Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shul Awkwardness

I feel very conflicted about Beth Elderly. On the one hand, they are some very nice folks, and certainly very welcoming to us. On the other hand, they're starting to treat us like semi-disappointing wayward grandchildren. I suppose this is partially our fault for coming back quasi-often but not fully committing to the shul-- they must think we just like to tease them.

Two weeks ago, walking to my night school class I bump into a self-proclaimed shul mucky muck I'll call Ezekiel. Ezekiel has repeatedly glommed onto me at shul, used-car-salesman style, trying to either play Jewish geography (we fail), or to entice me, not very subtly, into making a bigger shul commitment. Despite having met over a half-dozen times, he again forgets my name, but recognizes me thanks to my resemblance to Gimli with a stetson. Not wanting to pass up this moment of destiny, he booms through the subway station, "Hey guy from Beth Elderly!" Funny, I thought HE was the guy from Beth Elderly, I'm just a twenty-something who occasionally drops by. We kibbitz for a while and then he asks why he hasn't seen me in a while. I tell him we've been busy and exhausted from crazy schedules. The fact that getting there requires a 2-train trip spanning almost an hour does not improve its standing. He asks if there's anything the shul can do to make itself "more of a priority for you." Um, no, I just said there was nothing the shul was doing wrong, and as I don't expect it to install rocket launchers to its foundation anytime soon to fly over to my apartment for a "quickie minyan", I think we're just going to have to settle for quasi-regular attendance.

Later that week, we went to Beth Elderly, which as a plus side is close to the ocean, which at least gives us something pretty to watch while we're waiting for services to start. They were trying some new tunes that night, which I liked in theory, however in practice the cantor's dirge-style is very uninspiring, and the rabbi's tone-deafness does not really help. At one point someone tried singing "Shalom Aleichem" to the Carlebach melody but it broke down halfway through. The rabbi also tried to modify a negro "Christian spiritual" (redundant?) but had neglected to remember the melody- he urged us all to youtube it after Shabbos, though. (Supposedly it connected with the Parsha that week, which discussed building the Mishkan.) Undaunted, we pressed on through for a painful few minutes-- I also liked how he seemed concerned that some congregants might be weirded out by the idea of singing "Christian" lyrics, so he encouraged anyone who wanted to sing Hasidic niggun style to do so.

After services, Shiska Girlfriend got blindsided by Shul VP, about whom observations have been previously made. He cornered her and asked her for "better contact info." She said he already had it. He countered by saying, clearly not, because you haven't been showing up to our events! Touche, Mr. Vice President. SG gave him the same spiel I had given Ezekiel a few days earlier. He had another trick up his sleeve- he offered to organize a carpool for us! No, really, that's... ok. Very nice, but also kind of... creepy?

Finally, one of the nice old shul ladies- all 4'5" of her, with the cutest wispy goatee you ever will see, sidled up to me after the potluck and mentioned how nice it was to see us again. "Always a pleasure," I replied. "You know, you should come by more often- not just for potluck, but more services, too. Don't worry, we always have food- Judaism is the religion of the stomach!"

Great, a food bribe! Reminds me of when a classmate tried to coerce me into taking her to a middle-school dance by offering me a Kit-Kat. As an aside, this proposal would be slightly more impressive if most of the foodstuffs here didn't usually consist of variations on cold penne salad.

Look, people, the 30 pairs of grandparents I never had or really needed, you're nice folks (except for a few of your cranks-- but a few of those seem to pop up everywhere, don't they?)and we will continue to keep you in the rotation-- in fact, these days you're essentially the de facto shul for us, tied with Evil Minion. But as anyone on the dating scene knows, desperation is not very attractive. We like that you pay attention to us and are so eager to welcome us into the tent, particularly given Shiska Girlfriend's Tzipporah-like status. But we are not in a position to save your shul. We are not your pioneer "New Guard" that can take over kiruv for you as you attempt to broaden your target demographic to the under-40 crowd. We are not experts in youth culture, "hip"-ness, or, for that matter, Shlomo Carlebach melodies. We wish you the best and are hoping to come along for the ride. But we're in our twenties and you're all... decidedly not. We are not the leaders you're looking for. Get it together and take a few steps back, please.