This weekend was a Shabbaton - a sort of religious retreat/day of learning/conference thing that happens on a Shabbat. This one was organized by a friend of ours for his organization, Aish Das (www.aishdas.org.)
The theme was Elul, the month before Rosh HaShanah, with the sessions focussing on Mussar (ethics and behavior). The three sessions, each on a different topic (one after dinner, one between kiddush and lunch, and one before the afternoon services) had the same structure - an introduction by one of the speakers and then we divided into two separate sex va'ads (moderated discussion groups.)
All of this - the meals and the discussion groups and the services - took place in a large synagogue. We also sponsored the synagogue's kiddush (after morning service collation) and suedat shlishit, the ritual third meal that takes place between the Sabbath afternoon service and the concluding evening service. We were given hospitality in local homes.
We got to Passaic by driving the car of another participant - she didn't want to drive on highways, but she had a car. We don't have a car, but I'm perfectly happy driving on highways. It seemed beshert. Turned out, well...The car was on the old side and cranky. So was the lady. And we left an hour later than I'd wanted to. However, and despite traffic, we got to Passaic in plenty of time. Micha and his family were already in the synagogue, setting up for dinner and managing registration.
Here I must talk about this family. Micha and his wife were told when they were first married that there would be no kids. So, they decided right away that they would adopt. Which was good because there was an emergency and Rafi needed to be taken right away. So, they had a son. And they decided to get more, so a couple years later, they adopted Yonie. And Siggy, who has never had problems flying, was ill on the airplane when they got him. So Gabrielle is only seven months younger than Yonie. Then they had Aishie (I don't remember his real name) and then triplets - a girl and two boys. I forget all their names. :(. Then they had Elchanon. And then they adopted Shuvie. Meanwhile, it turned out that Yonie has Asperger's and needed to be watched all the time because he liked fire. Too much.
I met Yonie. He's a blue eyed blond, and could be their biological child. But his eyes burn black. Seriously.
And Shuvie has Down syndrome. Nine children, three adopted and two with special needs. And Micha was laid off for part of this year. And they organized this anyway, with Siggy and the boys doing a lot of the physical work because Micha also was very ill earlier this year. I say the boys because the older girl is away at school, and the younger one was with friends. Yonie is in a special yeshiva.
We lucked out with the hospitality, staying with a really nice young couple only a few houses from the synagogue. Our ride/passenger wasn't so lucky and ended up with the organizers - and was upset. I mean, she'd decided to go *Thursday* night, and Siggy had only had set up and clean up and her kids to worry about. How could they be so disorganized and rude? *sigh*
We lit candles in the synagogue where we were eating, although my hostess would have been quite happy to set me up with candles. She did, in fact, lend me a hat. In my rush to leave, I forgot the nice hat I was going to wear that weekend, so all I had was my rather plain crocheted snood. (a solid crochet, btw, not a net, for those of you thinking about SCA type snoods.) It wouldn't have been awful - the snood is a very pretty dark beige that would go with both outfits - but a hat is better for synagogue. She herself wears wigs, but she had the perfect hat for me - a soft black corderoy with a wire stiffened brim that not only fit my head but my face. It was so comfortable and pretty that I wanted to steal it. :) Fortunately I did not act on that desire.
So, we lit and the women chatted while the men said the afternoon service (having lit candles, it was Shabbat for us, and therefore it was the next day and saying the Friday afternoon service was inappropriate for us). I met a nice bunch of ladies, mostly younger than I was, and mostly concerned about their very young children. Passaic has a functional eruv, which means they could carry on the Sabbath. Have to say, it was nice being in a community where everyone holds by the eruv, as opposed to Flatbush, which has two that almost no one holds by.
We joined the men for the evening service and then filed back down to the shul community room for dinner. We picked a table at random, and were joined by two young families from Flatbush, but there wasn't enough room for both, so one left. The ones that stayed were very nice, and the kids were fun. Since there was only grape juice, we let the young father make kiddush for us, too. Next time, we bring our own wine.
Then it turned out it wasn't their custom to open containers on Shabbat. Fortunately, it is ours, so that was solved - they could use the grape juice and the soda on the table. The dinner was pretty traditional and very good. This we liked because we knew the caterer.
The evening session was about "menuchat hanefesh" - tranquillity of the soul. This confused me at first, but by the time the women's va'ad was in full swing, I pretty much got it. The sesson got a bit touchy feely, but given the subject matter, that was inevitable, and the men had the same experience. Also, the rabbi who made the introduction was hard to follow, though.
We got back around eleven. Duvy, our host, let us in, and we went to our room and got reading material so we could relax a bit before going to sleep. They left their living room lights on, so that was fine. Actually, he said we could even raid their fridge. As I said, we lucked out.
We didn't make to shul the next day until the Torah reading. 8:30 is just too early after a late night. :) To my husband's delight, though, his old study partner showed up. Ira has lived in Passaic for a number of years now. He's become a sort of Chasid, which has been very good for him, although the long beard looks...wrong.
After the kiddush and before lunch we had another session. I admit to panicking at that point - all I'd had was tea that morning, and the kiddush was basically cake. There had been fish, but it was gone before I got there. I had a piece of cake, but I knew I'd need protein way before lunch started. Luckily, Siggy understood and sent one of her sons to get me a piece of chicken, and he came back with just the right amount.
This session was led by a very young rabbi who is going to be one of the greats. I'm serious. I've read what he's written, I've heard him speak, I know what others say about him, and he has a major future. His wife, too, is making a name for herself all by herself. Impressive. It was about ahavat HaShem and yirat HaShem - love of Gd and fear of Gd. Again, the subject matter was more esoteric than I was able to handle, but the discussion that followed was interesting. I couldn't participate much, but I could listen.
Lunch, with the same young family, was nice. And then we went back to our hosts, and I proceeded to be very stupid. I should have napped. I did, but not for very long. Instead, I read some very *bad* fanfic. I mean, truly bad. It was a Smallville, chosen solely on the basis that it was long. And the plot? Martha fixes Clark up with Lex because Clark has come out as gay, and she wants him to have a rich husband who'll take care of him. And Clark is a total girl in this - he bottoms nearly exclusively, he doesn't get pregnant, but he realizes it can happen (Lex is thrilled), Lex gives him an engagement ring and sets the date for the wedding before proposing (April, btw, well before Clark graduates from high school.) And for reasons I do not understand, engineers a college scholarship that can't be traced to him. I mean, why bother? Can't a husband pay for a spouse's college? Especially a billionaire? All this plus awkward phrases and conversations, extreme ooc for everyone and spelling the word "moot" as "mute".
And I read the whole thing.
Which mean that I fell asleep during Rebbitzen Beckhofer's va'ad in the last session, although I could also blame that on the warm, dark room - the shul turned off the lights and ac between services. Given the size of the sanctuary, it only makes sense. The introduction was something else - the subject was Mesiret hashanah - how to improve oneself in the coming year, and the speaker was excellent, and I might do something he suggested - read a mussar book each day. Or, rather, read one on the way to work those mornings I work. Maybe. :)
We said the afternoon service (that was cute - the session took place in the sanctuary, as I mentioned - in the men's side. The *men* left for another room, leaving the women behind. When mincha time came, we had to move out to the women's section.) and moved to the community room for the third meal. Unlike the other meals, this was a function of the synagogue, not Aish Das, even though we sponsored it this week. So, instead of sitting in families, we had separate seating. This created the following exchange - I had finally reached the sink and was about to wash my hands for bread when my husband called out to ask if I'd saved him a seat (he'd been talking with his friend Ira.) "No!" "No?" "Separate!"
He'd had to walk through the room, past tables filled with either men *or* women, and he still didn't figure that out. :) Our rather whiny passenger/ride was at my table, but mostly I chatted with the lady next to me. And then there was evening service - the men disappeared and the women mostly stayed behind - and havdalah, and then a brief chat on future events, and then we went back to pack and return the hat and wait for the car so I could drive it home.
It was very successful, but a bit too much work for the organizing family. Micha is bad at delegating, he said. Any of us would have been glad to help out, too. The next event should be a Sunday before Chanukah. "We can get as much done between breakfast and dinner as we did this Shabbat, and without providing breakfast or dinner.)