Shabbat Shti | A toddler at a tea party
Shabbat Shti | A toddler at a tea party
By Richard Dirigible Abbott, UK
This time I walked to the Park Row Schul, proudly emblazoned with my yarmulke, and a big bearded grin. I was rolling on the adrenaline from last week’s success and I was eager to arrive home with my yehudim achim.
I arrived before James, my noahide buddy, and passed through the great black gates of the Bristol Hebrew Congregation. I looked at my watch, it was a couple of minutes after ten.
“Sorry I’m late, shabbat shalom,” I said, greeting the congregant on the gate.
“Don’t worry about it, many more will be later than this.”
It sounded like a complaint but it wasn’t, it was a statement of hope, ‘please G-D more will join us.’ I believe, if not today, his prayer will be answered. I hear rabbis talk more and more about having their tzitzit tugged by the nations, perhaps more accurately by the returning Jews.
Something is happening, it seems, I want to be ready. I must confess I’m not yet.
Entering the main hall of the Beit Knesset (house of meeting) my born-jewish friend stormed over to my glowering and tapping his watch with his angry looking finger.
“What time do you call this?” his harsh whisper accused. I stuck my tongue out at him, he knows how nervous I am about all this and he loves to tease me about it. I reached up for a siddur, but he shook his head and lead me to the seat beside him, where he had prepared for me with siddur, chumash and a sweet left over from the bar mitzvah last week. I had less success following the service this week, which was a good indicator I need to practice my Hebrew. My wife is away visiting family this week to which my traditional response would be to binge-watch Netflix series and robot films, perhaps instead I’ll have to binge-practice Hebrew on memrise and watch Yentl. Last week I had lots of support from James, but David trained with me (we’re both primary school teachers) so he knows that what I want is not the same as what I need. “What is the Torah portion this week?” “Where in the year? I can’t tell you.” I said chickening out.
“You haven’t tried,” he was right, I had assumed I didn’t know “It’s somewhere on this part of the page,” He added.
“Korach?” I surprised myself. I must have head it mentioned somewhere on facebook. “You passed the test.” I know he was still teasing but even still, it felt good to hear him say that. A man joined us wearing a colorful talit, he fixed me with an inquisitive, I didn’t find out till later what it was about me that caught his attention. The colorful man chose his seat on the other side of David from me. My Israeli from last week joined the group, he walked around the assembly ‘shabbat shaloming’ people and then spotted me! His face lit up, I reached over and shook his hand, he knew I was goyish and it mattered not one jot, he was pleased I had come back. I think I have a friend there.
The Aron Kodesh was opened and I bowed to the word of G-D. With sincerity and truth I was honored to stand before the written record of when G-D spoke to Israel panim el panim (face to face) and passed down m’dor l’dor (from generation to generation). I didn’t know the righteous prayers, the hebrew or the tradition so for that moment I could not stand in prayer as one of the congregation. I bowed and called out to G-D with my whispered prayers and singing heart.
“Thank You for letting me stand here G-D, thank You for leading me to this place. Please teach me to do the things that honor You the most, in this moment, in utter sincerity I want Your will and nothing else. May Your name be raised up, may Your will be done, bring the universal knowledge of You to the world and if I may, please let me serve You. Amein.”
It’s a little prayer but it’s what I had. G-D is a father. I’ve seen my father be pleased with some pretty meagre gifts over the years and accepted them with grace and genuine happiness. He starts us little and teaches us to be bigger. As the torah passed by, David went down to touch his tzitzit on the torah and kiss it. The colorful man was at the back of the group and couldn’t reach, so David touched his tzitzit to those of the colorful man, passing on the blessing of G-D’s word. As they returned to their seats beside me, I heard the colorful man grumble humorously that David was a ‘young whipper-snapper’ and should have ‘cleared the path for the more senior congregant’. David made some clever quip that failed to hear and, with this, the two were friends.
Later in the service I heard the colorful man whisper to David conspiratorially. “Your neighbor beside you, is he a Jew?” I was taken aback for an instant and I felt a little alien until I realized why he was asking. I gazed around the room and counted all the Jewish men of bar mitzvah age. I did not include myself in the count, I did not include James in the count, the count came to nine. It was a sorry sight, such passionate and committed Jews were denied again a full minyan. “We’re short of a minyan?” I asked David, the same thought crossed our minds, we’ve all seen the Larry David sketch when he’s accosted outside a synagogue. If you haven’t you should. “I could wander the streets calling out for Jews,” said David. “Actually the University’s having an open day, there will be Jews out there.” I was not taken seriously, which is fair enough really. “Any chance you could hurry up this conversion?” he asked me. “We need Jews.”
I’m a clumsy pre-jew; awkward and ignorant. My hebrew is garbled and confusing, I know just enough to say what I need but only those closest to me understand my gist. But then I’ve only been doing this a year. The bar Mitzvah boy last week has had thirteen! By his standards I’m a toddler at a tea party, knocking things over and peeing my pants. I am utterly reliant on the adults around me but some day I’ll stand on my own two feet. “Baby steps, brother, baby-steps. I’ll get there.” Baruch HaShem.