Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Gee, You Have Lovely Eyes"

Note: this was supposed to post tomorrow, and I put in the wrong date.  Oh well....
I followed the sound of singing until I found the sanctuary. By the door a man was handing out spiral bound books that were the synagogue's own prayer book. I took one, thanked him, and looked inside the room. There were a couple of hundred people in folding chairs, a small dais for the clergy, and a choir at the far left (that's another difference ~ reform may have a choir; the other flavours of Judaism do not). I peered around and saw a few scattered empty seats but there were two mostly empty rows in the back at the far side of the sanctuary. I asked the man if there was another entrance there; he said yes and I walked out and across the building so I wouldn't disturb the people inside. The penultimate row had a gentleman of about 70 sitting alone near the end of the row. I sat in the last (empty) row right behind him.

I arrived right before V'Shamru, a prayer I like. The tune was the same as back home, and I joined in (quietly).

I noticed a couple of women in the choir looking at me and smiling. My first thought was: "read. I was right. Something's off."

But I also looked around the room. Unexpectedly, I was overdressed. There were lots of women in pants; the men mostly wore open collars; ties were rare, jackets rarer. Plus, as the service went on I realised the members knew each other, for the most part. I was unfamiliar and overdressed. My confidence level went up.

The first big surprise was the healing prayer. The tune was familiar; there was an extra bit but it was all in the prayer book. That was good. But the rabbi said we should all hold hands. This was new and unexpected.

I stepped forward so I was standing next to the man in front of me and took his hand. I dropped my prayer book into an empty seat in front of me so I could see the words, which was good because of that extra bit. I was now standing pretty close to the choir and as I looked up, two women who were holding hands raised their joined hands toward me and I put my free hand on theirs.

This was nice. This was very nice. Yes, I'd prefer to hold women's hands only, but even if I was in drab I'd be holding the gentleman's hand, so... so what. And here I was, dressed, and just another congregant. I was in heaven, if I can use that phrase in this setting. :)

After the prayer the man turned to me and said "your hands are awfully cold." I smiled and said "it's pretty cold out there." It was getting colder, and the door behind me was open.  Actually, my hands and feet are always cold but I wasn't going to get into that. I need to embrace my role more. If I was my male self and a female friend commented on my cold hands I probably would take the coldest side of my coldest hand and touch it to her face or neck or arm or some other exposed sensitive spot. Here, roles were reversed ~ I should have done the same thing to him. The worst that could happen is he'd pull back, but I guess I was passing so why not?

The sermon convinced me I was there for the wrong week. He was pushing an upcoming congregational meeting and asking members what they liked best, or didn't like, or what should be done differently. I yawned through his talk.

At the end they threw two more curves: the rabbi asked first time visitors to stand up and introduce themselves. I did not.  Three other people did. Maybe next time, I will raise my voice.

One more final prayer and we were done ~ almost. Another tradition with a twist.  They say a prayer over bread.  That's normal but here while someone says the prayer over the bread one person touches the bread and everyone one else has to be touching someone who's touching someone who's... eventually touching the bread person.

As I stood up, my new friend turned to me and said, "gee. You have lovely eyes."

If the holding hands was nice, this was wonderful. I never felt more like a woman than I did at that moment. I was glad I didn't raise my voice earlier; I might have spoiled the illusion and lost that moment.

I gave him a huge smile, and I thanked him. I almost felt like I was blushing. I realised that, while I was looking at the dais and my book, he was looking at me!

I think he was embarrassed by his comment. As I was trying to figure out what to do next he turned to me again and said, "I'm sorry. My wife had blue eyes and..." I smiled and cut him off and said "it's all right. Thank you." and I continued heading for the door. I should have done something more ~ maybe put my hand on his arm as I spoke ~ but I didn't. Again, I need to embrace the role.

I walked along the back until I was close to someone touching someone touching someone touching... you get the idea. I was part of the chain now. I put my hand on the shoulder of the woman in front of me and she gave me a big smile. I smiled back, but I didn't speak to anyone except to say "excuse me" and make my way towards the doors.

I was one of the first people out; I didn't want to explain why I was skipping the oneg, even though I had a ready and honest response. I didn't want to get into a "come in for just a minute" because I'd find it rude to refuse and Aeify would be waiting.

I walked back to my car. There was an older couple in front of me; it turned out their car was parked right by mine and they weren't sticking around for nosh either. They were talking but at one point they turned around to see who's heels were clacking along behind them. We didn't exchange words and it was pretty dark. I pass best in the dark.

That man in front of me doesn't know it, but he made this my best solo outing ever!


  1. Loved this story, Meg. I'm so glad you had such a good experience.

  2. what an excelent evening, it sounds like Meg was a real hit.

    I take you will be going back.

  3. Hi Meg,
    Thanks for another thoughtful post. This one more than most made me stop and think. Judaism is outside my experience and it comes as a pleasant surprise (though of course it should not be a surprise at all) that there are synagogues full of normal respectable (pehaps that should be respectful) people. It always seems to be the crazy people who get media exposure and boy do they get faith a bad name!
    My experience stops with the Church of England. Not sure if I'd want to attend a service in girl mode but I have been to a tea shop (they called it a refectory) - does that count? Nobody turned a hair, though I had to keep reminding myself that they gave up burning people several centuries ago.
    All the best,


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