Tagged: judaism

Almost the only Jew in town

I haven’t posted in awhile, because this fall I had to move from my happy city apartment (within walking distance from two Conservative shuls) back home to a rural village in Eastern Ontario.  When I told people that I was moving there, one of the old guys at the morning minyan said, “Oh yeah, the synagogue in [Nearest Sizeable Town] has been gone for years.  I was the last one to daven there.”  I heard of one family that was there at some point in the recent past, but apparently it’s like all the Jewish people here have been driven out of Spain.  Based on walking around my little village during Hanukkah and looking for lights in the windows, I can say that I seemed to be the only one observing it.  Kosher butcher?  Ha ha, no.  Population is around 3500 people (this includes people living further out in the country), but there are three churches, two Protestant and one Catholic.  At the little diner up the street, they put ground pork in the hamburgers.  (When I informed the waitress that I sorta keep kosher, she warned me about it.)

I know there are plenty of worse places to live, and I’m still in touch with my rabbi via email, but it’s tough for me to feel severed from the community.  I have to make my own Jewish experiences happen as best I can, instead of being able to observe and learn from the people around me.

I had to move on Shabbat, just as Sukkot was beginning–the moving company only gave me one other choice of date, and that was Yom Kippur, so I said no.  I couldn’t celebrate the holiday at home, too exhausted and busy with unpacking.  For weeks, though, I had recurring dreams that I was building a Sukkah.  It was a little every night, fleeting images of setting posts and beams, hanging canvas, laying branches.  Since I do so much reading during the day on Convert Stuff, I have related dreams pretty often (we’ve all had the Nazi dreams, let’s be real).  Sometimes I have feverish pre-Shabbat dreams about what I’m gonna cook, discovering in a panic that my menu won’t work because the dessert has dairy.  But this was slow and progressive, consistent from night to night.  Finally I had the last one: I dreamed that my job was finished and the Sukkah was built, and I was sitting down inside it to eat.  I felt accomplished, at peace.  And that was it.

Now in December, my Hanukkah went off without a hitch.  I learned the blessings and songs, set out my chanukkiyah, lit the candles, and cooked latkes, falafel, sufganiyot, perogies.  When the 7th night fell on Erev Shabbat, I carved the bottoms of regular Shabbat candles with a knife so they’d fit in the menorah, candles big enough to burn from the early, early sunset (4:05pm) to nightfall.  It was lonely, somehow lonelier than if I’d been alone in my apartment–I feel self-conscious singing the berachot in front of my mother.  But I still loved it and was sad when it was over.

“But this isn’t actually…a rejection of Jesus, is it?” my mother asked.  I was stunned, because I’d thought she understood what I was doing.  I didn’t want to tell her that yes, that’s part of the deal, because I knew it would hurt her feelings.  But I said yes, I have some theological problems with Jesus, and I’m not just doing it because Conservative Judaism is easier on homosexuality than Catholicism is.  I’m doing it because I love the whole religion.  I love the people.  This is how I want to live.

It hurts that people approved more when I was miserable and angry inside the Catholic Church–people who love me.  I know that this is just a communication thing and a time thing, and that everyone else will get used to it.  It will look less alienating and scary to my family as they realize that I’m not trying to deny my ancestors or cut myself off from their traditions, but meanwhile…meanwhile all I want is to go to shul on a Saturday night for Mincha, Seuda Selishit, Ma’ariv and Havdalah.  I want to sing the goofy setting of Adon Olam and head downstairs for kiddush on Shabbat morning, eating herring on crackers just because dammit I will start liking herring.  My friend the gabbai hugging me when he sees me in the crowd.  The sunlight coming through the windows at breakfast after morning minyan, shining on the transparent pink slivers of lox on the bagels, on the sliced melon and bowls of strawberries.  People calling out questions after a d’var Torah.

All I want is everything, I’m greedy.  And I’m lucky, because I live in the age of the internet and I can still find ways to not be alone. I wonder about how people did it in other periods of this country’s history, when they really were alone.  There’s a Jewish graveyard a few miles from here, and I think about those people.  How do we live without the others?

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Staring

There’s an Orthodox shul somewhere close by in the neighbourhood of my Conservative one–I’ve never been there, and I’m not sure where it is, and I only know it exists because I see the Black Hats wandering in the neighbourhood at the same time as I’m heading to services.

I’m gonna hypothesize here that a lot of converts have a bad habit of staring at (or surreptitiously watching) anyone who’s visibly, observantly Jewish.  Especially if (like me) you grew up in a place where there just were none around, but maybe even if you didn’t.  Seeing a man in a kippa means that I will be subtly watching him until he’s out of my immediate range.  I still pay close attention to the other people shopping around me in the kosher section.  It just always represented something I was relentlessly curious about, hungry for.  In Catholicism, one of the reasons for the Roman collar and the religious habit is to make people remember that the spiritual world exists, to provoke that hunger if possible.  Visibility.

And added to that, with the Black Hats, there’s the more general curiosity about an insular group.  They look out of place next to everyone else on the street, they don’t acknowledge me if I give a little shabbat shalom nod as I pass them on the sidewalk, and they make me think of Chaim Potok novels, which were one of my first introductions to Jewish literature.  They’re also just visually interesting–there’s always a few in the crowd who are dapper and make the uniform look good, and some young guys who don’t really have beards yet but are trying hard, and some who are a mess of flapping coat panels and fringes and poorly fitted trousers.  And the old men look like ghosts.

I usually wear a hamsa necklace, and when I’m on my way to or from shul I wear a little crocheted beret, but not a kippa.  Lately I’ve started to sometimes wear a Magen David instead of the hamsa, as a more recognizable symbol, and I actually feel a little self-conscious about it.  Not unpleasantly so, but I wonder if people notice it, if it makes them assume different things about me than they otherwise might have, if (as teachers always told us before we left on field trips) I’m “being a good ambassador.”  Strangers seeing me on the bus or at the grocery store will see this visual cue and assume that I’m Jewish, and that’s new for me.  If I were on display to the degree that the yeshivish guys are, I think I’d be pretty neurotic about it, but maybe their thoughts and motives are different.

So I guess I shouldn’t be staring.  Sorry, bros.  But the other night, on Erev Rosh Hashanah, I was walking home from shul by myself.  It’s a long walk, it’s not always well-lit, and really it’s probably not a good idea for me to take it after dark.  But as I turned onto the main road, this bunch of yeshivish guys were walking ahead of me.  Wherever they were headed, it was the same route as I was taking, so I trailed behind them as we walked through side streets, alongside city parks, under an overpass.  I would have been very nervous doing that with a crowd of secular young men–if I did it at all.  I’m not someone who worries a lot about this, compared to other women I know, and a few other dudes on the street won’t faze me, but a bunch of guys who know each other?  That’s trouble.  Even if all they do is yell something.  But I knew these guys wouldn’t touch me,  and they wouldn’t yell dirty shit at me, and I felt safe until we parted ways.

Chesed

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.

Sods and rinds to cover your flake, cake and tea for supper

I was a picky eater as a kid.  I still am in a lot of ways, but I’m more open to trying new foods, which has been one of the fun things about exploring Judaism and kosher food.  The traditional Ashkenazi stuff has all been new to me, and a lot is stuff I would never have considered trying otherwise.  Gefilte fish, it’s a problem.  I was delighted and vindicated to read that the British Jews do fry it, as that seemed to me like the only possible strategy when I first opened a package of it.  My people!  You understand!  Similarly, cold marinated herring in a jar just creeps me out.  But kippers, nice and hot and buttery, that I can do.

The meal above is one of my fusion attempts, trying to merge stuff that’s traditional for me with a Jewish diet.  Kippers with butter, toasted challah rolls with more butter and a dab of Marmite, and by G-d a cup of tea.  (The Guinness glass to the side is unrelated as it’s my all-purpose water glass.)  The challah rolls are working for me like gangbusters–putting out two full loaves every Shabbat is just wasteful for me, living alone, but a bag of the small rolls can last me pretty well in the fridge and they look cute.  It looks to me like having two rolls set out under the cover fulfills the obligation just like having two big loaves, since a roll is certainly more than the size of an olive and complete in itself, but I might be wrong.  If you already like Marmite or if you think you can appreciate the delights of a salty-yeasty table spread, then I can tell you that yeah, putting it on challah is a good idea.  Is it kosher?  Looks that way!

Kippers do have a bone issue, so not so good for Shabbat, but the ones I bought fresh from the fish section had wayyyy more bones than the frozen Neptune-brand package which is boil in the bag–if those could be heated up and drained before candle-lighting and kept warm for dinner, they’d work.  All dat Omega-3 fo me, and apparently they’re not too mercurified to eat more than once a week.

Tea with dinner is a major comfort thing for me that reminds me of my mother; I don’t know how widespread it is outside the Maritimes, and it feels like it’s in decline, but when I was in the hospital here in Ontario it was served with every meal, so who knows.  I made tea ahead of time for Shabbat dinner this week (I like it strong) and it felt like everything clicked into place.  A nice warm teapot on the Shabbat table is, dare I say it, heimisch.

Kiddush Levana

Good are the radiant stars our God created,
He formed them with knowledge,
understanding and deliberation.
He gave them strength and might
to rule throughout the world;

Full of splendour, radiating light,
beautiful is their splendour throughout the world;
Glad as they go forth, joyous as they return,
they fulfill with awe their Creator’s will.

Glory and honour they give to His name,
jubilation and song at the mention of His majesty.
He called the sun into being and it shone with light.
He looked and fashioned the form of the moon.

Koren-Sacks siddur translation.

Sometimes it seems like either I get my apartment properly ready for Shabbat and have a proper dinner, or I actually get out to services, but not both.  I was too exhausted on Saturday morning to do anything but sleep, and I was late enough getting out of the house for evening services that I might as well have not bothered, because they were all locked up–I felt like a criminal creeping around the grounds trying the doors and glancing up at the security cameras.  Catholic churches are almost always open, even if you’ve missed Mass, if you want to go in and just chill (these days that applies only to the bigger ones, but it’s still the ideal).  Jewish buildings are high security because unfortunately there’s a need for it.

So I walked home again, did havdalah, and because the moon was bright tonight I went out on my balcony to say kiddush levana.  There is an overhang but it’s close enough to open sky for me, and I feel a little oddly exposed when I pray out there–I live in a complex with two buildings facing each other, so often when I’m on my balcony I’m trying to avoid eye contact with other people out on theirs.  But I love kiddush levana, even though I wish I could be saying it properly with a minyan.  The prayers are beautiful, and it represents a healthy balance between the human desire to venerate creation and the demand of monotheism to worship only one God.  Kiddush Levana has the beauty of paganism, restrained and heightened by its self-imposed limits.  I address my shalom aleichem to my view of the city at large, my birth-city which I love; to quote St. Columcille, it is for me “that noble angel-haunted city…the best-beloved place”.

The moon isn’t a deity in Judaism, and we bless it as we bless each other, as equals, all of us in the same universe together and made by a common creator.  And of course in that vein, kiddush levana is especially appropriate tonight as we remember Neil Armstrong:

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.” — Armstrong’s family, announcing his death in a written statement

Shalom aleichem, then.

I cross my heart & hope to die but not this year

All my relations:  I had lunch today with my aunt, for the first time in awhile.  She’s had cancer since last Christmas and is still going through chemo, but she seems to be doing better.  She’s looking frail, but we didn’t talk about her illness; I asked a couple of open-ended questions and then let the subject drop, as she was more interested in giving me advice about my job search (this has always been one of her favourite activities).  Since we were eating, and since it’s been a pretty major new thing in my life, I told her that I’ve been exploring Judaism and I keep kosher now.  She had to ask what that means and what I can’t eat, which surprised me, but I tried to give a nice concise answer.  “No pork, no shellfish, and I don’t eat meat and dairy in the same meal.  But fish and dairy is okay.”

That sounds complicated, she said.  I explained that it wasn’t as onerous as it might sound, and that I eat very well, and in fact I cook more and  pay better attention to what I’m eating now than I did before.  This was the part that mattered to her–she worries after my eating.  And ordering food wasn’t difficult: chicken breast sandwich with lettuce and mayo, chips, that checks out.  Pepsi, pareve.  Cheesecake was out for dessert, but the apple pie was okay.

I’d been worried about telling her, because she’s often very blunt about personal decisions like that, and (like the rest of my maternal relatives) she’s a good Catholic.  But the only wince-worthy moment was when she earnestly asked if I’d done any networking at synagogue, because “Jewish people are very good with business.”  I just told her no, the people at synagogue were mostly retired or they worked in education, just like our family does.  No special Jewish financial bonuses for signing on.

Life is strange; I saw the sun last night, as I closed my eyes to sleep:  New mitzvot I’m trying to pick up.  I wrote out Modeh/Modah Ani on a card and taped it up by the bed, and Asher Yatzar in the bathroom.  This has helped me practice writing out Hebrew (I am very, very bad at this), and it also helps me read it as I try to focus on those letters and only look down at the transliteration if I have to.  I have pretty extreme anxiety attacks a lot, especially at night, and thanking G-d when I wake up alive and okay makes perfect sense to me.  I really am grateful every time and I love being able to say the prayer.  I did wonder whether I should say it after a substantial nap (like three hours or so), or if I woke up at sometime other than morning, e.g. shift work or just sleeping inverted days.  The impression I get from looking it up is that since Modah Ani does not contain G-d’s name, one can say it after any substantial amount of sleep, but is only obligated to say it when awakening in the morning.  If this is wrong, feel free to correct me.  I sleep weird hours, so it is relevant to my interests.

Asher Yatzar is a weirder one, but I really like it too.  We’ve all had Unfortunate Moments when the tubes and cavities are not in working order, and being grateful for their good functioning seems to me like a better spiritual hygiene practice than only praying for their repair when things are going wrong.  I like the way the blessing brings wonder to a totally mundane function, acknowledging the complexity of the human body.  And I can say it several times a day, which helps me learn.

We had a couple of thunderstorms here recently, too, which gave me the opportunity to say that beracha.  Those berachot on sights, smells and discoveries in nature are part of Judaism’s great beauty to me.  Yes, we can thank G-d in any language at any time for whatever is beautiful to us, but ritualising it gives it greater weight.  I bless G-d for his creations even when I personally don’t feel inspired or impressed, because my reactions and emotions are not what make thunder great.  The fact that I’m used to my digestive system’s functionality doesn’t make it less worthy of praise.  G-d’s activity in the world deserves blessing for the sake of what it is.

Lotta people won’t get no supper tonight

Man, it’s rough.  I don’t know where to start or where to begin:  So this was a week that needed a lot of running around on my part.  And by “running” I do mean walking, but I mean walking with my actual feet, you know what I’m saying?  I depend on public transport, which in my city is pretty good, but inevitably involves a lot of wandering around on pedestrian-unfriendly roads, crossing median strips, hopping the odd snowfence, and waiting for buses in the hot sun.  A complicated trip is fine once in a while, but more than once a week?  I start to feel like I should be walking with a retinue of half-blind cats and mumbling curses against the wicked provost of the last town who drove me out after I made his she-cows’ udders run dry.

One of these was for a job interview in the middle of a “neighbourhood” known as The Trainyards, which seemed to be populated mostly by trucks.  I had a bad feeling about it.  Telemarketing job, whatever, I’m not proud at this point, but when I googled the company name the very first term that popped up was “[COMPANY NAME REDACTED] scam”.  Picking through the search results, I determined that they weren’t so much a scam company as they were jerks who put the hard sell on people and convinced them to spend way too much on cookware.

So I wondered, at what point does it become unethical to work for a company?  If you let yourself fall for a sales pitch and you pay an inflated price, doesn’t caveat emptor put the customer at fault, not the seller?  But it was obvious from reading the comments that people felt jerked around by this company, and also that the sales tactics made them feel embarrassed.

Now that caught my attention particularly because Judaism takes the duty not to embarrass quite seriously.  (E.g. keitzad merakdim lifnei hakallah?)  I like this a lot, because it feels like a sensible and humane thing to take into consideration.  Aggressive sales tactics that make people feel like they’re stupid or poor, cornering people, forcing them to be rude, all of this seems (at best) like a sub-optimal way to treat customers.  I would rather those things didn’t happen.  I don’t blame the sales reps for this because I know full well that the higher levels of the hierarchy make them do it.

Another issue, maybe, is geneivat da’at. This company reportedly told customers its products were made by a famous manufacturer in Germany, but when they arrived the packaging said otherwise.  If true, this is a pretty clear-cut example of the principle as I understand it.  The problem in geneivat da’at is not just financial, since it can apply even to gift situations, and the problem is also not solely that it’s misrepresentation–otherwise saying that the ugly bride is charming and beautiful would also be wrong.  (Well, Shammai thinks it is, because of course he would, but Hillel disagrees.)  What’s the difference between paying a compliment that you don’t mean and misrepresenting a product?

“Any words or actions that cause others to form incorrect conclusions about one’s motives might be a violation of this prohibition. One does not have the right to diminish the ability of another person, Jew or Gentile, to make a fair and honest evaluation, whether in business or interpersonal relations.” [*]

Okay!  This explanation makes it clearer.  When we compliment a bride (or someone’s new shoes or whatever), the key choice has already been made.  The person exercised their judgement in choosing to marry or in choosing to buy.  You’re not persuading them to do something based on bad intel, you’re just being nice.  This matches up pretty well with our pre-philosophical intuitions: most people feel like “white lies” are morally neutral and occasionally required, but we don’t feel that way about shady sales tactics.

I’m not sure it’s possible to avoid buying from or working for any company that does geneivat da’at.  It would be even harder to avoid companies that treat individuals in an undignified way, particularly big corporations.  Workers at the lower levels just don’t have as much control over how they sell, and what they sell.  But I do think it’s something worth considering.

So anyway, all this reading and thinking made me give the job a whole lot of side-eye, but I went to the interview despite it.  And they wanted me to work Saturdays and also didn’t pay that much (I have a realistic idea of how persuasive I actually am over the phone, which is not a whole lot) so forget about it.

Them belly full, but we hungry: Due to this roaming around the city for bad job interviews, and getting sunburned twice, I didn’t make it to shul again for Shabbat morning.  But I did fast for Tisha B’Av.  Sat on some cushions on the floor, didn’t wear shoes, read Lamentations, thought heavy thoughts and watched The Pianist because I hadn’t seen it in a long time.  Fasting is tough.  And may I say, fasting in the Catholic tradition in no way prepares you for Jewish-style fasting.

The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday [Canon 97] to the 59th Birthday [i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday] to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance. [source, bold for emphasis]

A meal and two snacks (collations is the proper Latinate term) is barely a diet, let alone a total fast.  And those are the strictest fasts of the year, while the rest are just eating salmon instead of steak.  If I’d even been allowed water it would have been easier.  But I made it!  Now excuse me while I continue to demolish this frozen cheesecake.

Heavy Mysteries

This classic old George Carlin bit sums up one of the things I love most about both Catholicism and Judaism: both have a concern with rules that gives them a huge capacity for generating convoluted questions and answers.  They approach questions with very different methods, and take them in different directions, but Thomists and Talmudists both make a meal of them.

A rare case where both took a similar approach to a very stupid question is, of course, the barnacle goose, whose medieval legend reads like a version of the famous Canadian house hippo PSA:  the Irish felt that since the birds grew from barnacles or maybe from trees (seems legit) they were technically fish, and therefore okay to eat on Fridays.  Sed contra est:

…Bishops and religious men (viri religiosi) in some parts of Ireland do not scruple to dine off these birds at the time of fasting, because they are not flesh nor born of flesh…. But in so doing they are led into sin. For if anyone were to eat of the leg of our first parent (Adam) although he was not born of flesh, that person could not be adjudged innocent of eating meat.

I admire this effort, but it’s only partially convincing.  Rabbis, meanwhile, were trying to determine if the birds were kosher.  From what I read it seems like there was some appropriate scepticism: “birds growing on trees, if it be true they grow on trees, are not forbidden food.”  Another rabbi declared that since they grew from barnacles they were shellfish and therefore treif, thus agreeing with the categorization of the Irish clerics.

I guess I could draw some larger epistemological point from all this (perhaps that legal reasoning isn’t very useful when your science is shit) but really I just find the barnacle goose delightful.

Achievement Unlocked: First Time at Shul

So I decided this week that it was about time I tried going to Shabbat services.  I searched for the nearest Conservative synagogue, found the address on Google Maps, and set off early this morning.

I’m a pretty good walker.  I’m not fast or athletic in any way, but I have a lot of stamina and I like to take long, meandering walks for hours.  But in the sun it was rough, and that is my own fault for not thinking ahead and getting sunscreen.  It’s a beautiful walk, though, crossing the Experimental Farm and later through a park, down a flight of metal stairs installed on the side of a steep wooded hill.  And then a few streets of auto glass shops, because you can’t win them all.  Like a genius, I didn’t write down Google’s directions so I got lost at one point and had to stop in at a Canadian Tire to look at their maps.

Anyway, I was triumphant and got there in time.  My dad was always mortified if we didn’t make it exactly ten minutes early to church (preferably fifteen) and would fuss about the indignity of walking in on the procession, so that’s what I tried to do.  Instead I found that there was no big hurry, and the small group was still waiting for a minyan.  They have no rabbi of their own at the moment (Catholics can relate!) but they led the services themselves, playing it by ear (Catholics cannot relate).  Everyone was very chill and friendly, especially when I said I wasn’t Jewish and had never done this before, but was interested in converting.  They got me a Chumash and siddur, explained what the little squares mean in the Hebrew text, pointed out that we were using the version that included the matriarchs in the prayers, and generally made sure that I was able to follow along.

I was surprised by how much (spoken) Hebrew I knew.  I only recently learned the aleph-bet and am pretty slow picking my way through it, but during the prayers and Torah and Haftorah I could follow where we were in the English translation based on vocabulary words that I recognised.  Mainly I got confused during prayers that were sung to a melody that everyone else knew but I didn’t, but when those cropped up I just waited, looking at the English text or trying to soak up the melody for next time.  I was also thrown by the Torah scroll being carried through the congregation–I could see how the men were venerating it with the tzitzyot, but did the women do something different? Was I allowed to touch it as a non-Jew?  I didn’t know, so I defaulted to Catholic liturgical training when faced with a new and confusing ritual: do nothing and stand aside to let other people in the row do their thing.

Of course some of the prayers were in English, and I was even asked to read one, which was awesome.  (It was this one, roughly, adapted for Canadian use in our siddur.)  The dvar Torah given by one of the congregation was far more erudite than I’m used to from Catholic homilies–my family were always tough critics, and I learned to dread sermons read word for word at the pulpit.  This guy spoke from notes but they were actually necessary, since he was citing sources and making a scholarly argument.  The other difference I noticed is that it was an argument about liturgy and history, rather than an exhortation to feeling a certain way.  (I get that a dvar and a sermon aren’t the same thing, I’m just comparing because they occupy a similar sort of place in the liturgies.)  My talks with the American Woman about Mormonism have made me more sensitive to religious activities that try to whip up and manipulate the emotions, and the services here were very much not about that.  There were opportunities to focus in on your own feelings, particularly during the silent parts, but no pressure to feel a certain way or to display outward signs of “spiritual feelings”.  This is exactly what I want.

I didn’t feel too out of place.  All the other women wore kippot and most wore tallitot, but no one drew attention to the fact that I wasn’t.  Everyone introduced themselves or introduced me around to other people, made conversation and invited me for kiddush afterwards.  I was awkward and nervous, like I usually am with new people, but it was a pretty forgiving environment.  (I failed to politely escape taking some gefilte fish, even though I cannot deal with that stuff cold.  “Oh, no thanks, not for me.”  “No, HAVE SOME.”  So I did.)  A very motherly rebbetzin said I was brave to come and was surprised that I was trying to keep kosher already, which, my heart grew three sizes that day.  It was really, really great to have encouragement.  She introduced me to her husband, who’s led conversion classes before, and he was also super supportive and suggested I get in touch with him.  Nobody tried to discourage me three times or anything.

In short, OMG WHY DID I NOT TRY THIS SOONER.