If you could paint a picture of your best or most ideal Shabbos, would it look anything like this?
I picked up Tuvia in Ye Olde Jeep on Friday around 4:30, and having an hour until we really needed to be at shul, he took me on a mini-tour of his old stomping ground in West Hartford. We headed to our host's house around 5 p.m. and, with open and warm arms, we were welcomed into their home. We said hi to the little ones who were pre-Shabbos bathing and we ran upstairs to put our things down and make sure all the lights we needed were on. Tuvia was in the library -- a room full of Judaica books, nifty artificats and a gigantic air mattress -- and I was in a room down the hall with possibly the most comfortable guest bed I've ever slept on. We thanked the host again and again, said we'd see her in a few after the service, and headed off to shul in the car. At the shul, we parked the car -- making sure we didn't leave anything in it that we might need, and (armed with umbrellas thanks to the impending storm) headed in for the service.
I don't need to go into the service because, well, as usual it was awesome. The rabbi is doing a series on how to go about asking/getting a non-Jew to do things for you on Shabbos that are necessary (the heat in the sanctuary is too hot, too cold, etc.). It's a pretty fascinating series, which we just started last week after a series of weeks on muktza.
After services, Tuvia and I put up the umbrellas (I know, assur to some, but I refuse to be soaked walking home from shul), and set off for our host's place. The house smelled absolutely divine when we arrived. It was the hosts, a few others, and us for dinner and we dug right in to the meal over casual conversation and stories. It was a pretty tame dinner, and shortly afterward we helped clean up the table, chatted with our host in the kitchen, and then set off to sleep on the third floor. I'd hoped to do some reading first, but man alive I conked out. (Probably because the night before Tuvia and I schlepped 4+ hours round-trip to see FrumSatire get his comedy on in Crown Heights!)
I can't say that I slept super well -- I was up every few minutes thanks to a heater that was touchy and the fact that I was worried about oversleeping. We were set to get up at 8 a.m., get ready, eat some breakfast (challah + jelly and butter? yes! coffee with hazelnut creamer? YES!), and head off to shul -- children and stroller in tow. It was incredibly windy and cold, but the walk was outstanding. There's something nice about schlepping to and fro from shul -- you work off all that food you haven't eaten, and all the food you will eat. The morning service is still a lot for me to pick up on. The rabbi's wife helped me out in what I should daven while the Torah service was going on, and by the time I was done it was time for the service to move on. I followed the rest of the service with ease, and the kiddush was pretty interesting (we ate on a food stamp budget), especially since the crowd, well, pretty much heckled the speakers. Tuvia and I left with a few other guests for the lunch at our host's place and on the way we talked about a lot of things, including the community, observance, and how I converted (a popular topic these days!).
The lunch and rest of Shabbos was just mind-blowing. The meal lasted several hours, there were l'chaims and discussions about Israel, faux meat, veggies, delicious wine and the most amazing everything challah I have and will ever eat, and plenty of time spent playing with the kids (there were FIVE children there, and I am in love with each one of their cute little faces). The crowd dwindled bit by bit, and those of us that were left discussed blogging and Hebrew. I was lucky that the guests at the lunch were so diverse -- lawyers, mothers, Israelis, super Orthodox, sort of Orthodox, you name it. Shabbos slowly dwindled and Tuvia and I packed up our things while the family got ready for their post-Shabbos plans. Havdalah rolled around and we smelled the spices, blessed the wine and the light, and said goodbye to probably the most restful, fulfilling Shabbos I've ever had. To be sure, it was my first real, complete Shabbos (umbrella-use aside).
I can't really describe how thankful I am for the community in West Hartford that has so welcomed us with the most open of arms. I have yet to run into a single person who isn't as eager as ever to have us over for a meal or to offer a bed or an ear or shoulder. People have stories, want to hear stories, and love to tell stories. It's a beautiful community willing to go to any length to fulfill the mitzvot while also acknowledging the great, big world that is out there and in their community. These people? They're my kind of people.
I've come a long way from three years ago, don't you think?