A Washington D.C. Area Reform Synagogue  •  Location  •   (301) 587-2273 (CARE)  •  info@templeshalom.net

PRAY

Guide to Services

At Temple Shalom, strength, joy, and purpose abound in our contemporary approach to Jewish worship. Experience our warm and family-friendly atmosphere. Explore the richness of evolving tradition. Lift your voice as your spirit resonates to the sound of musical and liturgical heritage. And celebrate the diversity we call family. Children are welcome at every service.

Whether you are familiar with our congregation, are worshipping with us for the first time, and Jewish or sharing the Jewish journey of a loved one, our goal is to create a place of warmth and friendship, a balance of comfort and challenge; to touch your heart and make you think; and to foster a loving connection to our Jewish traditions and people. 

We know that stepping into a new Reform congregation or any new spiritual community can be intimidating no matter where you stand on your Jewish and spiritual journey. This Guide to Services is designed to help make you feel more comfortable with our services and traditions. Come as you are. You are always welcome.  

Our Friday night services use a siddur (a prayer book) and most Saturday morning services use both a siddur and a TaNaKh (a Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures). The siddur may change depending on the service and are passed out by ushers at the beginning of the service. The TaNaKh is  found under every few seats. It is customary to allow neither a prayerbook nor a Bible to touch the ground; should it happen that either one does fall on the floor, please do not worry. It is customary to pick it up and kiss the book as a sign of respect.

On most Friday nights, Saturday mornings, and most holidays (other than Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), our synagogue uses the Reform movement’s siddurMishkan T’filah, which loosely translates as “Sanctuary of the Spirit” or “Tabernacle of Prayer.” There are two versions of Mishkan T’filah: most of the copies we provide are dark blue, and have full transliteration (phonetic transcription into English characters) of all of the Hebrew prayers. Those who are comfortable reading Hebrew – and our students, who are learning the language including our Adult Hebrew Students – should take the light blue edition, which contains no transliteration.

Mishkan T’filah is a  tool, and represents a “concept” in prayer services. Its format expects – almost demands – increased involvement on the part of the worshipper. There are two main important things to know about this prayerbook. The first is that all English is an open invitation for full participation to read along, unless otherwise indicated or requested by the leader of the service.

The second innovative feature of Mishkan T’filah is that much of the liturgy is laid out in the format of a two-page spread, with the same prayer presented in four different formulations. The top of the even-numbered page is the traditional Hebrew of the prayer (with side-by-side transliteration in the dark blue edition). Below that is a reasonably accurate translation of the prayer, ending in the exact same Hebrew sentence as the prayer above it. This blessing at the end of a prayer is called a chatimah (plural: chatimot) or “seal,” as it “seals” the theme and allows us to move on.

On the odd-numbered side of the page are two alternative translations, inspired by the theme of the prayer but often quite poetic or representing different theological ideas inspired by the original Hebrew. Both of these alternative versions also end with the same chatimah, the same “seal.” It is almost always the case that only one of these four versions of the prayer will be read, and then the service will continue – perhaps even without a page number being announced – on the next two page spread. 

The other goal in this prayer book is to allow worshippers to “explore” on their own. If the leader and most of the congregation are reading one version of the prayer, any individual may, at the same time, “take in” a different approach, or glance at the commentary at the bottom or on the side. The “signal” to turn the page, to come together again, is the fact that the chatimah is the same in each of the four versions. Join in with everyone else, or “wander off” on your own, and come together again with the conclusion held in common with each rendition of the prayer.

For certain family-oriented services, we use a colorful siddur called Gates of Prayer for Young People. In that prayer book, italics in English indicate the place for congregational reading. And there are occasions when we use different books, or creative services compiled for particular occasions. Those will also be handed out by the ushers as you enter.  

Our intent, always, is to balance the authentic experience of a living liturgical tradition with a sense of welcome and warmth in every worship experience, which will embrace and include those less familiar with these customs and prayers.

Each year, usually in the fall, one of our congregants leads a throw-back service using the old Union Prayer Book siddur. A number of our members grew up with this siddur.  The first version of the Union Prayer Book was published in 1892 and the 1895 update established many of the tenets of a “Classical Reform” service, eliminating aspects from the traditional concept of Jews as the chosen people, a personal Messiah, resurrection, and of a return to Israel, and the excision of the musaf service on Shabbat and holidays. This “classical” service was structured to have little participation from congregants (which is the opposite of our goal today).  Many further updates to the Union Prayer Book occurred through 1940 after which it remained unchanged until Gates of Prayer was released in 1975, which in turn was replaced in many Reform congregations with our current siddur, Mishkan T’filah, in 2007. Watch the calendar for our annual Union Prayerbook Service to learn much about the history of the Reform movement and the evolution of our liturgy. For both those who grew up with the Union Prayerbook, and those interested in experiencing Reform Judaism as it used be, this is a unique experience.

For the High Holy Days, we use Mishkan Hanefesh. Members are strongly encouraged to purchase a copy of this two-part set for each member of your family as part of your High Holy Day ticket registration. We also have a limited supply of loaners. 

The Jewish prayer book, as indicated above, is called a “siddur.” The word siddur (related to the more familiar term for the Passover meal, the “seder”) means “order” as in the ‘order of the service.” Our services contain patterns of units of prayers, combining a fixed liturgy with spontaneous teaching and learning and interaction. Our goal is to mix the comfort of that with which many may have been familiar for many years or decades with innovation to cause us to explore and learn anew.   

At an Erev Shabbat (Friday night) service, we either enter or begin with singing, followed by the kindling of candles to mark the beginning of Shabbat. We greet one another and may share some of the joys or challenges of the week that was.  

The opening setting of the service is followed by a unit of prayers referred to as Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath). This is a series of Psalms (from the Hebrew Bible) and medieval liturgical compositions. For many services at Temple Shalom, a high percentage of this part of the service is sung, and is in Hebrew. It is meant to set the tone, and mood, of the service, and convey the joyous celebration of Shabbat. Even those who do not know Hebrew can feel the spirituality and mood through the music, melody, and usually pick up the prayerful songs after several services.  

Beginning with a “call to worship” known as the Bar’chu, the next section of the service is the Shema and its blessings. We rehearse through our prayers the basic Jewish view of history: Creation, Revelation (for Jews this means the giving of the Torah) and Redemption (achieving freedom, and shaping the world the way it is meant to be). This unit contains the Shema, the central declaration of the Jewish faith: “Hear, O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal God is One.” Of interest to many is the idea that the “law” of Israel (the Torah) is given by God as an act of love – and is followed as an act of love on our part. (As used in this context and in most prayers, the term Israel refers to the Jewish people and does not refer to the State of Israel.) 

The next major section of the service is called either the Amida (the Standing Prayers), the Tefilah (“the Prayer”), or the Shemonah Esrei (the Eighteen Benedictions – even though there are 19 on weekdays, and only seven on Shabbat). These prayers connect us with the merit of our ancestors (Avot v’Imahot), the power and holiness of God (Gevurot and Kedusha), a reference to the specific aspects of the day we are celebrating (including the song Yis’mechu on Shabbat), and a concluding section dealing with Prayer, Thanksgiving, and Peace. This section ends with the familiar song Oseh Shalom.

An important part of our Temple Shalom tradition is the Mi Shebeirach — a prayer for healing of mind, body, and soul. During this prayer, the rabbi or service leader will typically look around the room from right to left and invite congregants to say outloud the names of those in need of healing. Our program also contains a list of names added by congregants who Temple Shalom includes in its prayer for healing each service.

In most Reform congregations – including ours – we do not read from the Torah on Friday nights although that weeks’ Torah portion is often highlighted in the rabbi’s or service leader’s sermon or teaching. Instead, the Torah portion of a typical Shabbat service occurs during Shabbat morning services on Saturday.  The liturgy surrounding the reading, the processional with the scroll, the explanation of the portion and the reading from the scroll itself are all referred to as Seder Keriyat HaTorah, the Service for the Reading of Torah.

Often a formal sermon, an interactive discussion such as a text study, or a guest speaker follows the Amida before our concluding services.

The Concluding Section of the service includes the Aleinu prayer (our vision of the world the way it can be), and the Mourner’s Kaddish. In our congregation we ask mourner’s to rise (if they are comfortable doing so) as we call the name of a loved one listed in the service program; then, in keeping with general Reform Jewish tradition, the congregation as a whole rises for the Mourner’s Kaddish itself both to support those who are in mourning and to rise for those who have no one left to say Kaddish.

We begin the transition from the service to the celebration of the service with the recitation of a blessing through the wine (Kiddush) and the blessing through the bread (Motzi). On Friday evenings, this often is led by our b’nai mitzvah family if there is a b’nai mitzvah service the following day. We then come together for an Oneg Shabbat (a “celebration” of Shabbat), in the form of dessert and interaction in the Social Hall. If you are new (or newer) to Temple Shalom, please introduce yourself. 

Shabbat Morning Service and Torah Study occurs each Saturday morning from 10 a.m. to noon in our Chapel. The service typically lasts about 45 minutes to 1 hour, followed by an hour of participatory Torah Study and discussion. Services and study are often led by Clergy but also are often led by an experienced lay leader of services and study. Many describe this service and study as one of the best traditions of Temple Shalom. 

If there is a b’nai mitzvah (most weeks from March to June; September to December), that service occurs in the main Sanctuary beginning at 10 a.m. and ending at 12:30 pm. We are proud that our students lead most of the service and are true Teachers of Torah, Leaders of Prayer. These services are open to all.   

Please talk to any of our Clergy if you have any questions about our services, traditions, and the meaning of the various parts of the Shabbat service.

The goal of all we do is to make sure that you feel welcome, included, celebrated, and able to participate as much as you are able. Please talk to any of our Clergy

“Rise If You Are Able.” For many of our prayers, the congregation will be asked to rise. Often, but not always, our worship leaders will include the phrase “if you are able.” That phrase, even if omitted, is always implied. Your health and well-being takes precedence over any of our rituals and traditions — even the rules of Shabbat and fasting of Yom Kippur. Only rise if you are able and please never feel uncomfortable remaining sitting (or sitting earlier than others) as you need.

ASL interpretation. ASL interpretation is available with advance notice.  Please email our Clergy Assistant at rabast@templeshalom.net to let us know that you will be attending.

Hearing Assistance Devices. We are working to enhance our sound system to include personal hearing assistance connections. In the meantime, please ask an usher for preferential seating.

Fidgets. For both adults and youth, please feel free to borrow a fidget from the basket of fidgets that are typically available with ushers. Please return them at the end of services.

Noise cancelling headphones. For those who are sensitive to noise, please ask an usher to borrow a pair of noise cancelling headphones for use during the service.

Physical Access to our Prayer Spaces. We have no steps leading into the main floor of our building or into the sanctuary or chapel themselves. We have a ramp leading to our Hal Bruno Memorial Patio with access to our Chapel and Religious School without steps. Our bima has a ramp in back and front stairs that are designed for use with walkers.

Wheelchair. The temple has a wheelchair in our coat closet outside the Main Sanctuary.

Name Tags. Please wear your name tag if you are a member. And if you are a guest, please make a name tag. It helps everyone get to know each other and to identify those who are new so we can properly welcome you.

If you need something else, ask. Please contact our Clergy Assistant (rabast@tempelshalom.net) or Executive Director (szemsky@templeshalom.net) if we can improve in how we include and celebrate differences and needs.

Hebrew is read from right to left. Because of this, Hebrew Bibles, and most of our prayer books, open in the Hebrew direction. If you are used to only English-opening books, it will therefore seem like the table of contents is in the back of the book, instead of the front. If you have a Hebrew-opening prayer book and a page number is called out, it might take an extra moment to turn to the correct page.

The Jewish service was always meant to be participatory and inclusive. The whole idea of a rabbi or cantor “leading” the service is a fairly new development in Jewish history. Therefore if you know Hebrew, please join in with the reading, chanting, or singing of all prayers. If you do not know Hebrew, please join in with the transliteration in our dark blue prayer books or hum along with the songs. Most pick up the words quickly after regularly attending services. 

We also recognize that we include more Hebrew in our services than many Reform congregations. Do not be intimidated. Hebrew should not be a barrier to participation in services and congregational life. Wherever you are on your Jewish and Hebrew journey, you belong here. Rest assured that many in our congregation did not learn Hebrew in their youth and, if they did, it was rusty when they joined.  

Temple Shalom is committed to break down the language barrier for all congregants of all ages and backgrounds. Our Adult Hebrew classes have for many years. Whether you are a complete beginner, merely rusty, or desire to explore the meaning of the prayer book and Torah more deeply, contact the Religious School (school@templeshalom.net) for details on upcoming Adult Hebrew classes.  (Each of our four most recent presidents have taken Adult Hebrew — proving that a strong grasp (or any grasp) of Hebrew is not required to participate fully at Temple Shalom.)  

Customary Jewish ritual garb is available for those who enter our Sanctuary. Traditionally, the head is covered as a sign of respect, and awareness that God is always above us. The head covering is called a kippah in Hebrew, or a yarmulke in Yiddish. A kippah may be worn by anyone, and at any service. But it is also optional for all.  

There are also prayer shawls available. This garment is called a tallit (sometimes also pronounced as tallis. The plural is tallitot or talleisim.) The tallit goes back to a Biblical mandate and is meant as a symbolic reminder of one’s commitment to the commandments of Jewish life. Tallitot are worn by Jewish worshippers during morning services and by leaders during any service. Tallitot are available to borrow outside the main Sanctuary. Please remove your Tailit before entering a restroom.   

Once reserved only for men, the kippah and tallit are today available to all equally. As a Reform synagogue, Temple Shalom views the wearing of these traditional ritual items as optional.

Temple Shalom is a family-friendly congregation. Children are welcome in our Sanctuary at all times, and for all services. We believe that children feeling wanted and welcome increases their sense of connection to our tradition and their feeling of comfort with Jewish identity. Many a young child over the years has wandered onto the bimah during services to the horror of his or her parents only to find that our clergy takes the child’s hand and continues — with a little help from our youngest member — with the prayer or song, after which the child usually wanders back to his or her seat.

We also recognize that the fact that many of our services take place late poses challenges for younger children. For that reason, we have included a Quiet Room in our Sanctuary, as a place where children can go (accompanied by adults, see Guidelines for the Use of the Quiet Room below) when they develop shpilkes (a Yiddish term covering the sense of being highly fidgety, very restless, or with particularly high energy). It is always a judgment call and balancing act between the needs of our children and the comfort and concentration of those around us; we hope that the Quiet Room helps facilitate the right mixture of participation and appropriateness in a way which works for everyone.

To promote the participation and inclusion of our youngest worshippers, Temple Shalom provides a range of options for all ages throughout the year.  Tot Shabbats, Family Services, and Congregational Potlucks – often led by a Religious School grade occurs on the First Friday of the month from September to June; separate children’s services on High Holy Day mornings, as well as an afternoon Family Services; kids’ Purim celebration during Religious School; Night of a Thousand Menorahs; periodic camp-style Shabbat Morning services; and so many other special kid-friendly programming and services throughout the year.  

Guidelines for Use of the Quiet Room

  • Temple Shalom’s Quiet Room is intended for the comfort and convenience of families with young children in attendance at services. This is in no way meant as “banishment” from the main Sanctuary, and should be used as needed as children grow restless or particularly energetic.
  • An adult must accompany children in the Quiet Room. It is not meant as an unsupervised play area. Otherwise, chairs become jungle gym equipment and dodge ball has broken out at least once.
  • Books and some toys are provided; please feel free to use what is in the room, but also please try to straighten it up again after usage.
  • For everyone’s safety, no standing, climbing, or jumping on or from the chairs is permitted.
  • Please do not flip the lights in the Quiet Room on and off for fun during a service as it is distracting in the main sanctuary.

We appreciate the common sense, camaraderie, and cooperation that those using the Quiet Room display, and are glad to have a way of enhancing the ability of parents and children to participate in our service while remaining together.

Please turn off all cell phones (or set them to vibrate if they must be on) before you enter the Sanctuary.

Pictures are not permitted during a service. In a Reform synagogue such as Temple Shalom, pictures might be permitted before the beginning of a service by prior arrangement. Also with advanced permission videotaping a service may be allowed, but using only natural light, and from a stationary and fixed position in the rear of the Sanctuary.

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