Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Our 1st 100%-observant Shabbat (thanks, L & ME!)

It all started with a hat. And the question, about a year later, of whether I'd actually ever have any use for it.

The answer came in the form of an invitation from Larry and Malka Esther Lennhoff to spend Shabbat (Sabbath) with them in their Highland Park, New Jersey home.

What followed was a series of e-mails re our dietary requirements (of a medical nature) and whether our manner of dress would be acceptable for their community, given that the Punster doesn't own a black suit and would be wearing a multicolored "s'rugi" (kippah s'rugah--a "knitted" [crocheted] kippah/yarmulkeh/scullcap/beanie), and I'd be wearing a pink short-sleeved blouse (and praying in a tallit/prayer shawl on Saturday morning before leaving for synagogue). I also asked whether I could sing in the presence of their male guests and/or wear a kippah while in their home, neither practice being universally accepted for women by the Orthodox community. Having received clearance for all of our clothing and my singing, and Malka Esther's assurance that she's used to dealing with all sorts of dietary restrictions, we looked forward to our get-together.

Naturally, there had to be some complication, or it wouldn't be normal. So, the poor Punster having left home over two hours later than planned, and the two of us having gotten stuck in traffic and spent two hours just getting out of Manhattan, we finally arrived with only about half an hour to go before Shabbat.

But once we got settled, what a Shabbat it was! First, Malka Esther explained to me that, if I lit Shabbat candles while keeping in mind that I was not actually accepting Shabbat upon myself at that time, I was permitted to hop into the car with Larry and the Punster and ride to synagogue (after which we would, of course, walk home, leaving the parked and locked car to be retrieved after Shabbat). Then, off we went to the Carlebach minyan in the library (Bet Midrash?) at Congregation Ahavat Achim. Larry said that there was even more singing than usual. The singing was delightful.

True to her word, Malka Esther, a real kitchen maven (expert), served a dinner that included dishes for Mr. Low-Sodium and Ms. No-Pepper, plus a wheat-allergic guest, a nut-allergic guest, and a vegetarian guest. Everyone was quite well-fed. No one objected to me shedding my hat and my long-sleeved jacket and showing up in a kippah and short sleeves, and I joined in the singing, as well, without anyone's protest.

After the other guests had left, we stayed up yacking 'til about 2 AM and had a wonderful time. How any of us got up in time for services the next morning is beyond me. :)

But I did manage (thanks to my turns-itself-off Shabbat alarm clock) to get up early enough to davven Shacharit (pray the Morning Service) through the end of the Amidah prayer while wearing my tallit. This not only enabled me to wear a tallit through the Amidah without risking offending anyone at synagogue, but also, ensured that I would have davvened at least through the Amidah, in case I lost my place in the Sefardi siddur (prayer book) used at Sefardi Congregation Etz Chaim. That proved to be a good strategy, since, as expected, I lost my place numerous times. It was well worth the visit, though. The Sefardi customs are really quite fascinating for an old Ashkenazi Jew like me. I wonder how--or whether--the congregation coordinated the choice of readers in advance, since the (male) congregants took turns reading the b'rachot (blessings), psalms, and other biblical and rabbinic quotations in the earlier parts of the service. Some of the older boys participated in the early parts of the service, and some younger ones sang at the end.

The most fascinating part of the Sefardi service for me was the K'riat HaTorah/Torah reading (reading from the handwritten Bible scroll). The teenaged baal koreh (Torah reader) was excellent, especially given the additional challenge of reading from a scroll enclosed, in accordance with the Sefardi tradition, in a metal case that was not removed. Every time he came to the end of a column in the scroll, he had to stop and turn the scroll using special handles that were invisible when the case was closed, or take a large scarf that had been draped over the case and turn the klaf (parchment roll) itself. That was generally about a one-minute process. How he managed to stop, turn the parchment, and nonchalantly continue without forgetting how to read and/or chant the words correctly was beyond my comprehension. But he made very few mistakes. Having been a baalat korah myself, I was quite impressed by his skill.

After a quick kiddush of grape juice and snacks, off we went to lunch, at which Malka Esther served quite a nice spread. I probably gained a few pounds.

We walked back to Ahavat Achim for Mincha-Maariv, davvening in the main sanctuary this time. It did not escape my attention that the women saying Kaddish there were saying it loudly enough to be heard easily in the men's section, and no one seemed the least upset by that. (Some in the Orthodox community are of the opinion that a woman is not permitted to say Kaddish at all, a view obviously not held by this congregation.) I also noticed that some of the women at the mixed-seating Seudah Shlishit (third Sabbath meal) were singing along with the men during z'mirot (Sabbath table songs) and Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals), and no one seemed to be bothered by that, either--apparently, this congregation doesn't hold the stricter views that favor separate seating for men and women on almost every occasion and disapprove of women singing in the presence of men.

I had told Larry that I'd be willing to davven (pray) in any synagogue that didn't have a "Berlin Wall mechitzah," and I'm sure Ahavat Achim's open-mindedness was a reflection of the approach that allowed for a reasonable mechitzah. (A mechitzah is a physical barrier separating women from men in an Orthodox synagogue. Here's an example of what I call a "Berlin Wall mechitzah," which leaves little or no provision for women to see the Torah scroll, or anything else on the men's side.) The mechitzot at both Etz Chaim and Ahavat Achim were topped with transparent glass, and, though taller than I, were low enough that even Ms. 5-feet-2-inches could hold a siddur over the top and touch the Torah scroll with it or reach the v'samim/spice box for Havdalah when it was handed over the top to be passed around the women's section.

We were fortunate that the dry and not-too-hot weather, my husband's semi-reasonably-good health, and the state of my sometimes-bad foot enabled us to have a pleasant, albeit long, walk to Ahavat Achim and Etz Chayim, neither of which is particularly close to the Lennhoff home. (I took my trusty cane, just in case.)

Highland Park, New Jersey appears to be a very nice place for those seeking a diverse Jewish community. With at least four (I lost count) Orthodox synagogues (among them one Chassidic and one Sefardic), one Conservative synagogue, and an independent minyan, (all, to the best of my knowledge, within the Highland Park eruv), there's something in HP, NJ for probably most synagogue-goers. I also appreciated the diversity of clothing styles, in terms of tzniut/modesty, "levush/dress code," and formality. In tzniut terms, I saw women wearing everything from long sleeves to short sleeves that covered only the shoulders (even in synagogue), and I also saw both married women with fully-covered hair and married women who went bareheaded except in synagogue. In "levush" terms, I saw plenty of black kippot on the men, but honestly don't remember whether I saw any actual black hats, and I also saw multi-colored s'rugim, which means that this community doesn't have a standard levush, thank goodness. In terms of formality, I saw men in everything from full suits with ties, on one hand, to dress pants and dress shirts without jackets or ties, on the other, and women in everything from full suits or dresses to nice but informal skirts and knit tops. In other words, anyone headed for synagogue who is dressed reasonably modestly by American standards and dressed nicely enough not to appear to be headed for the golf course would probably fit into the community.

Rav todot, many thanks, to Larry and Malka Esther for introducing us to the Jewish community of Highland Park, NJ, and for helping this 60-year-old and her 67-year-old husband to celebrate a completely-observant Shabbat/Sabbath for the first time in our lives.



Blogger Jendeis said...

Mazel tov on this wonderful achievement!

Tue Sep 08, 09:12:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

A couple of details:

Some minor corrections. Ahavas Achim, not Ahavat Achim (since it is poilite to pronounce it as they do, rather than as it is spelled :>))

There are currently 6 O shuls, a Bostoner shteibel, a C shul, a havurah, and a Women's Tefilla Group active to varying degrees in HP.

There were people with Black hats at AA while you were there, but no shtreimel wearers this week. They tend to congregate at the Bostoner shteibel, as you would expect.

Next time I hope we can spare some time to look at some of the shuls with the 'berlin war' mechitza when services are not going on just to see what they are like.
We really enjoyed having you and hope you'll come back often.

Tue Sep 08, 09:54:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Jendeis, thanks! I give Larry and Malka Esther the credit for providing us with an opportunity.

Larry, concerning *Ahavas* Achim, I'm afraid that ship has already sailed. I switched my Hebrew pronunciation from Ashkenazi to Sefardi when I was in my mid-twenties, since the synagogue of which I was a member at that time considered the use of Sefardi Hebrew a symbol of support for Zionism. While some people are able to go back and forth, I find it quite challenging. That may be because most of what I now know, I learned as an adult, which means, among other things, that I never learned most of it in Ashkenazi at all.

I guess we forgot about having seen the black-hat folks. It's actually nice to know that people with such a broad range of approaches to observance feel comfortable davening in the same shul.

I'll be happy to case out the "Berlin Wall mechitzah" shuls in between services.

"We really enjoyed having you and hope you'll come back often." We really enjoyed hanging out with you, and may just take you up on your offer.

Tue Sep 08, 10:40:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Eliyahu said...

how wonderful that you were able to do the hosts a big favor and accept their hospitality! i'm glad that you found a spot to experience some joy and a little less oy.

Tue Sep 08, 11:08:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's really amazing to read your blog for me, a 60 year old who left Brooklyn over 38 years ago when I married.
Somehow, I don't remember there being all these numerous splinter groups. We had Chassidim in Boro Park, Orthodox (Ashkenazi) all over the place, some Sephardic syngagoues and a very few Reform Temples. Around where I lived there was one Conservative shul and one very small Orthodox one.
Now, the divisions seem to be so extreme...
I went to a religious Zionist camp as a very young teenager and there also learned not to use the Ashkenazi pronunciation.
Now I live in the back of beyond. There is not a synagogue of any group within a 45 minute drive by car. I am my own little minyan of one since my dh is a happy agnostic.
I fast on the holidays, change the kitchen over during Pesach and try my damnedest to maintain my Kosher home. This means buying in bulk and treasure hunting for kashrut symbols.
I so envy (yep, envy) your ability to attend services in so many different places.
When I visit your blog, I close my eyes and remember when, for a very brief time -- 9 months -- we lived in NJ near HP. Of course, this was over 35 years ago.
Things sure have changed.

Wed Sep 09, 12:50:00 AM 2009  
Blogger mother in israel said...

Beautiful post.

Wed Sep 09, 02:02:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Leora said...

Mother in Israel sent me this post. Larry briefly introduced me to his guests at Etz Ahaim on Shabbat, but I am sorry I didn't get to meet you! We (my husband and I) are both 100% Ashkenazi by blood, but we like Etz Ahaim a lot for its warmth and community. And a great rabbi (Rabbi David Bassous), who is being honored this fall.

I wonder how--or whether--the congregation coordinated the choice of readers in advance
We wonder the same thing.

One of those young men was my son! So proud of him. The shul is great for boys and young men. I can't say it's been great for my daughter. Mostly it's because most of her friends go elsewhere. But there's also the sexist element; hang out long enough and the sexism of the Sephardim comes through, loud and clear.

Wed Sep 09, 04:44:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I daven an eclectic mix of Sephardi and Ashkenazi pronunciations myself because I was educated simultaneously in both. And the Boston shteibel uses yet another pronunciation - for example they say ee where both Sephardi and askenaz ay ooo e.g., "V'taher Lebaynee" instead of "V'taher Lebaynu"

Wed Sep 09, 07:10:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

Perhaps next time, you'll get a chance to try the egal minyan at the C shul. We have a cadre of women rabbi members who are regularly part of the congregants who provide the dvar torah when the minyan is lay-lead. And soon, the construction will be complete and we'll be back in our new, post-fire sanctuary.

Wed Sep 09, 09:00:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Eliyahu has it right - it was our privilege to provide hospitality for you. Y'all are wonderful guests.

Wed Sep 09, 09:33:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

1) It's not an issue of pronunciation. The name of the shul in English, is Ahavas Achim. it's simply inaccurate to say Ahavat Achim. When we were members, we always pronounced it as Ahavas Achim and I am very makpid on pronouncing things in modern Hebrew. (not accurate to say sephardi Hebrew unless you've got a good resh and ayin!)

2) I think you live a very sheltered life. As a former member of AA, I can tell you that folks there wouldn't bat an eye if an occasional woman showed up in a tallit. (Nor would they at my shul, although a member would cause more glances.) Short sleeves, kippot srugot, etc. Those are normal in many communities. Nobody outside of the yeshivish world or chassidim have a "l'vush." People wear what they want. You need to get out of NY more.

Wed Sep 09, 09:40:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...


It's also not accurate to say Ashkenazi Jews pronounce vowels certain ways, since the Polish, Litvish, Galician, Russian, and German Jews all pronounce things differently. (Not to mention faux-yeshivishe pronunciations). You would have to say "modern Ashkenazi" (or as I like to call it, parve Ashkenazi) have the simplest, most common pronuncation, which is really only a slight differentiation between a kamatz (aw) and a patach (ah). But there is a tremendous variety among Chassidim, who have kept the original pronunciations from their European homes.

And, there are plenty of American Jews who pronounce words with the modern pronunciation, but aren't so makpid on accenting the word correctly, so they're mixing up Ashkenazi emphasis (usually not the last syllable) with modern pronunciation (taf/same vowel sound for patach and kamatz).

Wed Sep 09, 09:51:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Eliyahu, we did, indeed, "experience some joy and a little less oy." It was certainly a delightful change.

Anon, we are considering the possibility of moving so as to avoid ending up in a challenging situation such as yours. Given the local demographics, I expect the neighborhood Conserv. & Ortho shuls to close their doors within 10 years, and I'm not sure I'd like to take the subway to the nearest synagogue every Shabbat and Yom Tov for the rest of my life.

Mother in Israel, thanks for the compliment, and todah for sending my post to Leora, too.

Leora, I hope we'll have an opportunity to meet in the future. Etz Chayim is certainly an interesting place to pray, though it would take me roughly forever to master another nusach. I'm delighted to hear that your son was one of the participants. I wish sexism weren't an issue for the girls and women of the congregation.

So, Larry, you davven in "Ashkefardic." Oy. Been there, heard that. :) As I said, going back and forth is not easy for everyone. The different Ashkenazi accents are confusing enough.

Steve, you're from HP, too? Will wonders never cease! With three bloggers (to the best of my current knowledge) and you as a regular commenter, HP must be J-Blog Central, I'm beginning to think. :) I'd love to try out the Conservative synagogue's egalitarian minyan.

Larry, I'm glad you enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed your hospitality.

JDub, okay, okay, I'll try to behave myself and call AA *Ahavas* Achim. My resh might pass for Sefardi--my first Ulpan teacher was a Yemenite, so I pronounce the resh like a Spanish r--but my ayin is hopelessly Ashkenazi--I've never mastered that guttural sound.

And yes, I've heard quite a variety of Ashkenazi accents, not to mention words misaccented by Ashkenazim trying to speak "Modern" Hebrew.

Now, if only someone would explain to me where one is supposed to put the accents on the Aramaic words of Kaddish . . .

Wed Sep 09, 02:19:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

Heh, you realize there's a debate as to which words in Kaddish are Aramaic vs. Hebrew, right? It's a question of Yitgadal v'yitkadash, vs. Yitgadeil v'yitkadeish. Former is Aramaic, latter is Hebrew (hitpa'el).

Wed Sep 09, 03:00:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

JDub, you're bringing out the BA-in-French in me. Are you acquainted with the term "code-switching?" It's a fancy way of saying that a person is switching back and forth between/among two or more languages in the same sentence. We Hebes do it all the time: All you have to say is "I davvened Shacharit already" and you've code-switched from English to Yiddish to Hebrew and back to English. So some people code-switch during Kaddish by saying half of the first sentence in Hebrew and the other half in Aramaic? I had no idea that the "Yitgadeil v'yitkadeish" version was Hebrew. I learn somethign new practically every day. Thank you for the education.

Wed Sep 09, 04:02:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

depends on what you mean. If you were to say "I davvened shacharis already" I would argue that you really only switched from English to Yiddish and back. Because one could say that entire sentence in Yiddish. While shacharis is a hebrew word in origin, it would also be found in a yiddish dictionary.

For that matter, want to guess the origin of "bentching"? Comes from the Latin benedicere meaning blessing (e.g., benediction).

Wed Sep 09, 05:12:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

JDub, "Shacharis" may, indeed, be found in a Yiddish dictionary, but once you pronounce in "Modern" Hebrew--Shacharit--it's no longer Yiddish. :)

"Bentching" is of Latin original? Thanks for the info. I'll trade you: I've heard that "cholent" is of Spanish origin, derived from "caliente" (hot).

Wed Sep 09, 05:39:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

Close, regarding cholent, but no cigar. There's no reason a spanish word would migrate into yiddish. But it's close, since caliente comes from the same latin root word, namely calentem.

From Wikipedia, citing the dean of Yiddish, Max Weinreich "Max Weinreich traces the etymology of cholent to the Latin present participle calentem, meaning "that which is hot" (as in calorie), via Old French chalant (present participle of chalt, from the verb chaloir, "to warm")."

This makes more sense in terms of Jewish migration patterns than coming from Spanish.

Last one: The very fine and frum Yiddish name "Shprintze" comes from the same Latin/romantic language name "Esperanza."

Thu Sep 10, 08:21:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous westbankmama said...

Very happy to hear you had a great Shabbat.

Thu Sep 10, 10:16:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"There's no reason a spanish word would migrate into yiddish." Nu, JDub, when the Jews were expelled from Spain, didn't many of them end up in the Netherlands and Belgium? But an Old French derivation for "cholent" certainly makes sense, and I won't argue with an expert.

"Shprintze" comes from the same Latin/romantic language name "Esperanza." Well, that's certainly a surprise to me. Thanks for the info.

WBM, thanks. The Lennhoffs are very fine hosts.

Thu Sep 10, 12:47:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

French Jews migrated to Germany, and then to parts East. The Spanish Jews left to the Netherlands and the New World (Israel and North Africa, Arab countries as well). Very few (relatively speaking) wound up heading to countries that developed and spoke Yiddish. It is unlikely that they had much influence on Yiddish.

Thu Sep 10, 03:02:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

You may have a point.

Thu Sep 10, 04:14:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"via Old French chalant (present participle of chalt, from the verb chaloir, "to warm")."
I had heard that it was outting two French words together: chalt and "lent" for slow, so to make warm slowly which seems to make sense since cholent is heated slowly

Fri Sep 11, 12:25:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

If you go to Wikipedia, Max Weinreich, the doyen of all things Yiddish, rejects that as a folk etymology.

Fri Sep 11, 10:47:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really liked the writer's policy of wearing the tallit in private. Not only does it preclude the possibility of offending members of the congregation, but it also helps her do the mitzva for the right reasons, rather than merely to convey a loud political message. On the topic of women wearing a tallit there's a must read article here:

Tue Nov 16, 05:37:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon, whether or not I wear a tallit in public depends entirely on where I'm davvening/praying. I never hesitate to wear one in a non-Orthodox synagogue because I figure that any synagogue belonging to a denomination that ordains women, or any independent minyan that accepts female rabbis, shouldn't have a problem with this. When it comes to Orthdox synagogues, my decision depends on the local practice. If it's unheard of for a woman to wear a tallit in that particular synagogue, as was the case in Malka Esther's and Larry's synagogue, I pray in a tallit through the Shacharit Amidah (or through Hallel) in private before going to synagogue. But it's an accepted practice for a woman to wear a tallit if she so chooses, I'll gladly join the rest of the tallit-wearing women in doing so at synagogue, as I did at our NYC friend’s Orthodox synagogue.

Tue Nov 16, 11:10:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon, I read the article to which you linked. I'm not crazy about the Robinson's Arch prayer site because it's not even separate but equal. Robinson's Arch is actually an archeological site at which non-Orthodox Jews have been given reluctant permission to pray *provided that they come in a group, ask in advance, and show up at a specific early hour, before the site opens to the general public,* if I understand correctly. So if I were to show up *by myself* to davven Shacharit/pray the Morning Service in a tallit and tefillin at Robinson's Arch at 9:30 AM on a summer weekday (when the latest mandated hour for reciting Sh'ma comes after 10 AM), would *I* be arrested?

Tue Nov 16, 11:43:00 AM 2010  

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