Shabbat Chumesh | Tuesday’s Prologue
Shabbat Chumesh | Tuesday’s Prologue
By Richard Abbott, UK
A jewish person told me once that the days in Hebrew are numbered from the Shabbat because its such an important day it’s like all the others point towards it. Sunday is the head of the week and then Monday is ‘day two’. The same person said that observing shabbat is like having a little holiday every week. It sounded wonderful and I wondered if it was true.
Well, it’s true. I’m only observing very few mitzvas of shabbat and already my week builds towards shabbat in a way it never did to Saturday, certainly never towards my childhood’s xtian Sundays. Even as a child who loved G-D and read bible and cared about religion church was a chore. Shul is a beacon. I cannot wait to attain a Torah-true shabbat. If G-D blesses me with achieving that I think little could compare. This week I got the opportunity to visit the synagogue midweek for Rabbi Daniel’s lecture comparing Halakha to Shariah law. Profoundly interesting, the premise, the detail and oy the discussion.
James and I have discussed our love of Jewish culture even down to the stereotypical inflections of language and gesticulation. I feel there is a melancholy humour present both in demeanour of the people and in the harmony of klezmer which is born out of Judaism’s bitter-sweet history as the Chosen.
In trying to understand these things we observe they quickly have become a humorous way for us to revel in Jewish culturalism as a backdrop to Judaism proper. I saw him from a hundred feet away and waved, he saw me and shrugged. I shrugged back and the whole time it took me to approach him outside BBC’s broadcasting house we were engaged in ‘Yiddish-shrug tennis’.
If we ever meet, you and I, I’ll give you a game.
We chated about this and that; my heritage is Irish so he loves to put on Irish accents and tell Irish jokes, mostly to make me cringe. His impression is just good enough that passers-by would mistake us for rare be-yarmulked Irish Jews and just so bad that Irish people would mistake us for putzes.
Anton was waiting outside the gate of the shul with another man, new to me, who turned out to be called Richard. Neither of them were wearing kippot, we two goyim were.
We were buzzed in from upstairs. This was unusual because someone normally comes down and greets us but of course they can’t use the buzzer on shabbat so none of us knew it was an option.
I started to think about the disproportionate yarmulkification of our group relating to something Rod Bryant said once about the responsibility of the ger to Israel; to remind them of the wonder of choseness.
It could be thought of thus:
‘The Jews are a light to the nation and the noachites are a light to Jews.’
Perhaps the image struck me and Anton equally: when we entered he made a point of choosing a really nice one from the shul’s own kippah-lending box with a joke that ‘he’ll treat himself to a nice one as there’s no cue today’.
Rabbi Daniels pushed through our group quite preoccupied with a step ladder and we followed him with curiosity. We followed him out to the back yard where he was dismantling a Sukkot that’s been there since October last year.
“It’s supposed to be a temporary dwelling,” he joked “If it stays here forever, not so much the mitzvah!” Aton rattled up the rickety ladder and started helping him while James and I asked him awkward questions about Sukkot.
After a while people started arriving for the lecture so James and I busied ourselves in the kitchen
making tea. A long suffering Jewess leaned in and intoned to me;
“It’s a good thing to see.” I assume she meant men making ourselves useful. Over the evening several times she would lean in and whisper something funny. I think I have a friend there.
James offered to show me the lady’s balcony. “It’s fine to?”
“It’s fine to.”
“I figured since you offered but a new etiquette is never automatic so it’s good to check.”
We looked down on the Aron Kodesh. Seeing is from this angle was strange. The lights were dimmed and inside the ‘Holy Cupboard’ was the law of G-D patiently awaiting Shabbat.
The lecture was good. It elucidated much for me and as time when on and words became rich we the assembly chimed in on this point or that. Afterwards my long suffering Jewess leaned in again while I was washing up cups and congratulated me on a question. This is very Jewish.
Never ‘Did you learn anything at school today?’
Always ‘Did you ask any good questions at school today?’
I wore this whisper in my ear proudly on my heart. I still want to please Jews, I want to do Jewish things, I want to look and speak and gesticulate Jewishly. Eventually only James, Rabbi Daniels, another big bearded man and I were left. The big bearded man stood close to me and we all waxed hebraical. We discussed meat and kosher and my vegetarianism and various Jewish communities in the UK and great bearded wise men that the two elders among us knew personally. It was lovely. Like being the last ones to leave the party because you’re friend enough to help clean up.
James and I helped the Rabbi shut down the lights and lock all the doors, he offered us a lift but James wanted a chat as we walked home. We fared him well and took to the limestone paving slabs and gargoyle speckled streets of clifton. We headed towards the downs. Something was bothering him but it was all tangled up so it took a while to unpick the real issue.
We passed a young Muslim man in a traditional thawb and taqiyyah. I smiled and nodded at him from within our wildly gesticular, bearded and be-yarmulked debate. He smiled back warmly. James and I continued chatting, rains came so we sheltered under a tree. This wasn’t working so we moved to a shop doorway. We were on to critiquing the respective conversion processes of Safardi and Ashkenazi Beit Dins as drunk men passed by shouting and gobbling chips (fries if you’re American). We were an island of Judaism in the bodies of gerim in a sea of goyim on a Tuesday night. I had to go, work tomorrow, but I was very pleased that Judaism was spreading its seeds in my life. The new Hebrew shoots were sprouting through the cracks of ha shavua.