Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lech Lecha, and I will be like the River.

This is a big Shabbos blog post, but I'm asking myself: Where do I begin? If this is long and wandering and all touchy feely and makes you feel queasy with nauseousness, I do apologize in advance :) Likewise, this isn't nearly as eloquent as it was in my head earlier today, so please forgive me!

I spent my Friday afternoon talking to a fellow who will be known as JDater E on the phone and then the interwebs while he trekked off for a little long-weekend getaway. I put on my skirt and my cardigan, minimized the items I was carrying to my building/room key and my ID pouch, and headed off to meet others walking to the Chabad rabbi's house off campus around 6:45. I got to the meeting spot and after a few minutes others joined me there, others whom I had met at the big Hillel BBQ last week, as well as a few people from Hebrew class and elsewhere. We headed off to the rabbi's house, getting there a little after 7 p.m. There were warm welcomes and introductions and the rabbi started the service with about a half-dozen or so other guys, while the four or five of us women lit the Shabbos candles. There were children -- six of them -- running rampant the entire night, and I'll admit they were a distraction, but I think I just haven't been around children in so long that I forgot that they, too, are part of the Shabbos evening dinner.

The services didn't last long, and I found it hard to follow along in the prayerbook. I've become so familiar with the Artscroll Siddur that I sort of just wandered around in the pages, while also watching the kids run around screaming and trying to gain our attention. More people continued to show up and join in services and by the time we sat down for dinner there was an entire house full of people. There were three courses, including the requisite gefilte fish (YUM!!). There was wine and singing and challah (the challah, btw, was AMAZING), and lots, and lots of conversation.

I was sitting at the end of the table with what I would say are the older folks that attend Shabbos at the Chabad rabbi's house. There was an engaged couple and three others -- all who are Shomer Negiah -- and me. They all have known each other well, and they were busy talking about future Shabbos plans and the conversation was flying by around me, but I slowly started to work my way in and grew comfortable with the conversation. At one point, during conversation about each of my new friends' paths to Orthodoxy, someone said "what did you grow up as?" And of course my answer is always: "I didn't grow up Jewish." Someone mentioned that they were surprised -- I looked Jewish! They would have never guessed. So the questions came and for the first time, I felt completely at ease talking about everything with these people because most of them weren't frum from birth, and as I explained my path and thoughts about having an Orthodox conversion, one even suggested setting me up with a rabbi in West Hartford.

Dinner concluded and there was more singing and conversation and the group of us headed off back to campus for a post-Shabbos dinner get together that included pickles and vodka. Now, this was around 11 something and it was incredibly humid outside. We trekked, quite quickly, back to campus, up to the sixth floor of a building, and into a small dorm room -- mind you, there were about a dozen of us. It was hot, and we were all tired, and definitely dehydrated, but we had our L'Chaims and told stories and talked about Israel and what it means to be Jewish. We sang songs -- Am Yisrael Chai -- and we shared with eachother. We toasted and we laughed and we joked and even when the lights went off (auto-timer!) at 2 something, we continued to talk. G-d, someone said, had wanted us to continue talking and sharing, even with the lights off. We talked about life being a narrow bridge, and what that meant to us. For me, I said, it meant that I had chosen a path that was difficult, one that was not oft-traveled, and that despite everything around me, I continue to walk the narrow path. And then I explained why I'd converted, about my soul lighting up, and one of the guys talked to me about how my sincerity, my soul, made it all true. And then, around 3 in the morning, we all took off back home, to sleep.

Unfortunately, I was pretty much awake until 7 a.m. tossing and turning. I was dehyradated and intoxicated and uncomfortable. Davening began at 10:30 a.m., and lunch was set for around 1 p.m. I finally fell asleep and woke up around noon, feeling miserable. I decided not to go to the Chabad house, and rather, I ate something here and went back to sleep. I felt pretty miserable about not making it to morning services and the events today because last night? Last night was absolutely perfect. I wasn't worried that other people would wonder "Why isn't Chavi here?" I was worried about my own guilt. My own irritation with not handling myself in a way that would allow me to get up and be a part of the community. So here I am.

I learned that an eruv has been set up within my building to allow for carrying on Shabbat (AWESOME), because there's a fellow who lives a floor down who is frum. It turns out there are quite a few of us more observant Jews in the grad housing area, which makes me feel cozy.

But this has just been a "this is what I did" kind of post, and I really want to make it more a "this is how I felt" post. I feel like, in this community of people, I can really embrace where I want to be Jewishly. I was thinking about it and I think my only beef with being frum would be the no showering on Shabbos (nu? hair like this doesn't do well without a shower, and wearing scarves will make me look like I'm hitched). But otherwise? It's completely feasible. There is a kosher kitchen, meals at the Chabad house on Shabbos, an eruv in the building, other frum Jews who dress modestly, people I can ask questions, people who can answer questions. There is an every Shabbos together bit where people come here and other weeks go to West Hartford for Shabbos or there was talk even of going to Monsey.

I feel so at home. So completely and utterly at home, like I am arriving again. It reminded me of when I first went to shul and felt like I was being enveloped in large, warm arms, like the G-d I had embraced was embracing me back. That is how it feels to be here amid this community. Singing Am Yisrael Chai in a dorm room stuffed to the brim with people, sweating up a storm, and talking about what it means that the people Israel lives? It sounds hippie dippy, I know, but it wasn't. These people are so passionate about their Judaism and who they are Jewishly and what it means to be a part of this community that it is impossible to not feel it as well.

Coming home last night, before I started to feel completely crappy physically, I felt high. Like the world was at my fingertips, filled with complete bliss. These people around me embraced me as I could only have hoped they would have. There was a point at dinner when there was a lull in conversation when I smiled really big and said "I am so happy right now" and everyone sort of looked at me funny, but I explained that this is what I was hoping to find here, at school, in this second attempt to make things right.

And so it is, this place is home now. I have no questions about that. I am happy and healthy and once this heat passes, things will all fit very nicely, I think. And in all honesty, if the hardest thing for me is figuring out this whole no showering on Shabbos business, then I think I'm doing pretty well. The theology is there (even if I haven't blogged about it), the heart is there, the soul is there, and here is the community. And why am I telling you all this? Because it's part of my process. It allows you to see through my eyes, maybe, what it means to be a convert who is continuing the path, I guess.

The journey is never over, of course, we're never static -- at least, we shouldn't be -- and in this way, I intend to be like river in a stream, constantly moving, over rocks or twigs or even the smoothest underbelly of the riverbed. This is just another bend in the river.

Shavua Tov, readers.