Monday, February 16, 2009

A Warm Welcoming

What a wonderful Shabbos! What a wonderful weekend! Optimism abounds as the week begins again, and I'm hoping this high doesn't wear off.

On Friday, Tuvia and I rushed from downtown to West Hartford to make candle lighting at 5 p.m. at a friend's house. We arrived, parked in the kosher grocery store's parking lot, and schlepped to the friend's place. On the way, we ran into a few people -- one who knew me from my blog, another who knew me through friends from school -- and I was reminded of what a very, very small world the Jewish one is. We arrived, set the tables with tablecloths, plates, silverware, challah cutting boards, and more. More people arrived, and in the crunch to light within the 18-minute window, while trying to guide a friend to the house, while trying to set everything up ... we were cutting it close. Finally, the women light the candles, we put on our coats, and headed to shul (very late!). We went to a synagogue that Tuvia and I hadn't been to before, and it was a bit of a schlep in the cold. It was definitely an interesting experience, but not so different for me than at the other orthodox shuls I've been to. The women had a "balcony" and by this I mean that it was merely a few feet raised above the men's section, behind the men's section, portioned off by a short wall and a piece of glass. We davened, we schmoozed, and we went back to the friend's for dinner. It was the first Shabbos dinner I'd been to where I really helped out -- I put rice in bowls, mixed salads, took the kugel out, cleared plates, pre-opened seltzer bottles so Tuvia wouldn't make more messes, and more. It felt so good to be a part of the entire process, to be a member of the household, to really throw myself into the evening. There was singing and joke telling and a few d'var Torah bits. Overall? It was an amazing evening.

The next day, Tuvia and I showed up at the shul we've been going to for morning services. We got there much earlier than most of the crowd. It seems that the service begins, people slowly come in, and by an hour after the service start time, everyone else shows up! I had a rough time trying to figure out where we were in the service, and I've decided that my security-blanket transliterated siddur is hurting me more than helping me. I'd be better to follow the service in Hebrew/English and do the parts I know in Hebrew and the other parts in English rather than to get lost sifting through the transliterations that drive me nuts anyway because of the T(tav)/S issue. The service zipped by, friends came and sat with me, introduced me to others, and afterward there was a kiddush and a talk by the rabbi, where he discussed conversion and how we sort of get to the requirements we use today. It was interesting, but man alive I was exhausted, hungry, and unable to focus my energies to the topic at hand.

At last, we left with our lunch hosts, schlepped over to their place, and had an absolutely delicious Shabbos lunch. I think I consumed the most delicious lasagna I've ever had at their dinner table. There was conversation and discussion about the rabbi's talk, about how Tuvia and I had met, about many a'thing with the hosts and their other guests. Around 3 in the afternoon we all agreed that we all needed naps, and everyone went their separate ways.

Now, Tuvia and I did drive home Friday night, and we drove back to the shul Saturday morning, and we even drove home at 3 something in the afternoon -- but we were there, we were in the community seeing both sides of the Orthodox community there. It was a first step in really diving head-first into everything.

Starting the week after next, Tuvia and I will be staying in W. Hartford with a host family (did I already mention all of this?). These folks have opened their home to us when we need a place to stay, and even more people have opened their homes to us. Of course, the caveat that we're not married means that there are limited options for us to stay with people -- there has to be plenty of space for us to have our own separate sleeping spaces. But the open arms of the community are so uplifting to a couple of young Jews in love like ourselves who are trying to make our way into the community, to really fold ourselves within the dynamic and heart of the place.

After this Shabbat? I'm reassured in my confidence in the kindness of others to welcome others into the fold so readily, without questions, without concern. The love, the warmth, it reminds me that the perceptions of the outside world are not always accurate when it comes to Orthodoxy. The rejection and fear of outsiders is not the standard in my experience -- it's about self preservation a lot of the time.

So shavua tov, and here's to a week of good things! Next week, Tuvia and I will be in the Poconos -- the antithesis of the W. Hartford Orthodox community :)