to elaborate, he told me how everyone had been friendly. He added that the service itself was refreshingly lively, as he was use to walking into a church, sitting down and solely listening. In contrast, congregants participated, chatted and were involved in the synagogue service.

    Wow, I had been anxious for nothing!

    I believe the preparation helped. By explaining to him in advance what would be happening during the service, he had a better idea of what to expect. Bringing books allowed him to learn a bit about what was going on during the service.

    The benefit for me in preparing was that during the service, I could be present for what was happening, and share smiles and tears of happiness with family and friends, rather than worry about whether or not my boyfriend was feeling comfortable. I was thrilled that not only did I have a great time, but also that my boyfriend did as well, and found it fun.

    My goal of assisting people to feel warm and welcomed came to fruition, even though I was simply sitting in a pew. I suppose I learned that preparation + caring = fun!

    Howard M. Steiermann is an Ordained Ritual Facilitator based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit