Monday, March 13, 2006

Schlepping to shul on Shabbat by subway (one for the frummies, one for the apikorsim—that’s the story of my life, in a nutshell)

Friday night, I washed dishes with a brush, so as to avoid violating the Sabbath by squeezing water out of a sponge.

Saturday morning, on the other hand, speaking of violating the Sabbath . . .

Here’s the background. I’m linking to the comments because they’re actually more relevant to the matter at hand.

Shira Salamone said...
"Shira, IMO you need to consider long-term whether you'd be better off being miserable that everyone around you is LESS committed to observance than you are, but willing to allow you to be intellectually curious and intellectually honest, rather than now, where people seem to be forcing you away from an active, committed, inquisitive, learning Judaism."

In our shul, we can count the number of people who are both hard-core davveners and egalitarians (believers in equal rights for women in terms of participation in ritual) on one hand, literally. I guess that's my bottom line. I'm tired of constantly duking it out with hard-core davveners who are non-egalitarian and, frankly, barely tolerate my attitude, in some cases, on the one hand, and hard-core egalitarians who hardly ever set foot in shul, on the other hand.

To be fair to my current shul, it has come a long way since I first became a member. Women are now not only allowed on the bima when the aron kodesh ("ark" storing the Torah scrolls) is open, we now also have the privilege of chanting haftarot, Ashrei, Ein Kelokeinu, Adon Olam, kiddush, and birkat hamazon. We are also now counted for a minyan, though that's by necessity, rather than by the members' preference. But, on the other hand, as our shul hires rabbis who are farther and farther to the right, I feel less and less that I'm actually a member of a Conservative synagogue. The sad truth of the matter is that I've never felt truly at home in my current shul in my over 20 years of membership. Not only am I a hard-core egalitarian, I'm also, as someone whose belief in tradition teachings is not as literal as that of most shul-going Jews, someone who tends to interpret tradition in ways that clash with the hashkafah (religious point of view) of most of my fellow and sister congregants.

Much as I'm not fond of the thought (and much as this will upset my Orthodox readers), I may have to give serious consideration to getting back on the subway on Shabbat to go davven at a shul where there's a higher percentage of people who share something reasonably resembling my hashkafah. Minyan Ma'at (or perhaps the Westside Minyan, or one of the other minyanim that meet in the Ansche Chesed building) might be a possibility. Or perhaps I might just go back to my old stomping grounds, a certain dual-affiliated Conservative/Reconstructionist synagogue on the Upper West Side. I could always davven out of the Siddur Sim Shalom while the rest of the gang is davvening out of the Kol Haneshamah. I used to do that all the time anyway (after they switched from the Birnbaum, which was my preference, aside from the "she-lo asani isha" part).This is something that I'm really going to have to think about, because it would mean that we'd become a two-shul family. My husband, as head of the ritual committee and one of the few members of our current synagogue who knows how to chant a haftarah, feels obliged to stay put. It's a sad business when one must choose between davvening where one's spouse is and davvening where one's soul is.
Thu Feb 23, 11:36:30 PM 2006

That’s the long story. This is the short story: This past Shabbat (Sabbath), I got on the subway and went back to the Westside Minyan for the first time in roughly a decade.

And I’m not sorry.

It’s been years since I’ve felt so totally at home at a Shabbat morning service.

Everyone in the room—kids excepted—was actually davvening.

Not talking.


No one yacked through the Torah reading. (Okay, it was one of those “trienniel-cycle” one-third-of-the-parsha readings—one can’t have everything.)

No one had to be shushed during the chanting of the haftarah.

A layperson (the Westside Minyan is a chavurah, a lay-led prayer fellowship) got up to give a d’var Torah (Torah discussion) and everyone listened voluntarily, not because the rabbi gave everyone who was talking dirty looks and waited until they shut up to begin speaking. In this particular Ansche Chesed chavurah—I think it’s one of two or three chavurot that take place at more or less the same time in different rooms, along with a rabbi-led service in the main sanctuary—a discussion takes place after the d’var Torah, and that was also a pleasure.

Did I mention that the baalat tefillah—oh, well, I guess the Hebrew-speakers can already tell that I’m about to say that the prayer leader was a woman. Also, several of the baalei koreh (Torah readers) were women. The maftir, (chanter of the haftarah), was a man. Gender was a non-issue. Aside from noticing that the baalat tefillah was wearing a beautiful crotcheted tallit (presumably homemade), I didn’t even notice how many other women were wearing tallitot (prayer shawls). In a place where gender is a non-issue, counting female tallit-wearers is also a non-issue. What a joy, just to be able to davven and not have to deal with either the yacking, the self-censorship, or the constant battles over a woman’s role in services! It was a kick, to be asked, after a woman who knew me mentioned that she’d heard me lead services, whether I wanted to lead a service. But it was almost as much of a kick to say that I’d rather wait, knowing that I was not volunteering just yet simply because I wanted to get a feel for the minyan’s local variation on nusach (traditional prayer tunes), rather than because I was worried that people would think that I was showing off. I really and truly felt free to be myself. After over 20 years in a traditional Conservative synagogue, I’m so used to standing out like a sore thumb that I don’t think I’d even realized how much I missed davvening in a place where I could be totally unselfconscious.

I hope to go back next week and try the other minyan that alternates with the Westside Minyan. I hear tell that they do a full Torah reading, but don’t have a discussion after the d’var Torah. (You win some, you lose some.)

One of the Westside Minyan members suggested that it might be time for us to consider moving back to Manhattan, and advised us to look for an apartment further uptown and/or east than we ever would have considered living when we lived in Manhattan. She said that even lower Harlem, in the 120's, is becoming gentrified enough to be safer, but perhaps not enough to be quite as expensive as the pricier areas of the Upper West Side. The Punster tells me that he's heard interesting things about El Barrio, or Spanish Harlem, north of 96th Street on the Upper East Side. I don't think we can possibly avoid moving at some point within the next decade, because, by that time, there won't be a single synagogue left in our entire neighborhood. So if anyone has any real estate info about Manhattan, preferably above 96th Street, please pass it on. I'd love to live within walking distance of a shul that I can live with.


Blogger BZ said...

If you're back on the Upper West Side for Shabbat, you can also find serious egalitarian davening at Kol Zimrah (Friday nights) and Hadar (Saturday mornings). They're both 100% egalitarian (such that gender is a non-issue) and have "hard-core" davening.

And Harlem seems to be where it's at for affordable apartments.

Mon Apr 03, 12:47:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

bz, thanks for the advice.

Kol Zimrah sounds good, but not for me. I was raised with the tradition that one doesn't play musical instruments on Shabbat. In addition, there's the problem that one might be tempted to repair an instrument that breaks on Shabbat (e.g., replace a broken guitar string). So I wouldn't be comfortable there.

Hadar sounds interesting, though. If I ever decide to venture further afield than Ansche Chesed, I may give it a try.

"Harlem seems to be where it's at for affordable apartments." Indeed. One member of Minyan Rimonim who'd been on the waiting list for a co-operative apartment in Manhattan Valley (100-110th Streets, from Broadway to Central Park West) told me that, when she was finally offered an apartment, the price was a whopping $750,000. We don't have that kind of money.

So we would probably end up within walking distance of the Upper West Side's egalitarian synagogues and minyanim, but outside of the Upper Manhattan eruv. Unfortunately, the "within walking distance" may become debatable as we get older. Hmm. I honestly don't know whether Harlem is a viable option for us.

Does JTS have a minyan on Shabbat, or is the lack thereof what brings half the Seminary down to Ansche Chesed's Minyan M'at?

Mon Apr 03, 11:35:00 PM 2006  

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