As a Floridian Orthodox Jew stuck in New York for Rosh Hashanah, I was all too glad when my friend invited me to her house in Teaneck, New Jersey for the holiday. I knew that her family was Conservative, and I figured that trying something new would be interesting.
Teaneck is the city of the Jews. Boasting a grand total of eighteen synagogues, the city is mostly Orthodox - like me. But snuggled in this nest of Jewish Orthodoxy is an egalitarian, Conservative Synagogue - Beth Shalom. And that's where I prayed this Rosh Hashanah.
I haven't had much experience with Conservative Judaism. I know that their values are slightly different than mine. For me, Halacha (Jewish law) is more important than anything else, although my personal moral code comes in a close second. For them, Halacha must be balanced with what they believe is right, and when morals contradict Halacha, Halacha must be broken.
The first thing I noticed as I walked into the Synagogue was the lack of a Mechitza separating between men and women. Instead of being split up into two halves, the room was set with chairs in cozy half-circles facing in towards the center. Families sat together. Old men and old women hugged and kissed each other hello on the cheek as they entered.
There was also a woman leading the prayers. She was stately in a long white robe, kippah, and high heels, and she had such a beautiful voice that at times I got chills just from listening. The entire prayer was song-based, the congregation joining their voices in supplication to G-d for a good new year. I didn't know any of the songs, but I caught on quickly. It was a beautiful Rosh Hashanah service.
The thing about Conservative Judaism is, I really like it. I like the idea of it. I like it in practice. It's basically Orthodox Judaism, but fixed to get rid of sexism and other ideas that today as modern people we consider wrong.
But I don't believe in it. I believe that if G-d said to do something, even if it seems wrong to us, it is right because He knows everything. So it's back to the Mechitzas for me. Orthodox I am, and Orthodox I will remain.
That doesn't mean I won't occasionally visit Conservative Synagogues every now and then, just to enjoy the thought of what could be.