Saturday, April 17, 2010


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An Evening Out

Rainy, chilly, and then warm inside, catching up with our friend Laurie, and then rainy, chilly again as I leave the sanctuary to wait outside for our friend Karol to arrive. Has she ever been to a synagogue?

Yes, in college with her roommate; she went to Rosh Hashanah services at a Reform temple.

There's a lot of Hebrew in our service, I tell her. She had lived in Israel for seven months during the Gulf War and had studied Hebrew then.

It's a small world, it strikes me as we're finding our seats:

Of course, a woman I met in my Cultural Intelligence course this semester was referring to a fellow congregant when she told me about a new girlfriend she was seeing. I didn't know it, though, till I saw the two of them, sitting a few rows back from us, looking that blissful-new-couple way.

And a small world again: Karol's Ironman Triathlon captain was singing in our shul's chorus, she told me. They caught up after services.

In between, I sat there, wishing I could force myself to come weekly, despite working full-time and being in a Master's program the rest of the time. When we get there, we're always glad we came because it's meditative and joyous and sad and melodic and thought-provocative and relaxing and over-stimulating and poignant and imperfect and poetic and profound. Every time.

Most Friday nights, by contrast, when we're not at shul, it's TV-laden, Facebook-driven, cat-filled and mostly positively tranquilizing. Pat and the cats are the sum of humanity for the evening, rather than hundreds of worshipers, among whom we have a few friends who are always glad to see us.

One difference this time: a friend *from high school* who's not Jewish and who's heterosexual, accompanying us. Over the years, we've only invited one other non-Jewish friend to join us at services because she was visiting the U.S. on business from India and we thought it might be interesting for her.

Our Indian friend told us that it reminded her of what she had read about the Shakers, the way a number of us swayed a bit, forward and back, as we recited our standing prayers. (Those of us who did so likely spent years at a yeshiva/Orthodox Jewish day school, where that's how we were taught to pray -- swaying to and fro and standing with our heels together, always, to ensure optimal respect to God.)

It was more meaningful to me to have a friend from my teenage years with us last night. Back then (and still now occasionally) I spent so much time trying to fit into the mainstream, which I always thought this friend embodied. Turns out that all of us have huge differences between us and some striking common ground.

All we used to have in common was our love of skiing; that a number of our teachers mistook us for each other; and that we both enjoyed laughing. Turns out that both of us love to write -- she's a professional writer; both of us lived in Israel for a significant time during our twenties; and both of us felt part of a religious minority (she's a Christian Scientist).

Who knew when we were sitting on chairlifts or giggling during class all those years ago that we'd be spending April 16, 2010, celebrating the Jewish Sabbath at the world's largest synagogue for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews and our family and friends?

Yesterday afternoon, I tweeted, "Looking forward to going to shul this evening for the Yom Ha'atsma'ut service, and to a friend from high school, joining us."

Karol responded with a comment on my Facebook profile: "hey me too what a coincidence! :)"


Anonymous said...

I have no idea why this made me cry?Thats not true. You made the mundane and the sacred come alive, in both, your life and your relationship with your friend. The ability to empathize with the duality of our experiences is sacred.
Thank you,

Sarah Siegel said...

Thanks for your kind feedback, Denise. Glad you were moved and told me so.