Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"So is it Twitting, then?"

"Tell me about Twitter."

When these words came forth from the rabbi's mouth over Shabbat dinner, I was a little, well, shocked. I'm always blown away at how quickly I'm emailed back (considering my rabbi back in Nebraska never emailed me -- I'd have to call to get an answer to my emails days and days later), but I never expected for the rabbi to ask about Twitter. He knows well about Facebook and all those other web 2.0 giants, and I was even more surprised when another one of the Shabbat dinner guests posed the question, "Well, then, what is Tumblr?" (Just so everyone knows, not even I knew what Tumblr was.) I mean, I'm not saying I expect all people around my parents' ages to be completely inept, after all, my mom is on Facebook and MySpace. But I didn't expect the rabbi to ask for an explanation. I found myself stumped, I didn't know how to answer the question, "It's ... microblogging!" I blurted out. Another one of the guests asked in an intense Israeli accent, "What's microblogging?" And I just looked at Tuvia, in a mixture of awe and shock, while the man's wife (the one who asked about Tumblr) explained it to him. The conversation went on for some time, comparing Facebook to Twitter and explaining that it's "Tweeting" and not "Twitting" and that yes, the whole world can read your tweets if you're not set to a private account, but that yes, some people do have private accounts and that, well, yes, maybe that does defeat the purpose ...

And this was only half of the Shabbat dinner conversation.

The other half? Money. I'm always blown away when Shabbat dinners and lunches end up covering every aspect of finance and investment known to man. It seems to me that such conversations would be considered, well, as muktza as handling money on Shabbat (consult your local rabbi!). I'm only half kidding, and I'm sure some rebbe somewhere decided that such conversation was forbidden! So we heathens talked about investing now that stocks with big giants like ING are so low, learning about the market, buying and selling houses, returns on investments, interest rates! You name it. After all, Tuvia is an accountant and when people find out they're in awe, so they seek his depth of wisdom.

But this is only partially accurate. We did take a break -- between Twitter and the drowning market -- to discuss last week's parshah. The rabbi posed a question, Tuvia mentioned that Exodus 32 is my baby, and the rabbi gave his thoughts on the incident and then asked for mine. The rabbi was mostly in line with my thinking, but another fellow at the table took problem with some of my thinking. I mentioned having my two papers accepted to a conference, and at some point the dessert came out and the conversation about Torah and Talmud and all things parshah disappeared with the chomping of the rebbetzin's delicious hamantaschen (brown sugar, nuts AND honey? oh my!).

The other guests left and for the next hour plus Tuvia and I stood around with the rabbi and his wife talking about our plans -- houses, conversions, school, cars, life, our future ... by the time we got back to our host's house, the clock was striking midnight and I, completely alive and invigorated by a truly unique and warm Shabbat dinner, was turning into the obligatory pumpkin. Amid snoring and coughing, I managed to get a bit of sleep before waking up and schlepping off to morning services, where I quickied Shacharit to catch up to the Torah service. It was weird seeing the rabbi and his wife the next day, after such a personal Shabbat evening before at their home. I bid each a hearty "Shabbat Shalom!" and that was that.

I have this problem about being too personal with people sometimes, I think. I worry about comfort levels and how to act with people in different settings -- public versus private. A conversation and relationship in someone's home is not necessarily the same as it is outside that snug and comfy little box with rooms and Judaica and delicious food. You know what I mean?

But in all honesty, it was one of the best Shabbats I've had. Our host family was quite ill, the lot of them, but they were -- as always -- friendlier than anyone I've ever known. The youngest one continued to call Tuvia (whose name is really Evan) "Kevin," which gave me giggles, and cookies were the food of choice for just about all of us. And, of course, Friday night's dinner was definitely memorable and remarkably special, though I can't exactly explain why.

I suppose, in a way, eating dinner by the rabbi sort of sealed some kind of special deal. It was an official in, to the community, that is. Like a knowing glance or a firm handshake. An experience that lets you know that you're safe, you're welcomed, you're liked, and most importantly? You're home.