Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Shabbat to Teach Me.

"Shabbat Shalom, Shabbat shalom, good Shabbos, good Shabbos."

"Hello! Do you have a Shabbat dinner to attend!?"

"No, no, Rabbi, I ate earlier, but thank you."

"You ate earlier? You must eat again! Let me find you a ... yes!
Here, this is Chavi, she'll be joining you for dinner."

"Uh ... thank you rabbi! Shabbat shalom!"

This was the scene after services last night, and I couldn't have been more happy with how the evening ended up. Let me explain, I didn't eat much for lunch Friday, so when I got home around 4:30 I went straight for some Chinese food (orange chicken!), then took a short food-coma nap before shul.

So I went to the Orthodox shul, where, I really can't describe it, but I just felt at home. Walking in through the doors and grabbing the (transliterated!) siddur and heading to the women's section, I just felt like I belonged. I gave a friendly wave and nod to a few people who remembered me from the last time or from the seder I'd been to, and then plopped down. One of the women I'd met during pre-Pesach services sat next to me, which I'll admit made me feel absolutely welcomed and acknowledged. The service began and people slowly flooded into the men's and women's sections. I don't know if I mentioned it, but I checked out a copy of the ArtScroll Siddur from the library, but unfortunately it isn't the transliterated and my Hebrew just isn't what it should be. So with my transliterated copy, I tried to keep on par with the service, but the rabbi wasn't shouting the page number very loudly and a few times I got lost, but for the most part I was more in tune than last time. (My tip? How about one of those signs like they have at the DMV with your number on it that flashes, you know? So somehow it's set to a timer of page numbers! Or not ...) So I actually kept up, and was more participatory than last time, and I think it's just like when I first started going to shul -- I slowly pick things up, it slowly becomes more comfortable, and soon the melodies and service flow will be like a second, holy skin.

After services, I shmoozed with a few people, said hi to a few others, and while I was standing there chatting, the rabbi walked up to me and that conversation took place. The thing is, I can't help but feel like I'm taking advantage of people when I go to their houses and nosh on their Shabbos delicacies. I know that it's not that way, and that it's hospitality and that someday I'll be returning such kindnesses. But it's still this feeling I get, it's this imposing feeling that I can't help but worry about. It's why, in my mind, it makes sense to eat before hand. But if the past two shul experiences at the Orthodox location are any indication, perhaps I should just cope with the kindnesses and quit eating meals! And in reality, the Shabbat meal is a sort of mitzvah, not to mention that it's a great way of meeting people and having thoughtful, intelligent conversation.

So I ended up at the Shabbat table of a nice couple near the shul. I admire their Judaica, and their hospitality was indescribably friendly. There were several other guests at the table, including one who -- at the very beginning of the meal -- blurted out, "I know you, you're a blogger!" Now, this actual made me a little unsettled, and sent this weird feeling into my tummy. I've met plenty of people on streetcorners who know me through Yelp and recognize me through my photo, but every time it happens I always start to think "Yikes! What have I written recently? Am I controversial? If I am, who cares? Isn't this what you want! To be a known blogger?" But after this initial "yikes" moment, the questions came and people asked what I blog about and I was really excited to talk about it. Overall, the dinner was exciting, and the food was outstanding (such good challah -- with honey, even!). I ended up connected pretty well with one gal at the dinner who at some point might be reading this blog, assuming we reconnect. She's got some tips for me on organizations that would offer what I might be interested in -- in light of recent events about my Birthright experience.

Listen, I write about all this because for me, the full Shabbat experience is something new to me (and yes, I went e-free except to call my friend and tell her I couldn't make it to Shabbat lunch because of a horrible sinus headache and other symptoms). Not to mention that the idea of the Shabbat dinner as an important part of the rest is exceedingly new to me. In my experiences -- at least, up until moving to Chicago and becoming good friends with a woman at work -- I had never been invited anywhere for any kind of Shabbat meal. In my mind, the meal was just one of those things that happened like any other meal and wasn't really that big of a deal. You go to shul, you light the candles, and mazel tov -- that's Shabbat for you. But I'm learning that there is much more to Shabbat than I ever thought I knew. They're the things that we think we understand, but we really don't. I imagine in time I'll take Saturday services more seriously, I'll also understand havdalah and will work it into my observance. It's truly moving for me to discover this alter-ego of Shabbat, these things I never understood until now.

So I thank my friend, SS and her family, and the Orthodox shul for opening up the light of a full Shabbat to me. I only hope that all of you take the time, one day a week, to stop and rest, to have an involved meal with your family and friends, and to let go of the mundane you experience each day of the week.