Thursday, May 24, 2012

Putting in the Work

Since last we spoke, there have been quite a few developments in our relationship with Beth Elderly. First of all, this Young Guard Havdalah thing has been a modest but regular success, which is a big deal for us, given that we usually fail to stick with things, and particularly given that the demographics of Beth Elderly are strongly against a YGH having a sizable enough turnout to regularly perpetuate itself. Yes, numbers have trickled off following the inaugural Havdalah night, but the smaller group has allowed Mrs. Yid and I (ok, I'll be honest, it's mostly me) to get over a lot of our initial shyness. Hanging out with Abraham, Sarah and Batsheva the President's Daughter (TM) has helped a lot. It's also been nice because now we have some friendly faces (and the names to go with them) we can seek out at shul if there's a lull in social interaction.

Some good/fun news first:

  • As mentioned before, YGH has been going well. Your humble correspondent even played host to the gang this last time around-- and did it solo, to boot, since Mrs. Yid's store is starting to make her work crazy hours again. Fun times were had by all (particularly when I added the shot of Bacadri 151 to the Havdalah wine after pouring it out so that the candle made a pretty flame).

  • We have started going to Beth Elderly's Kabbalat Shabbat services and monthly potlucks again. Davening quality continues to vary; the rabbi keeps trying livelier Carlebach tunes, and while his heart is in the right place, his voice really isn't. Still, despite the Friar's better/critical nature, I have started to steel myself against griping about it every time and instead am doing my best to carry the room with what my wife says is a halfway decent voice.

  • I went to a Lag B'Omer BBQ at the rabbi's house solo and didn't turn into a pillar of salt.

  • I took a month-long Tanakh class (also solo) taught by the rabbi's wife and had a lot of fun and even learned a few new insights into the text (biggest take away for the book of Ruth: how pure are Naomi's intentions when she sends her daughters-in-law away? The rabbi's wife, for one, not so sure). Again, despite being a little nervous to do this alone, it worked out just fine, and now I have a few new names for my mental rolodex (sorry, that's dated, isn't it? I meant my mental contacts list).

And now for (a little) griping! Just because it wouldn't be TCfS without it.

  • Figure out this singing thing, please!
This may be unfair since rabbis and cantors are two separate professions, but I really wish the rabbi would either go to a few Carlebach services/listen to some tunes online as a refresher, or ask someone in the congregation to help him out with this. Because, honestly, it's hard enough to get the kavannah going with the old dirgey stuff without having not very good Carlebach on top of it.

  • Random people have nothing better to do but come talk to me, apparently.
There is one lady in her late 50s who I'll name Masha the Meshuggener who is always rambling about something. The first time we met her, it was that there was nowhere for her to shop that she liked. We offered various suggestions and she shot each of them down. "That one mistreats its workers. That one doesn't have a union. That one isn't organic. I'd die before I shopped there!" Luckily we had other people at our table to talk to, so we did. I wasn't as lucky at Lag B'Omer, however. Masha came up to my table and started complaining at me. Apparently her day canvassing the neighborhood for petition signatures was tiring. I reached deep into my soul and resisted the urge to either run away or make small talk. I just wasn't going to engage. I had a beer, I could just tune her out. I managed to keep that up for about a good 15 minutes, while she ranted about city council this and local opposition that and some political opponent of hers who wasn't as good as her and about how there should be a law about pre-requisite political experience, though apparently that wasn't an issue when the President got elected so why should it matter now...

That's right, people. Even in San Francisco, even among the crunchiest of the crunchy, you can find old Jewish ladies with an Obama axe to grind. Viva diversity, I guess?

It was at that point that Masha became interested in my drink. She wanted to know what it was. As it happened, it was a nice ale produced by one of my favorite Canadian-influenced breweries. She wanted to mix a shot of it with her organic apple juice. Since I had only brought so many bottles, my first instinct was to be annoyed, but then I remembered that Unibroue's beers are about 9% ABV, more than twice that of a standard beer like Guinness or Newcastle. So I figured, if I can't make Masha stop talking, at least I can make her entertaining. I poured her a good solid shot and she liked it so much she had me save her another one for later. Unfortunately she didn't become any more entertaining, and even after I left the table and sat by the bonfire to make room for lots of young families she insisted on following me, helpfully recalling all her bitter and tragic memories relating to fireplaces and the contents therein (I am not making this up; I heard about this lady's inheritance and how it connected with fireplaces).

Also at Lag B'Omer, a 90-year-old Russian guy came up to me with a photocopied pamphlet he had written extolling the virtues of veganism. At a meat BBQ. Oh-kay. When he ran out of pamphlets, the older gentleman stood in the middle of the rabbi's backyard singing O Solo Mio, followed by a few old Yiddish songs. Since he was surrounded by mommies and grand-mommies who have long since lost any critical thinking abilities, every time a song ended their response was to manically clap and yell, "Yay, yay!" as if they had just seen a two-year-old blow out a birthday cake. Which is funny, because after Old Man Veganism finished, a mother dragged her 7-year-old up, brought out his music stand, violin and songbook (which they had just happened to bring?) and he performed an impromptu concert. Again, the "Yaying" crowd wouldn't stop, so the kid just kept going, probably for close to half an hour. The whole time his mom was sitting a foot away from him in a folding chair, taping the whole thing on her iPhone. I'm not saying the kid wasn't talented, I just don't know that I really needed to know the jazzy version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

  • Something is personally inconvenient to me!
Your shul is in the middle of nowhere and when I get there early for Tanakh class there is nowhere to sit or hang out that doesn't result in me being blown around by gale force winds like a rag doll. Not really Beth Elderly's fault, but still, yesterday I wound up spending an hour and a half reading my book under a bush like a hobo just to get out of the wind. And then I had to shlep home after. It was lame. Worth it, but still lame.

Despite all this, though, it's become quite clear to me that Beth Elderly is the only shul that's ever really felt welcoming to us, and even though things there aren't perfect (as the grass-stains on my pants can attest), we feel pretty sure that our next big step will be to formally join the shul. Which, as no one in my family (besides Uncle Milt) has been official members of anything Jewish in over 40 years, is kind of a big deal. Even though there are things I'd like to change there, and even though we may be leaving the city in a few years, I've finally realized what everyone has been saying to me: if you want a community, you have to work at it. If you want things to be better, you have to participate. That's what a community is. So, fine. I'm game. Let's keep the momentum going.

This weekend: Shavuot!