Tonight I made my first visit to a synagogue in Israel for services; I prayed at the Wall on my last two visits but not in a congregation apart from the spontaneous one(s) at the Kotel.
Tonight was also my first time ever davening in an Orthodox schule.
And tonight was my first time ever praying behind a mechitzah - dividing screen; I guess I don't count the wall at the Wall (too much politics). It was a left-right division as opposed to a front-back separation using a light curtain and the prayer leader pulled it back some and stood as close to the women's side as he could. I still felt cut off. Our host later told us that during a Torah service they did process the Torah around the women's side which was not common in orthodoxy. I appreciated the gesture of inclusion but was still uncomfortable. I think what really got me was when he said that anyone could lead services. I did not ask, but thought he meant any man, and I thought how easy it was to exclude women from being people, let alone participants.
With all those firsts I said a Shehehianu - prayer to mark first-time special events.
I don't know the name of the congregation (on Ein Gedi just off Hebron Rd); I jumped in the Notre Dame students' class trip. Of course I met someone from RRC there. I forgot her name, but hopefully we'll be in touch.
It was a wonderful, joyous, clapping, dancing, passionate service. Some of the ND students were talking about Pentecostal Judaism. The women were friendly, engaged and engaging and helped me find my place in the siddur - prayerbook. They took their dancing outside the congregation and filled the patio while the men remained on their side of the screen and danced in their place. There were lots of young (high school and college-aged) women. And a there were a few Israeli soldiers, all women. It was disturbing for me to see them dancing with their rifles slung down their backs.
I found that I missed the inclusive language from Dorshei - God of our mothers and fathers and feminine language for God. I liked that the Orthodox siddur kept the language of resurrection and God's fidelity to the dead that I don't hear in DD. I do wish that the font in the prayerbook had not gotten smaller in the kaddish, I lead large print for Aramaic, if for nothing else.
The varieties of modest clothing reminded of Egypt and Turkey. There were also plenty of knee length skirts.
I'm grateful for the welcome and the invitation to return. I hope to return there and to visit some other congregations.