Mama Deb (mamadeb) wrote,
Mama Deb


Yesterday, jonbaker's cousin Jomack was called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. We are about as proud as two cousins who only see him a couple times a year can be.

His family lives in Park Slope, which is a tad too far for us to walk (others can and do manage it.) It's also where we lived for ten years and where I still work. They go to the Park Slope Jewish Center, which is egalitarian Conservative (almost aggressively so, although it's actually mellowed since I was last there, seventeen years ago.) This also presented a problem - Orthodox Jews cannot participate in prayer services in places without a mechitza (a physical (and some say visual, too) separation between men and women.) The only exception are temporary minyans, as in a house of mourning, and even then, the men and women separate themselves as much as possible. So, that meant two problems to solve - hospitality and what to do about daavening.

We solved the first problem by calling our old rabbi. He was going to offer us a place in his own home but then remembered that someone else had asked for hospitality that same weekend first, so he put us up in an empty apartment - the owners were in South Africa. It was about a block away, so we would still go to them for meals. The second problem worked out by itself - we'd simply go to our old shul Shabbos morning, rush through shacharit and musaf, and then go on to PSCJ as observers more than participants. (And staying in that apartment was very, very nice - it meant we had privacy - I wouldn't have to bring a robe or wear a hair covering all the time. The only problem was that the bed I slept on was a board covered by a very thin futon. Jonathan's was thicker and had a springy surface.)

When we walked into B'nai Jacob, it had changed. Instead of daavening in the social hall as they had when we left, they were upstairs in the largely un-refurbished main sanctuary. And there was only one face I recognized in the women's section.

Our cousin Judy. Who was the one (with her husband and son) staying with the rabbi. They live in Riverdale, NY - even further to walk. Just. So funny. We walked back to the rabbi's house together - the rabbi could rely on us to show them the way, after all. And their son Benjamin had already made friends with the rabbi's youngest sons (and the little girl between them.)

And dinner was lovely - the rebbitzen (and, I suspect, her 17 and 19 year old daughters, who happened to be home that weekend) is a fine cook. We were also really comfortable - it may have been six years ago, but we spent many a Shabbos and Yom Tov dinner and lunch around that table. Even if the faces had changed - either aged or just new - it was normal for us.

We got up in time to go to B'nai Jacob the next morning, where they gave Jonathan the opening psalms. We thought it would make us late for the bar mitzvah - our cousins left before we did - it didn't. We got to PSJC during the repitition of the morning service, and found the main sanctuary filled. PSJC was designed to be an Orthodox synagogue, so it has a balcony. They unlocked it for us (and it got populated, too), and we had a fine view of things. We sat next to each other, but such that there was a wooden bracket between us, and he also put his tallis bag there.

When I had gone there before, there were signs requiring eveyone to wear a hat and a tallis. This time, they only required hats. There was a pile of green yarmulkes and another of lace doilies with bobby pins, but I, of course, had a head scarf on. Many women wore the doilies, many women (and a fair number of men, including the bar mitzvah boy's non-Jewish father) did NOT wear tallisim, so it was all a choice. This was nice.

The Torah reading was interesting - first, all of the readers were women (except that Jomack read the final portion, and very well, too.) Second, they had multiple readers and the rabbi said it was an extra challenge for them because, unlike other week, they were reading the full portion. It's parshas Yitro, where we hear the Ten Commandments, and if it were put in thirds like the others, they'd only hear them every three years. So this one they say completely every year. This explanation - well, in O shuls, we read the complete portion every week *and* only one person reads it. More than that - the first leiner was another cousin, Terri, who could certainly have leined the whole thing by herself, not just the first seventh. So, I really don't get it.

However. They were all fine, and Jomack did a very impressive job with both maftir (the final reading) and the Haftarah (the reading from prophets.) He also gave a wonderful speech - one it was clear he'd done all the work on, and that he'd worked hard on it. And that he had a lot to say and knew how to say it. Pretty darn good for a thirteen year old. He apparently startled the rabbi, who had told him to read the parasha twice and come up with an idea - she didn't expect him to choose the 2nd commandment (no graven images.) He also expounded about Yitro - Moses' father-in-law, who is the only non-Jew to have parashah named for him, and how that shows we need to learn from all nations. As I mentioned, his father isn't Jewish. He was, however, immensely proud. (We didn't see any of Pappo's family there. That is very, very sad.)

I do have a couple of observations that may seem judgemental, and I'm sorry about that but - why were people (men and women) wearing *jeans* to a religious service? That women wore pants - okay, fine. It's 2008, a major presidential candidate is wearing (unflattering) pantsuits, and pants are simply a normal part of a woman's wardrobe. The rabbi herself wore a pantsuit. (Confession time - I thought, at first, that she was a teenaged boy - she had a masculine haircut and deepish voice and her suit jackett, along with her tallit, obscured her shape. She looked like a somewhat chubby teen-aged Jason Bateman.) So, I wouldn't have blinked at dress pants. But jeans? Some of the older kids looked like they'd stopped by the shul on their way to the park. Part of honoring the Shabbat is wearing special, nicer clothes so that we are aware it's not just another day, and so we know that shul on Shabbat is special.

And I seriously don't understand why women wear kippot. Is it because men wear kippot? Why would they want to look like men? It reads like "men do it, so it must be better." And, well.

Anyway, after services, there was kiddush and a nice spread (and it was kosher - we checked the caterer.) I didn't eat a huge amount because there was a big crowd of congregants and family and because we were going to have lunch at the rabbi's, but what there was was good. I don't do well in crowds - after talking to a few relatives, I escaped for a while, waiting for things to ease up. Then I returned, spoke to a few more people, told Jomack's parents how wonderful he'd been and then walked to the rabbi's house alone - Jonathan was having too good a time to drag him away. His family sees each other mostly on Chanukah and for funerals - it was nice to have a different sort of celebration.

My in-laws were not there. Their subway broke down at Wall Street and, instead of getting in a cab (which they should have done in the first place, given how difficult stairs are for them), they went home. Everyone was disappointed and her cousin Florence was very upset - she'd come up from Arizona just for her great-nephew's bar mitzvah, after all.

Lunch was lunch. Jonathan came in somewhere before dessert, and led the grace after meals. (Cuteness - Judy's husband Roger is a kohen, and should have gotten the honor. "Roger's a koihen!" "It's okay. I waive." (He waves.) "Anyway, you're a new Levi and mishpocha (family.)")

Then we went back to CBJ for afternoon and evening services, where Jonathan got his first Levi aliyah in our old shul (startling those few people who knew him, which was fun) and later Roger gave us a ride to our bus stop.

Being in Park Slope was surreal. Our shul was full of new faces and new arrangements; we'd never daavened in the PSJC main sanctuary, and the kiddush was held where we had daavened for many years, during the days of the law suit, before we bought our own building. And then...

We live in a very Orthodox neighborhood. It closes down before sunset on Friday and stays that way until Saturday night. Not totally - there are a few non-Jewish businesses and there is business for them on Saturday - but in large part. The traffic gets much, much lighter, and most of the people you see on the streets are very well dressed, with none of the women carrying purses. And you smile and say "Good Shabbos" or "Shabbat shalom" when you pass them. We're spoiled.

Park Slope is NOT such a neighborhood. When we walked onto Seventh Avenue (the main business street), it was clearly Saturday. The people were running errands or going into the many, many coffehouses. And random people don't wish you peace of the day. Also, things are spread over a greater distance - running into someone I knew from shul in Park Slope was an occasion. Here, it's nearly daily because things are closer together. And, well, flatter. (Why it's called "Flatbush"). So, it was different. But the tiny Orthodox community and the larger Conservative one are both thriving, so it's all good.
Tags: family, religion
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