Sunday, March 4, 2012

Building Bridges

Our adventures with the Not-So-Elderly from Beth Elderly continue! This month we had Young Adult (defined as under 40) Havdalah at another couple's home. The rabbi and his wife brought their two kids, which was fun for a while, but got pretty chaotic pretty fast (one and three years old are not ideal ages for hanging out multiple hours after sun-down). Aside from that, there were a handful of young folks we had met last time. We did Havdalah, chatted about the shul, and just generally spent time getting to know each other. Mrs. Yid and I wound up staying past midnight talking with the host couple Abraham and Sarah about their practice and journeys with Judaism. As a fellow young couple of eclectic religious background and practices it was a lot of fun to trade stories and experiences without feeling that we were weirding each other out. (Abraham was raised Episcopalian, eventually found out he was halachically Jewish through his maternal grandmother, and spent time at college Hillel, Reform Judaism, Chabad and Evil Minion before finding Beth Elderly; Sarah is a practicing Catholic and the two of them are active in both communities-- very busy weekends!) Compared to them, Mrs. Yid and my religious affiliation and practice are almost uncomplicated, something we haven't felt in... ever?

There have been a few times over the past ten or fifteen years when I made a close friendship that wound up having a big impact on my Jewish education and practice. The first was in high school, when I found my first Jewish friend that was religious enough that he could at least take me to High Holiday services at his shul. The second was in college, when my best friend and roommate was a rabbi's kid and really knew what she was doing, and gave me the anchoring I needed to take the things I had been learning from books and putting them into practice. With these new friends, I feel like there's the potential to have some fellow travelers who understand the challenges of wanting to take a tradition seriously (or at least more seriously than not at all) while not being judged for the choices you ultimately make or don't make.

Here's hoping that our new acquaintance with Abraham and Sarah will turn into a long friendship-- and maybe encourage us to take our path(s) as seriously as they do theirs.

And also that next time, the rabbi and his wife will get a baby-sitter.


Antigonos said...

The shul experience here in Israel is so very different from the American one, that I don't think I could ever readjust to the US [not that I expect to have to]. Shul in the US, in synagogues which looked a lot like upscale theaters, was a 3 hour "experience" on Shabbat mornings, complete with choir [and often the only one who understood what was going on was the guy on the bimah in the rabbi outfit]. He would announce when to stand up, and when to sit down, and what page we were on in the siddur, and there was always the "uplifting" sermon. During it, and the Torah reading [usually abreviated as well as translated] it was possible to catch a nap. Of course, in the US I didn't davven Orthodox. In my adolescence it was either Conservative or, very occasionally, Reform [I was dating the rabbi's son], and later, Reconstructionist.

Here, there is really only one flavor. Everyone [even the women on the other side of the mechitza] knows and understands both the prayers and the Torah reading, since it is in the mamaloshen; most congregations don't even have rabbis and the men take turns as shaliach tzibur; outside of the "Great" synagogue [of the Chief Rabbinate] there isn't any choir, and unless it is Shabbat HaGadol or Shabbat Shuvah, there isn't any sermon. Two hours, hardcore davvening, start to finish. And afterwards? Often a bit of kibitzing outside, but nothing of the fashion parade or the high-power socializing that went on in the US shuls I used to frequent. You can be as involved in the congregation as you choose to be, or not. I much prefer it this way: I don't go to shul to make friends, but to pray. Meeting Jews apart from Shabbat is not an unusual occurence here [g]

BTW: forget babysitters and start producing your own disruptive little monsters. Jewish observance is so home-centered you will find the difference amazing and the synagogue, as a social organization, becomes much less relevant.

Another BTW: have you ever thought of visiting Israel? I would love to show it to you!

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Hi Antigonos,

Hearing about the Israeli shul experience is fascinating but also a little intimidating. Mrs Yid and I have mercifully managed to avoid the pagentry of Shabbat morning services (mostly due to scheduling but also just general preference) and mostly stuck to the homier Kabbalat Shabbat services around here. Sermons tend to not do much for me, though I do enjoy a good drash. Mrs Yid has not enjoyed the few stuffy services (mostly Reform, IIRC) we've attended over the years-- she says they remind her too much of church.

It's awesome that the people you've encountered in Israeli shuls are educated and engaged with what they're doing. I don't mind variety, personally, but I can understand the appeal and benefit of more people being on the same page. Lest I come off unclear, I don't particularly want or need my shul to also be my primary Jewish social outlet-- but I wouldn't mind having at least a few friends in whatever Jewish community we wind up spending time in. The place where we've casually made a quasi-home for ourselves the last few years has given us a comfortable level of anonymity, but sometimes you want a little more than just a place to daven. Part of this also has to do with age and family dynamics; Mrs Yid and I spend most of our free time together, which is great, but a single couple does not a Jewish community make. If nothing else, we'd like to have a few more Jewish friends we can include in our holiday celebrations and whatnot.

Fear not, we do indeed have plans to spawn. At the moment things are a little stalled as we wait for the coming school year to shake out. The goal is to be bleary-eyed and covered with spittle within at least three years.

Funny you mention Israel, my rabbi cousin was recently in town and invited us to come visit, and Mrs Yid has expressed some interest. Again, a lot depends on what happens with my job next year, but we'll definitely give you some notice if we come down to your neck of the Yishuv.