Sometimes I’m not sure what to write. I am treated with so much kindness at shul that I sometimes scheme a little to avoid having favours done for me, because I can’t do anything to repay it. A woman hugs me and draws me in for a kiss on the cheek when she sees me at Kabbalat Shabbat. The gabbai takes me aside to teach me to chant the birkot hashachar, tells me the nuances of meaning in certain Hebrew words, drives me home while blasting Carlebach melodies through open windows. An Asian-Canadian woman talks to me a little about her conversion process; she was raised Protestant, and when I say “Catholic” we both laugh. Eternal enemies. The cantor’s voice is so resonant that I feel the vibrations in the soles of my feet, in my fingertips where they hold the siddur. An intense young man wears four clips on his kippa to keep it in place on his very straight hair, and he politely refuses to shake my hand because he’s shomer negiah. I’m pleased with myself for knowing the term right away. We pound on the table singing zemirot. Instead of nitpicking or finding me inadequate, everyone seems to exaggerate what I’ve learned or what I practice, especially when they introduce me to others: “She already keeps kosher!” (Well, I don’t separate utensils yet but) “She reads Hebrew!” (A bit, painfully slowly) “She’s been attending shul very regulary!” (More like every other week, but okay.)
My friend the gabbai spends hours with me going over the siddur, picking out books for me from the synagogue library, teaching me tropes and melodies, showing me how tefillin are wrapped, and basically everything he can think of. He gives me twenty dollars in cash, unprovoked and randomly, but when I politely refuse he tells me that a very holy woman he knows gave it to him at a cemetery visit and told him to do something good with it. As it happens, I was nearly broke and wondering what I’d eat for Shabbat. So I take the money.
I’m not sure why I’m so surprised, but I am.